What do Santa Claus, Jesus and a flying old woman on a Broom have in common? The story of LA BEFANA

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It has been a whole week since I last blogged!  Sorry!  I was in Rome for the New Year and stayed a few extra days to spend some time wish my dear friend Gillian and her family in their amazing new home in Pignetto.  You’ve met Gillian before here, seen her style here and the awesome pop up wedding invites she creates here!  And I’ve blogged about the hipster area of Rome, called Pigneto, here and where to eat here!

 

For many Italians, Christmas is just the beginning of a long winter break that encompasses Christmas (Natale), New Year’s Eve (Capodanno) and the Epiphany (L’Epifania), which is also a holiday. To be perfectly honest I am *just* starting to get back into a blogging/living routine and haven’t quite organized myself yet for the New Year.

 

Today is the Epifania here and this morning the Befana will visit our house!

 

Italian kids have all kinds of things to string together….try explaining to a two and a half year old that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, but Santa Claus brings us gifts and on the 6th of January a woman on a broom with come and fill our stockings again…..what’s that you say….?  WHY is a woman on a broom coming around on the 6th? The story goes like this.

 

 

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L’Epifania and La Befana

 

Today Italy celebrates the Epifania, which is the date that the Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus Christ when he was born.  I had no idea this was a “thing” before living here, I always just assumed that the three wise men arrived the same night he was born and then the next day everyone went on their merry way, but that’s not the case.

 

As the story goes the three wise men had a hard time finding Jesus and the manger and knocked on the door of this old woman looking for directions on how to get to Baby Jesus (I’m not kidding)!

 

The Befana is an old, ugly woman who is an outcast from the other villagers.  She was once married and made toys with her husband for all of the children.  They never had kids of their own, and sadly when he died she was left alone.  Her pain and grief caused her to seclude herself in the woods. On a cold winter’s night she was out gathering firewood when she returned home with frozen hands and a sore back.  She started a fire and made a soup, when at the door there came a knock.

 

Afraid to open the door she tried to ignore the knocking, but finally decided to open up! And there were three elegantly dressed men from the orient with their camels loaded with supplies and wool to keep them warm.

 

They explained they were looking for the King of King, a baby born of humble beginnings who would be humanity’s savior.  They asked if she knew of this news, but she knew nothing. They asked if she would like to accompany them to find him, since she had been so nice to offer them a place to stop.

 

Looking out the window at the blizzard, she decided to stay in and explained she had cleaning to do.

 

They left in a hurry to go on their way and she was left alone.  She put more wood on the fire and tried to fall asleep, but couldn’t seem to relax.  Had she missed the opportunity of a lifetime?

 

The next morning she set out to find the three wise men, and filled an old sack with the toys she and her husband had made as gifts for the new baby.  She wandered and wandered with her broom in one hand as a walking stick and her sack in the other, but couldn’t find them anywhere.

 

Finally she laid under a tree to die, when a magical spirit told her not to give up.  She could use her broom for transport and her gifts could be offerings to all boys and girls!!

 

So, on the anniversary of that night each year, she flies on her broom, going from house to house.  She comes in through the chimney and fills up the stockings of good kids with small gifts and bad kids receive coal.

 

This is legend. This is story.

 

So…. that’s a little sad isn’t it?  She spends eternity wandering, trying to relieve the guilt for not following the wise men!?  I mean, who can blame her?  She’s old, she’s a woman, it’s freezing.  These are three big men, who are strangers!!

 

It is strange that Santa Clause is much more popular than the Befana in Italy.  There are almost no pop culture references to her (movies, cartoons etc), however, it is still a big part of Italian culture.  If you go to any grocery story you’ll find stockings with a little picture of a flying witch and all kinds of treats and surprises in them.

It is pretty ancient stuff, as the story goes the figure of the Befana is probably connected to a Roman witch type of character who was later adopted into the Christian story to convince the people to convert to Christianity.

 

The cool thing in Italy is that you actually DO receive coal on the Epiphany!  They make big chunks of black colored rock candy and leave them in the stocking called “carbone”!

 

This is the first year my son has been old enough to really “get” Christmas.  So I’ve been hard at work reading a lot of books and stories about Jesus, the nativity, and the meaning of Christmas.  But then of course I had to explain Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman.  Now there’s also La Befana….and it just got me thinking….Where do traditions and religion begin and folklore and rituals end?

 

Thank the lord the Elf on the Shelf doesn’t exist here because this is getting out of control!

 

Today is Tuesday and usually I host the Real Mom Street Style linkup, but as I mentioned last week because it is a holiday I’m taking the week off!  I will be reading , tweeting and commenting on all of last week’s linkers – and if you would like to join last weeks linkup with a new post it is still open and you can find it here!

 

Please don’t forget to join the giveaway for the gold leather crossbody by the brand Be*Why, valued at $160!  Happy Epiphany everyone…now I’m off to put on my Befana costume and knock at the door!

 

La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
con le toppe alla sottana:
Viva, viva la Befana!

 

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  • It’s fun to hear about traditions in other countries! I’ve heard Spaniard mention that witch that visits children in Italy (they also talk about how Italians eat lentils on Christmas eve, I think they may have an obsession with the Italian holiday season).
    In Spain los Reyes Magos (the 3 Wise Men) visit and bring gifts to the children. It was difficult to understand when I first came here, I also assumed the wise men visited on Dec. 24/25 and that was the end of the story.

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    • See, I had no idea that the three wise men were a thing in Spain either! Thank you for sharing that with me…off to google it now!

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  • Shon Valdry

    Happy New Year!! I am so glad you are enjoying a wonderful time with dear friends and loved ones!
    I love this story and believe it or not my son who is 9 learned it in Kindergarten!! Yes, his school did a Christmas around the world series that year at Christmas time! I need to remind him today again about it!! He loved it.

    Enjoy a beautiful week and so great to see you here!

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    • Ok you just impressed me! Really? Your son learned this at school? That is so great. My parents are Italian and NEVER celebrated the Befana in Canada, it was just left out of home and school life, but it is a pretty great tradition and makes the holidays a little longer!

      Please let me know what your son remembers!! Who knows maybe this will catch on again. All the best and happy new year to you as well.

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