Wednesday, January 6, 2010

La Befana

Today, the Epiphany, marks a very special day in Italy. Not only is it the end of the Christmas season, but it also means that last night was marked by a visit from La Befana.

La Befana doll at the annual Christmas Market in Piazza Navona

In Italian folklore, La Befana is a (good) witch who delivers gifts to children in Italy on Epiphany Eve (January 5.) Naughty children better watch out though -- La Befana only gives presents to good children! The name La Befana is derived from Epifania, the Italian name for the religious festival of the Epiphany.

Legend has it that the three wise men were in search of baby Jesus, but on their journey to him they lost their way. They decided to stop at a nearby house to ask for directions, and upon knocking, an old woman holding a broom opened the door to see who was there. She was unaware of who the men were and was unable to point them in the right direction. Before they left, the three wise men asked her if she would like to join them on their journey. She declined, because she had too much housework to do.

After they left the woman felt as though she had made a mistake and decided to go and try to catch up with the kind men. After many hours of searching however, she was unable to find them. Thinking of the opportunity she had missed, the old woman stopped at every child she saw and gave them a small gift in hopes that one was the Christ child. Now, each year on Epiphany eve she sets out to look for baby Jesus, and she stops at each child's house to leave treats in the stockings of the good children and a lump of coal in the stockings of bad children.

Of course, there are many versions of this story...but it's pretty interesting, right? I had already left Italy by the time the Epiphany rolled around this year, but from what I hear, the celebration of La Befana is often more exciting to Italian children than Santa Claus (Babbo Natale in Italian.)


MuncherCruncher said...

Oh my goodness...your photos/your life is making me so jealous right now! I want to go to Italy SO SO SO bad. Please keep the awesome updates coming, so I can live vicariously!!