This article is written by Contributing Editor Tony Traficante.
La Befana, An Italian Christmas Tradition
La Befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte, col vestito alla romana viva viva La Befana!
The Christmas season in Italy is one that begins with the Novena eight days before Christmas and lasts until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.
Traditionally it is a spiritual event and not so much a secular event of gifting and gift exchange…except with the arrival of ‘La Befana.’
It is not that Italian children do not know of Santa or ‘Babbo Natale’ (they do receive small, useful gifts for Christmas) but, in many Regions of Italy, the exchange of gifts awaits the coming of La Befana on January 5th. That night, before going to bed, Italian children hang their socks along the chimney hoping La Befana will fill them with sweets and other treats. For children who were naughty, La Befana leaves hard black candy called carbone (charcoal), as a reminder to do better. In exchange, un goccia di grappa, pane e un po’ di formaggio is offered to warm the chilled bones of La Befana and to help her on her way.
Tradition has it that La Befana, an old woman of modest means, lived in a shack at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. One night, The Three Magi, on their way to find the Christ child, stopped to ask for directions to Bethlehem and for food and shelter. Having provided their needs, the Magi thanked the old woman and invited her to join them in search of the baby Jesus. La Befana begged off, saying she could not leave her home.
Later that night, while asleep, La Befana was awoken by an unusually bright light. Startled and afraid, she took it as a sign to follow the Magi in search of the Christ Child. Unfortunately, La Befana lost her way, failing to find the Wise Men or the manger.
And so, the story continues: Each year on January 5th (the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany), La Befana resumes her search of the Christ Child. As she travels from house to house, she drops off treats to sleeping children in hopes that the baby Jesus might also be with them.
What an enchanting story! It is a tradition that will certainly continue for years to come…
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