The True Story Of The Befana dressed in rags, shoes broken, a hat on her head, shawl on, the Befana is ready to sweep away the last days of the holiday season with her broom.
With Epiphany, the long cycle of Christmas vacations comes to a close, with the merriment of the last gifts for children everywhere.
A celebration under the banner of folk tradition, linked to peasant customs, which is also a time for reflection to coincide with the arrival of the new calendar.
Although it is the first holiday of the new year, in fact, it is precisely on Epiphany Day that we take stock of the year that has just ended and set plans for the year that has just begun.
Coal or sweets: in the stocking brought by the old lady with the broom you rummage to discover the achievements, the outcome of what you throw behind you, but also the omens about the nearest future.
Ready to face with a new purposeful spirit the 365 days ahead, hoping that the Befana in the coming year will be even more generous.
The True Story Of The Befana
The Befana is in the collective imagination a mythical character with the appearance of an old woman who brings gifts to good children on the night between January 5 and 6.
Its origin is lost in the mists of time, descended from pre-Christian magical traditions and, in popular culture, blended with folkloric and Christian elements: the Befana brings gifts in remembrance of those offered to baby Jesus by the Magi.
The iconography is fixed: a dark, wide skirt, an apron with pockets, a shawl, a kerchief or bonnet on her head, and a pair of worn-out slippers, all enlivened by numerous colorful patches.
The nursery rhyme (the Befanata) that is recited in her honor is based on her appearance:
” La Befana vien di notte
with her shoes all broken
With her hat in the Roman style
viva viva la Befana! ”
On the night of January 5-6, astride a broomstick, under the weight of a sack overflowing with toys, chocolates and candy (at the bottom of which there is also never a shortage of ashes and coal), she passes over the roofs and lowering herself from the chimneys fills the stockings left hanging by the children.
These, for their part, prepare for the good old woman, in a dish, a tangerine or orange and a glass of wine.
The next morning along with the presents they will find the meal eaten and the imprint of the Befana’s hand on the ashes scattered on the plate.
In peasant and pre-industrial society, except in rare cases, the gifts consisted of candies, sweets, nuts and tangerines, along with more or less substantial doses (at the Befana’s sole discretion) of ashes and coal, as punishment for the inevitable mischief of the year.
The Befana, a typically Italian tradition, not yet supplanted by the “foreign” figure of Santa Claus, also represented an opportunity to supplement the meager family budget of many who, having donned the clothes of the Old Woman, went from house to house that night between January 5 and 6, receiving gifts, mostly in kind, in exchange for a wish and a smile.
Today, if one wears the clothes of the Befana, it is to repossess her role; dispenser of gifts and little lecture for everyone’s inevitable tantrums.
After a period when she had been relegated to oblivion, now the Befana is experiencing a second youth, linked to the rediscovery and appreciation of ancient roots and the most authentic cultural identity.
Epiphany has roots going way back in time, and the rituals associated with it have never lost their importance, and in this beautiful tradition, deeply felt by children and adults alike, everyone rediscovers the flavor of their past.
Befana is celebrated on Epiphany, a religious holiday that occurs on January 6 and commemorates the visit of the Three Kings to the baby Jesus.
Three kings, Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar, set out from different countries, perhaps Nubia, Godolia and Tharsis, to bring gifts to Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
They met near Jerusalem and, although they spoke different languages, they understood each other and realized they had the same goal; so they continued their journey together.
When they reached the cave they offered Jesus their gifts, worshipped him and departed.
Why Is She Called Befana?
Her name comes from Epiphany, later changed to “Beffania” to remember the “Witch of Beffania” who flew over the roofs of houses on that night. As time passed, she lost the letters “f” and “i” and became Befana.
The Legend of the Befana
The Magi were on their way to Bethlehem to pay homage to the baby Jesus. When they came near a little house they decided to stop and ask for directions.
They knocked on the door and an old woman came to open it.
The Magi asked if she knew the way to Bethlehem because the Savior was born there.
The woman who did not understand where the Wise Men were going, could not give them any directions.
The Wise Men asked the old woman to join them, but she refused because she had a lot of work to do.
After the three Kings had left, the woman realized that she had made a mistake and decided to join them to visit the Child Jesus.
But although she searched for hours and hours, she could not find them, so she stopped each child to give him a gift in the hope that this was Baby Jesus.
And so every year, on the evening of Epiphany she sets out to find Jesus and stops at every house where there is a child to leave a present, if he has been good, or coal, if he has been bad.
Epiphany: customs around the world
In France on Epiphany Day it is customary to make a special cake, inside which a fava bean is hidden. Whoever finds it becomes the king or queen of the feast for that day.
In Iceland January 6 is called the thirteenth, because 13 days elapse from Christmas until this date.
The festivities begin with a torchlight procession, in which the elf king and queen also participate.
Halfway through, the last of the Santas, the thirteenth, also arrives (the first Santa arrives on December 11 and then one arrives every day until Christmas, then from December 25 onward one goes away every day). Everything ends with a bonfire and fireworks.
In Spain on the evening of January 5, children await the gifts of the Three Kings and put a glass of water for thirsty camels in front of the door and also something to eat and a shoe. Many cities hold a procession during which the Three Kings parade through the streets on richly decorated floats.
In Germany, the Three Kings also take center stage. People of the Catholic religion go to mass. But January 6 is not a holiday; people work as usual and children go to school.
In Romania children await the arrival of the Three Kings and on January 6 they offer stories in exchange for some change.
In Hungary, children dress up as the Three Kings and then go from house to house carrying a nativity scene and receive some money in return.
As for Russia, many people talk about an old lady, called “Babuschka,” who, would accompany Papa Frost or Papa Winter, handing out presents to all the children.
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