Tuesday, December 23, 2008

La Befana the Christmas Witch!

In Italy, most people are Catholics so Christmas is reserved for festivities and traditions that celebrate the birth of Christ. Most people spend time with family and go to Christmas Mass, followed by a celebratory banquet. Gifts are given on the Epiphany, l'epifania, on January 6th. The term Epiphany comes from ancient Greek and means “manifestation" or “appearance of a supernatural being or of a divinity”, or “a moment of revelation”. This is the day the Three Kings allegedly arrived in Bethlaham bearing gifts of gold, franincense and myrrh. It's traditional for children to receive gifts and a colorful long stocking (la calza) full of sweets (i dolciumi) if they’ve been good, or filled with coal (il carbone) which is made of black sugar, if they’ve been bad. But it isn't Santa Claus who comes down the chimeney...it's the benevolent Witch, Le Befana, who comes riding a flying broomstick carrying a magical self-replenishing sack full of goodies. She leaves her gifts on Twelfth Night of Christmas, or the Eve of the Epiphany! It was not until after World War II that Christmas trees and Santa Claus entered the Italian Christmas lore. Nowadays, 90% of Italians also believe in Santa Claus or Father Christmas, Babbo Natale.

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Briefly, the legend has it that the Three Magi (Kings/Wise Men) followed the North Star, in search of the Divine Child. They grew very tired on their journey and decided to stop at the tiny cottage of an old witch. When they knocked on the door, an old woman holding a broom opened peeked out to see who was there. Three elaboratly dressed Kings who were in need of directions to find the Christ child stood before her. The old woman was unaware of the Divine Child these three wise men were looking for, so she could not point them in the right direction. But she kindly offered food and shelter for the night. The Three Kings rested and prepared to leave first thing in the morning. That night they told her about the Prophesy of the Divine Child. Prior to the three men leaving they asked the old woman to join them on their journey. She declined because she was so old and feeble, and had too much work to do in preparation for the long Winter ahead. After they left she felt as though she had made a mistake and decided to go and catch up with them. She packed up her sack full of handmade gifts and food for the Divine Child. She hopped on her broomstick and tried to catch up with the Three Wise Men, but she could not find them. Thinking of the opportunity she had missed, the old woman stopped at every home in hopes of finding the Christ Child. She left gifts to every child she found, just in case was baby Jesus. So each year on the eve of the Epiphany she sets out again, in search of the Divine Child...leaving gifts along the way to all the good little girls and boys in hopes of finding the Divine Child.

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The Befana (Epifania) festival is a national holiday in Italy, and Italian children only go back to school from their Christmas holidays on January 7th. The holiday was suppressed by law in 1977, but had to be reintroduced by popular demand in 1985. To an outsider, the Befana festival might seem to be more like Halloween! Groups of adults dressed up as La Befana , and children go knocking from door to door singing rhymes and asking for gifts of sweets.

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Music fills the streets and the market place is stocked with traditional Epiphany King Cakes and dolls of La Befana!

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I have one brand new copy of Madame B. Wishful Presents La Befana's Yuletide Tale to GIVE AWAY! Just drop me a line in my comment section with your name! I'll draw the name of 1 Lucky Winner on Sunday, December 28th! Then I can ship the book out just in time for Epiphany on January 6th! Happy Holy Daze everyone! xo Lavona

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Contest Winners!
I was able to get 2 copies of the La Befana Book...so I've drawn 2 names! The winners are...drumroll...Monica of the Masks and Mon Petit Fantome! Congratulations! Please email your shipping info to me at: ladylavona@yahoo.com


Rachel Green said...

fabulous! I've never heard of this before :)

Stella Dora von Swineburg said...

What a great story! Thanks for sharing!

Uncommon Objects Blog said...

You are a wealth of knowledge.
Another fantastic story I've learned because of you!
Hope you and yours have the best Holiday hun.

Anonymous said...

La Befana is celebrated here at Casa Janarra
and we are proud Stregas!!!!Do you know of the Janarras?
I love your blog !!!!

bloodmilk. said...

happy holidays lavona!

Unknown said...

I loved this story - my family is part Italian, but none of the Italian part of the family share much of 'what was' - as the focus has always been on the assimilation in to the new society, they dropped the language, their titles and they don't talk about it much, but when I travelled over there a few years ago they all sat around and stared endlessly at the photos of their home town.
Ah me - I'm babbling...translate the above as: "Thanks for posting this!"

Please let me try my luck in your raffle, I'd love to show them the tale.


Postmaster said...

Wow! Love the tale and my wife will love it even more.

Anonymous said...

Wow what a wonderful page/blog you have!
I found you on Angeliska's page.
One good thing leads to another!
I will be back regularly to enjoy your posts!

Goblin & Griffin said...

So many tantalizing treasures and trinkets and folkloric tidbits! Thank you for your wonderful journal.

.angi. said...

i would very much like to win this book, its really interesting the tale of la befana, i love it!

Anonymous said...

A Christmas Witch! Brilliant. Almost as brilliant as a Santa and Krampus playing Good Cop/Bad Cop. Like Mon Petit Fantome, I have learnt another fantastic story because of you. Many thanks, and keep it up.


PS: And, I'd love the book!

Unknown said...

I'd just like to follow up comment that this post prompted a rather delightful conversation with my grandpa (as mentioned in my post above) and thanks to your article I knew what we were talking about!

Lady Lavona said...

Thank you for all the lovely comments! I wish I had a book for each of you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderful story.
I am from Schenectady, New York and belong to a community of St. Rosa Venerini's Sisters. I am an Associate member. Every year we have a "La Befana" celebration either on January 5th or very near that date.


phinnvolt said...

Wow, that brought back some childhood memories! I would be blessed to receive the book.

Even so I am going to do the research relearn what was lost.

Thank you so much!