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La Befana: the good Italian witch

Updated on February 2, 2015

The magic of La Befana

I love children magical tales and characters. My favorite are the ones that we believed to be real, the ones we waited for with so much excitement and took us in a wonderful and magical world. The one I've always loved the most is La Befana. She is an old witch who delivers sweets and coal to all children in Italy on the night of the 5th January.

Her day is the 6th of January when she flies about across the sky on her broom enjoying herself after the night work. The picture on the side is my little La Befana, a precious gift I've had since I was a young girl.

HAPPY EPIPHANY EVERYONE!!!!!

La Befana lovely figurines on Amazon

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The good witch loved by children

All children in Italy are taught that the old witch will ride on her broom and bring them sweets if they've been good and coal if they've been naughty. They leave socks to be filled by the fireplace as she makes her way in down the chimney. In the old days she would leave fruit and a piece of coal to all children. The coal, back then, represented the hearth which was the heart of the household. My grandmother said that when she was a child she was very proud to be roasting her chestnuts on the coal left by la Befana." They tasted better" she would say.

Before the appearance of Santa Claus in Italy La befana was the only one bringing presents to children.

La Befana is very old, her shoes have holes in them and her modest dress is patched up here and there. She doesn't pay attention to her appearance and doesn't care what people think, she's very happy and that's all matters! The term Befana is very often used in Italy to describe a woman that doesn't dress well or is not very good looking.

Origins of the good witch

The most likely origin is that Befana was a pagan deity incorporated in the Catholic religion like so many other pagan tradition (they were so strong couldn't be wiped out).

She's believed to be descended from the Roman goddess named Strina (the goddess of strength and endurance) and supervised the New Year's gift (called Strenae) , those gifts being of the same description as those of La Befana: figs, dates and other sweet fruits.

Her name probably comes from a mispronunciation of Epifania from Feast of the Epiphany (Jan6th) which means "manifestation (of the divinity)." You would think, great, she's the divinity... Now, Epiphany is a Christian holiday and the divinity is baby Jesus as according to the bible this is the day when the 3 kings visited so making him the savior.

Christian legend had it that Befana was approached by the the Three Wise Men a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Son of God was, but she did not know. She then provided them with shelter for a night, and to thank her The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus; she declined, as she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana changed her mind, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus but, as she was not able to find them, she is to this day still searching for the little baby

Another Christian legend states that La Befana was an ordinary woman with a child whom she greatly loved. However, her child died, and she became mad. When she heard news of Jesus being born, she set out to find him, as she thought he was her son. When she found him, infant Jesus was so delighted with her presents that he gave La Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.

There are several versions of her life and origins in children books and they are all great and magic!

Lovely Befana doll - from: http://sarahrusselldolls.com/Befana.htm

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Great Books

Here're some books children would love.

Lovely broomstick

Add some protection to your home

Her broom for me is the most evocative symbol, as it might be that she comes to sweep clean to start the New Year fresh, leaving behind all the undesired things of the previous year

I have a broomstick on top of my front door for protection of my home, looks nice and unusual too. Or why not buy a miniature broomstick?

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Modern day Befana

The tradition of La Befana is still very alive in Italy. While in the old days she would bring fruit and coal to all children, both very precious presents, in modern days she brings sweets to good children and coal to naughty ones. As society will have it the holiday of Epiphany has been heavily commercialized (just like Christmas). As well as sweets she will also bring present and the coal has been replaced with a very sweet, sugar rock candy that resemble a piece of coal.

Here's how to make it:

http://www.manusmenu.com/carbone-della-befana-swee...

Don't forget to hang your socks!

Guestbook Comments

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    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 4 years ago

      Must add her to my Good Witch vs Bad Witch lens

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      I have not heard of La Befana, but I do like the idea of introducing kids to the concept of good witches. Great info!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      La Befana is a new one for me, and I appreciate very much your telling some of her stories and introducing her. Thank you.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 4 years ago

      I've seen these good witch figurines, but didn't know the entire story behind them. Thank you for explaining the tradition.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Sounds more like a fairy goddess to me! :)

      Cheers!

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Blessed-enjoyed very much

    • kimark421 profile image

      kimark421 4 years ago

      Very cool lens. I really enjoyed reading about La Befana!

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 4 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi I enjoyed reading about the good witch La Befana. Blessed by Squid Angel flinnie.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 4 years ago

      Lovely to hear of the good witch La Befana

    • profile image

      myspace9 4 years ago

      Thank you so much for your squidlike,comments and support as a newbie to Squidoo. Wishing you a happy new year.

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 5 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      Thus lens caught my eye because I just held a magic camp with kids and I was trying to find information about witches & wizards & magicians and had trouble finding female magicians or witches that were considered"good." It was disappointing. I love the idea of La Befana bringing gifts and especially that she didn't care what people thought of her. Wish I had known about her a few days ago.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Our grand daughter gave me one of these dolls. Just love it.

    • queenofduvetcover profile image

      queenofduvetcover 5 years ago

      See, not all witches are evil! =P

      Great read, thanks for sharing.

    • natashaely profile image

      natashaely 5 years ago

      I love this, what a fascinating story and your Befana must be very precious to you. I had heard something of her before but didn't know the real roots of her. It is not surprising that she has been adopted into the Christian faith and they have tried to water her down, look at Yule and Oestara! Beautiful page, blessed be.

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      EnjoyLens 5 years ago

      Very nice lens! thumbs up!

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      Loved your Lens on The Befana, very well done and an enjoyable read. I'm not a Squid Angel but Brightest of Blessing to you and yours ;-)

    • winter aconite profile image
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      winter aconite 5 years ago

      @Nightcat: Have you got Italian roots? Befana is very Italian.....I love that. Have you got a picture you can share??? blessed be!!!!!

    • winter aconite profile image
      Author

      winter aconite 5 years ago

      @getwellsoon: I love learning about other traditions too. I find an easy way is through cooking....I love recipes...and I love cooking. Glad you like this one....Don't forget, Hang your sock on 5th Jan.....There'll be a surprise for you!!!!!

    • Nightcat profile image

      Nightcat 5 years ago

      Your little Befana is lovely! I have a kitchen witch I call Befana, but she's fairly recent. Thanks for sharing! :)

    • winter aconite profile image
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      winter aconite 5 years ago

      @julieannbrady: Thank you!!!

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      getwellsoon 5 years ago

      What a fun story and tradition. I love learning about other countries and their honored traditions. Thank you!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      Wow! I like that ... a witch that can bring you sweets or coal. Awesome story.

    • winter aconite profile image
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      winter aconite 5 years ago

      @Fcuk Hub: Yes, she's got a really sweet face :-)

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 5 years ago

      That witch looks nice. Absolutely not scary :)

    • winter aconite profile image
      Author

      winter aconite 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you!!!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      So interesting, I really enjoyed reading this.