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La Befana: the good Italian witch
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
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
Here're some books children would love.
Italian books on La Befana! - ...if you want to brush up your Italian....
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?
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:
Don't forget to hang your socks!