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Little Christmas

Updated on December 3, 2015

January 6th Feast of the Epiphany (or Little Christmas)

This was Christmas Day when the old Gregorian calendar was still in use. It is the traditional end of the Christmas season and the last day of the Christmas holidays for both primary and secondary schools in Ireland. In Italy and the Spanish-speaking world, Christmas Day is strictly religious, and gifts are exchanged on the feast of the Epiphany, when the wise men (or Magi) brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.

Little Christmas Color Pages

Italian Americans celebrate Little Christmas in Italian neighborhoods like Little Italy in Lower Manhattan and East Harlem (where my family settled when they 1st came to America from Naples). In a way it's a sad time marking the end of the Holidays, the next day the Christmas Trees, Decorations & Lights are taken down and stored away for next year. In Italy it is a big celebration as well. Most families that have young children give them a few small gifts and goodies; a symbolic gesture to remind them of The Three Wisemen bringing gifts of gold, frankincense & myrrh to the baby Jesus.

Epiphany Eve ~ La Festa dell'Epifania

La Befana

Many people believe that the name Befana is derived from the Italians' mispronunciation of the Greek word epifania. Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on the Eve of the Epiphany . Some believe her to be a good witch and it is thought that this is where The Kitchen Witch originates. Evidence suggests that Befana descends from the Sabine-Roman goddess named Strina. She is portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children's houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag filled with candy and gifts.

La Befana ~ January 5th Epiphany Eve - The Feast of the Befana (The Good Witch)

In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. The child's family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food for the Befana.

Christian legend had it that Befana was approached by the biblical magi (Three Wise Men or the Three Kings) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Son of God was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village, with the most pleasant home. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the little baby. She leaves all the good children toys, candy or fruit, while the bad children get coal, onions or garlic.

Brutta Befana

Origins of the Kitchen Witch - Scandinavian Cottage Crone

3 Kings Day - Epiphany - Little Christmas & Latin Christmas

Three Kings Parade - January 6th Bronx, New York

In the Bronx where I live Three Kings Day is celebrated by Latinos sometimes more than Christmas; reason being many who work in service oriented jobs have to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, especially those who work in restaurants. We have a very popular parade in the Bronx complete with camels and wisemen handing out gifts to the poor children.

I've updated this Lens to include some other celebrations of 3 Kings Day around the World.

A Kitchen Witch displayed in your kitchen or by your hearth is said to increase productivity, keep pots from boiling over and meals and baked goods from burning.


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