On January the 6th in many countries Epiphany is celebrated. Also in Italy, but here people often call it “la Befana”. La Befana is a friendly witch who delivers sweets and presents for the good children in Italy. On the night before January the 6th, the children hang their socks near the fireplace with a glass of wine, a tangerine and an orange for the witch. The next morning the delicacies have disappeared. La Befana has passed by and as evidence she has left her handprint in ashes on the plate. In the socks she has put sweets and sometimes presents. Children who haven’t been obedient in the past year will find “carbone”, coal in their sock!
Many different stories go round about where La Befana comes from. It is said that the witch met the three kings “I Tre Magi”. They asked her the way to Bethlehem to find the new born Jesus. The Befana declined their offer. When she changed her mind, she set out after them with some presents for Jesus. But she never caught up with them. Another story says that la Befana derives from the Greek word “Epifania”. The witch brings gifts and sweets to the children to commemorate the gifts brought by “I Tre Magi” to the new born Jesus.
We do not know which story is true and most probably there are other explanations too. It is, though, a lovely tradition in Italy at the end of the Christmas holidays.
– Post by Sylvia van der Male –