While Italian children believe in Babbo Natale (Santa Claus), they also have La Befana, an old witch-looking woman who rides a broom and delivers presents on the night before Epiphany, (Epiphania) which is celebrated January 6. This marks the final day of the stagione natale, the Christmas season.
There are different accounts for the woman who inspired this legend, but all agree that she lived at the time of Christ’s birth. One tale says she housed the three magi on their journey to visit the newborn king, but declined their invitation to join them on their journey, another says she denied them accommodations but had a change of heart. Either way has her leaving her home and searching for baby Jesus, riding her broomstick (she was known as an excellent housekeeper) and leaving candies (caramelle) for children along the way.
Modern tradition has La Befana leaving good children toys and candy or fruit, while the naughty ones get coal, onions or garlic (carbone, cipolle, aglio). Families leave a small glass of wine and a plate with a few tidbits of food (typically local fare). Being a good housekeeper, La Befana may sweep the floor before she leaves the house, representing the sweeping away of the year’s problems.
I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping for La Befana to make an appearance this year in America. Anyone who would sneak in at night to secretly clean my floors is always welcome in my house, and not just on January 6!
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I’m hoping to get caramelle, not carbone tonight! Auguri da una befana a un’altra, Cristina
It’s a joyous occasion, celebrated in our town with a parade of the local ladies dressed up as Befanas, a dance & music ‘spettacolo’ at the local theatre and competition where the children vote the best Befana. And all the children get ‘caramelle’.
A great reason to get togged up & out of the house on a cold wintry day.
That sounds like so much fun! Thanks so much for sharing these details. Have you ever posted about this? If so, please leave a link here!
No, I haven’t yet, Stacy. But I should. I am a lazy blogger. I shall have to rectify that! xx
We, and both of our daughters, have a statue of la Befana which moves near the presepio on the night of Jan. 5. In the morning our nipotini find caramelle italiane e a small toy near her. 🙂 Such a fun tradition. They LOVE the story. We have the Tomi di Paola version.
Such a sweet tradition, and a wonderful way to infuse Italian culture into your holidays! I should get that Tomi di Paola version. We have Strega Nona and have always loved it.
Well, it would seem that the glass of wine might be the key. Now I know why Santa never cleaned my house. The cookies and milk just don’t cut it.
Karen, lol 🙂 A few years back, when we were celebrating Christmas with cousins, the kids started leaving a beer for Santa, which he seems to appreciate!