Have you heard of “La Befana?” She’s the friendly old witch that visits the children of Italy the night of Jan 5, so they wake up on the Epiphany, January 6, with treats or coal in their stocking. Every child in Italia looks forward to this tradition, as it is the last occasion for celebration at the end of the Christmas season.
A witch at Christmas? You might be wondering how this tradition came about, since for American’s a witch is reserved for Halloween and is more the icon of nightmares than sweet treats.
Today, there are quite a few ideas on the origins of this legend. Some think it’s a relic of a pagan past that was tied to Christianity to help “sell” Christianity to the masses. Other’s tell the story of the Befana as part of the story of the Three Wise Men. In this version she either helps them or turns them away, but ultimately decides she wants to see baby Jesus who has, on the Epiphany been recognized as the son of God, yet can’t find him. So, she begins leaving treats for all the good children as she searches in vain.
Traditionally, everyone receives a lump of coal – or black colored candy – as most children have been bad at some point of the year, but then also (and hopefully in more abbundance) candies, figs, honey, dates or other sweet treats. You can also buy Befana stockings in every grocery store, and even adult kids will still be gifted them from their parents. Last year my mother-in-law gave me a Baci filled stocking and I am pretty sure I gained a kilo just looking at it. She knows those are one of my favorite candies, so since I was good all year (haha), it was my reward.
Additionally there is a catchy little song all the bambini in Italy know. There are a few different versions of it, but the one I’ve heard the most is:
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col vestito alla romana:
Viva viva la Befana!
You can listen to an example of how it’s recited and pronounced here!
Buona Befana a tutti!