La Befana: An Italian Tradition For The Epiphany

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The Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th and the children in Italy receive gifts in their stockings, of course this does not mean that they did not receive gift on Christmas, but typically for the Befana, a child gets sweets and small toys if they have been good or coal if they have been bad.

The tradition states that the Befana is a very old woman that flies on a broom and there is a pagan as well as a Christian version of her origins. The pagan one states that the Befana represents the old year, while the Christian version states that three wise men headed to bring gifts to baby Jesus had asked for directions to an old woman that was sweeping and cleaning and then invited her to come along. However she refused but some time later, she regretted her decision and with a basket full of sweets she headed out in the hopes of finding them but was unable to, so she started giving out her sweets at every house with a small child with the hope that one of them would be Jesus. So from then on, she descends at every house giving children their gifts in order to be forgiven.

The Befana which is an extremely old lady and not good looking at all and almost resembles a witch since she travels on a broom but carries with her a bag of treats, can also be scary to children but with the tales that the family and friends tell them that deep down she is a very good and gives sweets to children that have been good and the broom symbolizes that all your worries are swept away for the new year.

On January 5th the stockings are placed at the end of the child’s bed and tell them the following nursery rhyme:

La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
neve, gelo, tramontana,
viva viva la befana!

In the English version:

La Befana comes at night,
wearing her shoes all broken,
snow, frost, winter winds,
Hurray for the befana

After these cute lyrics you can lay your child to rest so that when they wake up the stocking is full of candy, chocolate and small toys and even if you get coal it is in candy form, so no child can go wrong. Plus the schools are closed and most offices are too on this day, so even the adults get an extra holiday day off.


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