Note to Blog Readers: My 11-year-old daughter Chiara insisted on doing a post on the tradition of La Befana in Italy. I have always had a bit of a problem with La Befana because she almost pushes Santa Claus out of the way. I also have a problem with the Topolino dei Denti (The Tooth Mouse) who takes the place of my beloved American Tooth Fairy. (Who wants a mouse crawling around their your pillow looking for your teeth, and who wants a warty witch coming down their chimney when there is chubby, jolly Santa Claus?). La Befana is celebrated on January 6th– the day of the Epiphany. Children put out stockings the night before and the Befana fills them with candy if the children have been good, and candy-coal if the children have been bad.
Here is the legend of La Befana prepared by Chiara:
The Three Kings approached the Befana a few days after the birth of the baby Jesus and asked her if she knew where he was. She didn’t know but she offered them a place to stay for the night before they continued their journey. The Three Kings invited her to go with them, but she refused. Later, La Befana changed her mind and went off to look for them but they were long gone and she could not find them. So she was left to spend her days flying from house to house on her broom searching for good children. She leaves candy in the stockings of good children and coal in the stockings of bad children. Her favorite color is black and she can be invisible.
In some regions of Italy, especially in Tuscany, Friuli and Trentino, groups of teenagers go to houses dressed up as the befana. They are called the Befani. They wear old clothes and have their faces dyed black with soot. They bring a lantern to light their path. The Befani go around knocking from house to house asking everyone for something sweet that they put in large baskets on their backs. The candy is then given to little children.
The Befana can be both cunning and brusque. She is a little bit little bit witch and a little bit fairy.
In Italy there is a famous song about the Befana:
In Italian it is like this:
La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!
The English translation is:
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!
Final Note: I think the Befana did do some good for Italy today. Sales started in Rome and the streets of the center of the city were crowded with enthusiastic shoppers. Parents packed Rome’s Piazza Navona with their children to enjoy the displays and buy some Befana treats. At least for one day it seemed as though the economic crisis had slipped everyone’s minds.