La Befana – Italy’s Good Witch

Little Befana dolls on sale in Rome's Piazza Navona. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.

A large Befana doll at Rome's Piazza Navona. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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 an Economic Crisis being the Befana can help makes ends meet. A real live Befana in Rome's Piazza Navona, January 4, 2012. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.

14 thoughts on “La Befana – Italy’s Good Witch”

  1. Chiara,

    What an excellent blog post on the Befana. You certainly write clearly and well. I’m glad to learn about Befana from you. I hope she left you a nice full stocking. You should do more blogs.


      1. thank you for writing this sweet and informative post, i shared it with my community in Aviano, Italy, ( we are in the Friuli region) via facebook. Keep up the good work!

  2. Fascinating to know a bit more about La Befana! In Turkey we do not have her – but we have all of the Christmas traditions wrapped up into New Year’s Eve – and New Year’s trees!

  3. Dear Chiara,

    Thank you for the post on La Befana – and did she visit you? What did she bring you? I am impressed! It is good to see you writing – I agree with Nonno John’s point! Now if we could just get your “going the distance” blog going with you know who!!!!


    Zia Elspeth

  4. Dear Chiara and Trish,

    Thank you so much for sharing the story of Befana! I loved the story and the beautiful photos!

    Much love and Happy New Year,

    Cyndy and Helen

  5. Hola Trisha, you certainly have a cool blog! I ll keep reading it! You should also explain to your readers that women who are not exactly ” bellissime ” are called befane…hey guarda quella befana!! ciaooooo

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Hey Max! Thanks for you comment and support. I am suffering from blog blues this week feeling like nobody is reading and nobody cares, so why bother? I will get over it though. Yes indeed, nasty men in Italy call some of us women “La Befana” when we are being grouchy and in a bad mood, I think some of the cameraman I work with have called me that a few times. Oh well!

  6. Trisha… Love your blog! Love Piazza Navona! Love Rome! Love Italy! Thank you so much for this La Befana blog. My Befana “doll” is hanging on our door here in Pennsylvania. Warmest wishes to you and your family. Carol

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Thank you Carol, you are so kind. Your words give me encouragement. I have been running out of energy a bit on the blog and wondering if I should give up….I guess I will continue for a while longer.

  7. do you know if these beautiful dolls are exported to Canada?? I am in search of such a thing and it is like a needle in a hay stack searching the web.

    1. Sorry Bill, I actually did the Befana post several years ago and am not really up on the whole Befana buying business. I will look into it though when I have time and let you know.

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