O La Befana! La Befana…?
I know, I know. It’s now January (almost) 3rd and I have yet to finish my “12 Days of Christmas in Italy” feature. The last couple of weeks in 2011 got so busy with last minute holiday excitement, photography gigs and deadlines that I simply did not have the physical energy to sit down and do ANYTHING creative, let alone blog&reflect. But now, it’s a brand new year (Buon Anno a tutti!) and since the holidays don’t officially end until after January 6th (Ephiphany), that will be my
new deadline. It’s the first week back from the holidays, so I’m going to go easy on myself… and others!
Now, here’s a short entry I’ll pen for this feature (with hopes that I can wake up at the regular time and make it to my day job tomorrow – our first day back).
Growing up, I was always envious of the kids who celebrated Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day. I always understood it to be a Catholic holiday and something that Protestants (the faith tradition in which I was raised) did not participate in. I didn’t know that much about Epiphany and why it was celebrated until I studied abroad in Italy in the spring of 2004.
According to Italian folklore (and many legends that one can believe), Befana (who probably originated from Central Italy and gets her name from Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina) was an old lady who spent her day cleaning and sweeping her house. One day, three travelers stopped by her house. It turns out that these three travelers were the Three Wise Men who were on their way to see the Baby Jesus in the Manger. They invited La Befana to come along. At first. she refused their invitation and considered it a waste of time. However, when she realized what she was missing out on, she grabbed her broom and ran out of the door, still wearing her apron. She tried to find the Three Wise Men, but they were long gone. To this day, La Befana is still running around in search of the Three Wise Men. Befana also brings gifts to children (small toys and sweets for the good children; onions, garlic and coal for the bad children) in hopes that she might find the Christ Child. Her role is similar to that of Santa Claus (o Babbo Natale), and many children eagerly anticipate her visit.
Writer’s Note: To the left, you can see a picture of La Befana standing outside of a toy/stationery store in Orvieto, Italy. To me, this representation of La Befana looks more like the evil, old peddler who gave a poisonous apple to Snow White than the “Epiphany Witch” who flies around the chimneys of Italy giving gifts to obedient children. January 6th is the official end of the Advent Season in Europe and is also a major religious holiday for those who observe it as such.
For those who are not religious? Well, it’s simply another day to give gifts…