La Befana, a Traditional Italian Holiday on January 6
Different than many other countries around the world, Christmas time in Italy is celebrated until January 6th, Epiphany day. Epiphany honors the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing gifts for Baby Jesus. It’s the last celebration that brings the Christmas period to an end.
In Italy, the legend of La Befana (The witch) is one that is traditionally told during the time of Epiphany. According to legend, on the night before the feast of the Epiphany, Befana flies around on her broom, delivering gifts. She leaves candy, fruit, and small gifts in the stockings of children who are well-behaved throughout the year. If a child is naughty, he or she believes to find a lump of coal left behind by La Befana. The children look forward to Epiphany with a sense of anxiety and enthusiastic anticipation. According to legend, on the night between the 5th and the 6th of January, while the children are asleep, an old good woman, called “Befana” flies in the sky on her broom with a special bag full of packages. She comes into their home and brings them special gifts, so when they wake up in the morning they find a surprise.
On this day, the children wake up very early in the morning excited to find their gifts. The Italian custom also says that the Befana leaves her gifts not just at one house, but she also visits relatives such as grandparents’, aunts, uncles and other relatives’ homes. Epiphany day in Italian homes are always full of people visiting and of children unwrapping gifts. Tables are filled with cakes, candy, Italian liqueurs, and everything is encompassed by a happy atmosphere or peace and harmony.
By the way growing up, in the many years we celebrated La Befana, I never received coal by la Befana. I miss this holiday because it was about the children. The adults brought it together and we celebrated together at the table to finalize the last day of the Christmas holiday. I love tradition!
Posted by Alba Carbonaro Johnson