Sunday, January 06, 2008

An Italian Christmas Tradition - La Befana

Last evening all over Italy, while children where sleeping, an old lady on a broomstick was flying into their homes and leaving presents in their stockings. The good boys and girls where receiving candy coins and other treats; the bad got the traditional lump of coal. La Befana may sound like Santa Claus but she's been around since the 13th century and though she may look like a witch her story is a touching one.
Ephifania Fair stallLa BefanaBabo Natale (Santa Claus) is making inroads but the tradition of La Befana - a corruption of the word Epifania (Epiphany)- is still very strong in most families here. Shop windows are filled with her image and dolls and figurines of the old lady are available all over town.
La Befana cakesStrangely for Italy, a country obsessed with food traditions, there are no particular foods associated with La Befana. That doesn't stop the pastry shops from making up cakes and goodies. Of course, there's a a gold coin (chocolate) on the cakes for good luck. At our dinner tonight each guest will get a small bag of gold-foiled covered chocolate coins for good luck.

And we did go a little over board buying Befane this year. The one at the top of the page is currently guarding the china cabinet and these two are on our Christmas tree.

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!

La Befana comes by night
With her shoes old and broken
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!
Guess we have a new tradition in our house. Buono feste a tutti!

Update: Our friend Vincenzo tells me that last picture is actually a witch - La Befana would never wear a pointed cap. She always wears a headscarf. I still like her anyway.

06 gennaio - Epifania de Nostre Signore


sageweb said...

A witch during the holiday??? I love it. Is this on top of Santa coming or do they not have a Santa in Italy?

Willym said...

Sageweb: Santa Claus is becoming more prevelant here and is the main bearer of gifts - International Marketing has made sure of that; La Befana brings more traditional gifts - candy, small games, oranges etc. More like what I remember from my Christmas stocking. Guess the kids here make out like bandits in the gift department.

Anonymous said...

Man, I so missed out by not being Catholic.

Doralong said...

I prefer the idea of a nice old grandma type lady breaking into houses that the big dude in the red suit.. just sayin'.

And - AHEM, cough, hint- your answers sir?? Yes, I am a terrible woman..

Angie said...

What a beautiful story. It made me teary eyed.

Sling said...

A wonderful tradition Willym..I really enjoy these insights into Italian culture you bring us!

evilganome said...

I love the sounds of this tradition. I know my Dad (a French Canadian) always found it somewhat irksome that presents were distributed on the 25th of December and not on Epiphany and was always threatening us kids with making us wait until January for our presents.

more cowbell said...

Ah, and is that a celebratory silver ball I spy on the tree?

Lorraine said...

La Befana is adorable. I gotta get me one of those for next year.

BigAssBelle said...

that is the BEST story!! i never heard of la befana before and now i shall have a cute little crone for my holiday tree. sweet.