“Epiphany takes all holidays away” is an old saying in Italy. Actually, January 6th marks the end of the holiday season. Christmas and New Year celebrations passed and everything turnover into normal daily life again. It’s the beginning of a new year and Befana (a term derived from the epiphany that means manifestation) strives to comfort us in this transition. The tradition says that in the early morning hours between January 5th and 6th, Befana, the old lady, stops by our houses to fill the socks hanging in the fireplace with candies, sweets, cookies, and chocolate, but be careful because you can also find your sock full of coal, which symbolizes the misdeeds of the past year. The Epiphany or Kings Day is also Befana’s party, a public holiday in Italy, time to take the Christmas tree down. New Year, New Life!
So, what has Befana brought you this year? Candy or coal? Ok, I know, you claim you behaved well, so you sure got candies or maybe some nice gifts. But, let me guess, if you were a naughty boy, this year you only got COAL! You want to know what I found inside my stocking… Hmmm! Befana’s party is a typical Italian tradition, and the charismatic old woman is always eagerly awaited by children. Riding on her flying broom, she crosses the sky carrying her basket full of goodies. The origins of all this come from pre-Christian magical traditions.
The legend says that when the three Wise Men made their way to Bethlehem to bring gifts to Jesus, they had difficulties finding their way, so they asked an old woman for help. Being grateful for her help and kindness, they invited her to come with them. The old woman, who was too busy cleaning the house, declined, but soon later she realized it was a mistake. So, Befana puts some gifts in a basket and left, trying to reach the Wise Men. Despite following the same star as they did, she never arrived at the stable where Jesus was born, and so she went into the houses and left gifts for the children in the hope that one of them was the baby Jesus. Therefore, always on the same day, she rides on her broom going around the world, entering houses, and leaving gifts for children expecting to be forgiven.
That’s why anyone nice in the past year found sweets inside their socks. The naughty ones do not! They found only coal! But don’t worry, she’ll be back next year! And believe me, she is a mix of witch, fairy, and magician, sometimes generous sometimes severe, but never bad… and her coal is made of sugar, but you didn’t hear it from me! So, start singing:
“Befana comes at night
her shoes are not a pretty sight
she comes with stitches covering her dress
Bafana we shall bless!”
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