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In the still of the night, La Befana decides who’s naughty and nice

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I have heard of La Befana throughout my family and in school. I was incredibly lucky to be able to take a trip to Italy to see all my cousins there in 2018. While I was there, my zias and zios (aunts and uncles) told me stories about La Befana and what she would leave the kids. I also heard about her while in school when we did some research on other cultures and I thought it was the funniest thing for a witch to be doing a “second Christmas.” When I found out I could write a paper on this I was so excited and I learned that there is so much more to La Befana’s tradition. It will be great to talk about with all my cousins and family in Italy. La Befana is Italian folklore, where she is represented as an old hag doused in soot who rides around on a broomstick.

La Bafana is also an Italian tradition where on the Epiphany Eve (Jan. 5) children leave their socks by the chimney/fireplace and hope that La Bafana leaves treats, candy, and gifts for them in their socks. On the other hand, children who were deemed as naughty receive a mix of coal, black/dark candy, onions, and garlic. The La Befana tradition originated in Rome where families would leave out a glass of wine and parcels of food, particularly local food found in their region of Italy. Then when everyone is asleep La Befana would creep down the chimney, eat, drink her wine, and fill the socks. However she wasn’t done yet, La Befana was known for her incredible housekeeping, so before she left a house she would sweep the floor with her broomstick. If your floors were clean the next morning it meant that she was trying to clean your family and home of the problems of the new year.

La Befana came on the Epiphany Eve to give children treats to celebrate Jesus’ birth, baptism, and the Magis’ visit to see Jesus. The most popular story on how La Befana came to be, which is told by most Christians, tells that one night the Magi approached La Befana’s home on their way to find baby Jesus. When they stumbled upon La Befana’s home they knocked on her door and asked her if she would want to join them to find Jesus, but La Befana turned them down because she was too busy with housework. The next day La Befana realized she had made a terrible mistake and left her house with her broom in hand and gifts for the newborn Jesus. La Befana traveled far and long in her desperate search for the Magi and Jesus, but sadly she could not find them. So, she decided to fly on her broomstick around Italy delivering the gifts she intended to deliver to Jesus to good boys and girls across Italy.

Today La Befana is still celebrated as an important and meaningful Italian tradition. Festivals held all across Italy have hundreds of La Befanas present to make appearances. La Befana juggles and dances to create a wonderful experience for all the children and tens of thousands of people that come to see her. Although you may think La Befana is strictly a tradition only celebrated in Italy, you are mistaken. In Italian and Italian-influenced communities like Toronto, Canada for example, they have small La Befana traditions. In the Kensington Market Festival of Lights Parade that appears in Toronto and Ontario Canada, there is a float full of La Befanas who sing songs, dance, and toss out candies and treats to young children in the crowds. La Befana may have originated in Italy, but as Italians traveled and immigrated elsewhere the tradition carried on and spread among other countries. Many Italian grandmothers all over the world pass this tradition on to their grandchildren and on the Epiphany Eve will fill up a sock/stocking with goodies and treats.

The Epiphany Eve when La Bafana makes her appearance was a meaningful celebration for families in the past and this celebration continues to live on through families today even in other places than Italy. I will be celebrating the Epiphany with my family this year with La Befana. My family and I hope to make La Befana-themed cookies and leave her a great Frascati wine and most importantly keep the tradition going! As the Italians would say on The Epiphany Eve, “Lungo viva La Befana!” (Long live La Befana).

Poems about La Befana are read and sung throughout Italy. The Italian poet, Giovanni Pascoli, wrote poems about La Befana that became very famous. His work instantly became popular right after its release. He won many poetry prizes and awards in the 19th century. His work was widely recognized in Italy and a literature award called the Pascoli Prize was established on his 50th death anniversary to honor him.

 

“Viene La Befana” By Giovanni Pascoli Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! la circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana

Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is!
All wrapped up In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!

Angelina Cappelli
Author: Angelina Cappelli

Angelina Cappelli is an eighth-grader in Chester County, Pa., with four Italian immigrant grand-parents from Casal Velino and Avelino in Campagna, Teramo in Abruzzo and Ascoli Piceno in Marche.

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