La Befana

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

Santa Claus isn’t the only character who comes around at Christmas time bringing smiles to good little girls and boys. The idea of Santa Claus in Italy has become increasingly popular over the years however, before there was Santa Claus, the children of Italy awaited La Befana, who visited children of Italy on the eve of January 6th. The Feast of the Epiphany celebrated on January 6th, is an important day for Italians, has it signifies the end of the Christmas season and also the day the Three Wise Men arrived at Jesus’ manger and presented their gifts. The tradition of La Befana is deeply rooted into this special Italian holiday. La Befana is a much celebrated character in Italian folklore and although she is depicted as an old lady with a crooked nose wearing a black shawl riding through the sky on a broomstick (resembling a witch), children across Italy anxiously place their socks by the chimney in the hopes of receiving candy and/or small gifts. However, if children were bad they would awaken to find a lump of coal, which in modern days has been replaced with a dark sugar candy.

Photo Credit:  Claigre
The Christmas Market at Piazza Navona

In Piazza Navona, located in Rome’s centre, there is a popular market held every year between Christmas and the Epiphany called the “Fiera della Befana”.Here you will find all the toys, and sugar candies you could possibly need to celebrate the tradition of La Befana.

So what does La Befana have to do with The Epiphany? Well, it is said that one cold night in January an old woman was visited by three men. The men were following the star to Bethlehem that would take them to Jesus – the newborn king, son of Christ. They asked the old lady if she would accompany them on their journey but she refused. After some time had passed, she felt as though she may have made a mistake. She quickly grabbed a basket of goods to bring to the child and hurried out to follow the three men, however, it was too late, the men were gone and the old woman alone and searching for the child had become lost. It is believed that La Befana to this very day flies through the night and stops at the homes of each child leaving them treats in the hopes that one of the children she visits will be the one she had set out to find on that cold January night.

So, what did La Befana leave for you? Were you candy good or lump of coal bad?

  1. L’Epifania and La Befana | Calabrisella Mia

    January 6, 2013 at 6:28 am

    […] written about the folklore regarding the Befana in the past.  Most kids, when asked, don’t exactly know what La Befana has to do with the Epiphany.  For […]

  2. notitiae

    January 6, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Bella idea per la Befana… bell’articolo e servizio Complimenti!!!
    Il contributo di NotitiAE per la Befana al link:

  3. Leanne in Italy

    January 8, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    La Befana left me nothing that nasty old witch…but I was on a plane so perhaps she could not find me.
    The day before I left Italy I went to Piazza Navona and bought 2 lovely big La Befana for gifts from bel ragazzos parents for my parents and grandparent. I also bought a little la befana stocking for me nephew!

    1. LuLu

      January 8, 2009 at 11:26 pm

      You mean she couldn’t keep up with the plane?? She needs to upgrade the broomstick! 🙂

  4. My Melange

    January 6, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Oh, how I’d love to spend Christmas in Italy one year. Thanks for the history and story!

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