It is a tradition in Italy to dress up like Befana, the good witch who distributes sweets and gifts to children. Read more about La Befana of the Italian folklore.
La Befana is a popular Italian folklore character that originated in Rome. Considered as a national icon, this figure is closely associated with Papal States where Epiphany is celebrated with great importance. Though she is similar to Santa in significance, Befana is presented as a witch-like figure that holds a great status in Christmas celebrations in Italy. Her gift giving style is similar to that of Santa Claus and she, supposedly, climbs down the chimney to leave gifts for good children. She is regarded as the best housekeeper of Italy and is believed to have a habit of sweeping the floor around the chimney, every time, on her way out. In places where a vibrant Italian community exits, traditions involving Befana are observed and celebrated by other communities as well. Mostly, women and children, and sometimes even men, dress up as La Befana to sing songs in the street and give gifts to children. Scroll further to know more about her!
Befana - Legends & Myths
- According to the Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to the children on the eve of Epiphany (January 5 night), in a similar way as other popular Christmas characters, like Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas, do. Though this character originated in central Italy, she is believed to distribute gifts throughout the country.
- According to the popular folklore, Befana visits the children on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany and fills their stockings with gifts. Those children who have been good throughout the year receive sweets and presents, whereas, the naughty children are left with a lump of coal. She is considered to be a good house keeper and people believe that she sweeps the floor before leaving the house. Families usually leave a glass of wine and few food stuffs on a plate for Befana, expecting that she will have them before leaving the house.
- Befana is pictured as a typical witch, riding on a broomstick, wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot as she gets inside houses through chimneys. She is presented as a cheerful person who carries a bag of candies and gifts.
- Legend has it that the biblical magi, known as 'The Three Wise Men', met her some days before baby Jesus was born. On the night of Jesus's birth, they asked her for directions which she did not know. They had seen his star in the sky but did not know the place where the Son of God was. Hence, being the ideal housekeeper in the village, she provided them shelter that night, in her pleasant home. When they asked her to join them, she politely refused as she had lots of household works left. Later however, she tried to join these strangers but could not track them.
- Another version of the legend says that she was an ordinary woman with a child whom she loved the most. But the sudden death of the child grieved her. Hence, when she heard the news of the baby Jesus being born, she visited him with handfuls of presents and the delighted infant Jesus blessed her to be the mother of every child in Italy.
Till date, Befana is said to be looking for little babies and children so that she can offer gifts to all those who have been virtuous in their deeds.