Sunday, January 3, 2010

Meeting Befana

January 6th marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, also known as the day of Epiphany. In Italy – and in Italian communities around the world - this occurrence is also known as “Befana”.

La Befana is a character in Italian folklore who delivers presents to children throughout Italy, in a similar way to Santa Claus. In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of January 6th, and fills their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad.

Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. The child's family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food for the Befana. She is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl. She is often smiling and carries a bag filled with candy, gifts, or both.

Christian legend has it that La Befana was approached by the Magi (or Three Kings), a few days before Christ's birth. They asked for directions to where the baby Jesus was, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village with the most pleasant home. They invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the baby Jesus. She leaves all the good children toys and candy, while the bad children get coal or bags of ashes.In the center of Rome, in Piazza Navona, a popular market, the Fiera della Befana takes place each year between Christmas and the Epiphany. There toys, sugar, “charcoal” and candies are sold for the Roman children.

In other parts of the world where a vibrant Italian community exists, traditions involving La Befana may be observed and shared or celebrated with the wider community. In Toronto (CA), for example, a Befana Choir shows up on Winter Solstice each December to sing in the Kensington Market Festival of Lights parade. Women, men, and children dressed in La Befana costume and nose sing love songs to serenade the sun to beckon its return. The singing hags gather in the street to give candy to children, to cackle and screech to accordion music, and to sing in every key imaginable as delighted parade participants join in the cacophony. Sometimes, the Befanas dance with parade goers and dust down the willing as parade goers walk by.

Some of this information was found on

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