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Friday, January 06, 2023

Epiphany and the legend of "La Befana"

Hello everyone!


Today, the 6th of January is the 12th day of Christmas: the feast of the Epiphany. This holiday officially concludes the Catholic Christmas season and commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men. We also take down our Christmas decorations after this day. During the holidays, I took a break from working on true crime cases, but since this is the last day of the festive season, you can expect a new post, and video, very soon!


In Italy, the Epiphany (L'Epifania) is also known as La festa della Befana (The feast of La Befana). In fact, the name Befana is a derivate of the Greek word Epiphaneia. But who is she, and why is she associated with the feast of the Epiphany?


In Italian folklore, La Befana is a wise woman gifted with magical powers. She crosses the skies on her flying broom, bringing presents to the good children like figs, nuts and sweets on the night of the eve of the Epiphany (the 5th). To those who are spoiled, she leaves a piece of coalLa Befana is old and ugly because she represents the end of the year. Also, her broom symbolises sweeping the festivities and the past year away.


La Befana


She fills up children's stockings, just like Santa Claus, however, La Befana has been flying around the world on her broomstick long before him. The witch has been in the Italian tradition at least, since the eighth century, as part of the Epiphany. Because the myth of Father Christmas is known across the world, La Befana is also known as the Christmas Witch.


In Miracle on 34th Street (1994), when Kris tells the little girl his name in other countries, he states that in Italy, his name is La Befana, however, his Italian name is Babbo Natale


La Befana’s origins are colourful and various. In the most common iteration, the Three Wise Men encountered her on their way to Bethlehem. She generously hosted them for an evening in her humble cottage. The next morning, they invited her to accompany them to Bethlehem. The old witch refused, citing too much housework. Later, she had a change of heart and rushed out to join them. But it was too late. 


La Befana now spends eternity on a quest for Baby Jesus, stopping at every home, on the way to deliver the gifts and blessings she otherwise would have left at the manger.


Another theory traces La Befana to the goddess Strenia. Strenia (Strenua) was the Roman goddess of the new year, purification, and well-being. Romans honoured her at the start of each new year by exchanging gifts. To my fellow Maltese readers, this is where we get our own tradition of gifting money at the beginning of the new year, known as L-Istrina. The word comes from the Latin strena, meaning gift of good luck. Not to be confused with the annual fundraising telethon by the same name!


Nobody really knows how the Befana tradition was born. All we know for sure is that it has an unchangeable place in the celebration of Christmas in modern-day Italy.


There are many versions of a popular nursery rhyme (filastrocca) about La Befana known across Italy. Here are the most common two:


Version 1

La Befana vien di notte

con le scarpe tutte rotte

col vestito alla romana:

Viva viva la Befana!


Version 2 

La Befana vien di notte

con le scarpe tutte rotte

con le toppe alla sottana:

Viva, viva la Befana!


English translation:


Version 1

La Befana comes at night

with her broken shoes

with her Roman dress:

Long live la Befana!


Version 2 

La Befana comes at night

with her broken shoes

with patches on the skirt:

Long live la Befana!



Happy feast of the Epiphany to all those who celebrate it!


Talk to you soon.


Cosette





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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! If you ask a question I will answer it asap. – Cosette

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