On this Christmas Eve millions of children in the Italian peninsula are (like their parents and grandparents once were too) waiting eagerly for a special character to show up late at night and deliver their gifts. No. It’s not Santa Claus. It’s a creepy old lady called La Befana.

She comes stealthily in every home in the middle of the night to deliver the gifts and then speeds away in her broom; however if the children have been naughty she only leaves  a piece of “coal” as a dire warning to mend their ways for the next Christmas season.

That tradition harks back to the ancient times when the Celts ruled over the “Pianura Padana”, the fertile land encompassed by the flowing Po river in Northern Italy. Every major Celtic settlement had a priestess that prepared a bonfire ritual after the Winter Solstice to implore the Gods for a mild Winter and a plentiful Spring-Summer season. In the Middle Ages that custom degenerated in the burning of “a witch” in the town square.

After the Holidays have passed Italians gather in a desolate part of the neighborhood to  celebrate the Epiphany with family and friends.  All the assistants contribute with a little money to pay for some wine, drinks and snacks. They serve a hot wine called “brule” which contains clover, cinnamon, sugar and in some instances also bits of apple. In the end they lit a bonfire to burn the Befana and watch which way the smoke is drifting to. If it’s the Southwest, it’s a good omen that the year will be good for planting and harvest.

In our traditional Italian culture, which has been nurtured by our mothers in the cozy hearth, the female gender has a double mental representation. On one hand it’s the loving and beautiful image of a young woman that gives us life and protects us all along. On the other hand it’s the disgusting image of an old witch that can take all that away. Personally I believe that our mothers sagely trained us from the cradle to be kind and affectionate with women in general so as not to awaken their hideous hidden self.

What will happen tonight at home? Will the Befana bring me a nice gift or a piece of coal? Hey, I’ve been such a good boy all year long… Don’t you agree, ladies?

As an exception we are posting this article on a Sunday to wish all our Christian friends, and those that are not but like the festivity, a very Merry Christmas with your loved ones.

Buon Natale!

 

 

20 thoughts on “La Befana

  1. Hello! I’m Italian too, but I moved to the states a couple of months ago and for the first time I missed my Befana. Yes, no kinder, no candy bars! But Befana came for my 1-year-okd baby boy. Lucky him and all the Italians 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dear friend, pleade forgive me but I am going to be quite straight with you because you seem to be “a little green” and I do like you. Writing ( including blogging) is governed by the same relations of political power we see in other arenas, even though it appears “so rebellious.” When someone takes the time and effort to get out of his/her/ihr comfort zone to put a nice commentary in your page (thereby raising your score in Google Analytics) you do the same in their page, not yours. Like my fellow blogger and friend from Delaware put in a recent blog: we bloggers are selfish and that’s how we advance in this cruel world. Manus manum lavat. Arrivederci!

      Like

      1. Oh…No that was not my intention at all. And I’m sorry if you felt that way. In order to not make anyone feel as though i don’t appreciate their comments, i reply immediately and say thanks to everyone. So its a habit to reply and thats how the reply ends up underneath the original comment.
        But you are right. You commented on mine and i will do the same for you. And please, in future if anybody does anything that offends you, please do let them know before unfollwing ☹
        Thankyou 💞

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Another lesson. Please be advised that I have the Trinitian imprimatur: 1- I was born under the aegis of the first week of Scorpio(the strongest)
        2- I am a proud Italian-American, born and reared in a simple farm.
        3- Through tremendous effort and dedication I earned my MD degree and two Ivy Leagues titles in the USA (including another doctorate)
        Therefore I am extremely blunt. And too old to change.
        Un baccione. Arrivederci!

        Like

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