The Befana Tradition in Italy
During the night between the 5th and the 6th January, all the children in Italy wait for the Befana to arrive in the houses and leave presents, sweets or sweet coal.
But who is the Befana and why she gives sweets in the night of Epiphany?
This old woman riding a broom comes from the magic pagans’ rituals, but the most famous tale about her finds its origins in the Christianity.
The three Wise Men, travelling to reach Bethlehem and give presents to Baby Jesus, lost the way. They asked information to an old woman, praying her to go with them, but she didn’t want to leave her house. After the Wise Men left her house, she changed her mind, took a basket full of sweets and started to search for the three men, but she couldn’t find them. So she decided to knock the doors of all the houses and to give sweets to the children to be forgiven.
From that night, every year the Befana goes around the world on her broom.
The iconography is always the same: an old, ugly woman, dressed with old clothes, with some patches, a veil on her head and the broom in her hand.
Every year, on the 5th January, before going to sleep children put a big sock near the window for the sweets. Sometimes they leave some cookies and milk for the Befana, as they did for Santa Claus on the Christmas’night.
In Italy the 6th of January is also the last day of the Christmas holidays: the day after children have to go back to school and adults go back to work, so this tradition is a way to have fun the last day of holiday as well.
In the past children received only coal (the real one) if they had been naughty, while the good ones received sweets; but now all find sweets, sweet coal (made by sugar) and sometimes little presents in their socks.
And adults receive little presents sometimes as well, so hurry up and hang a sock on your window!
And if you are in Christmas mood, read more about this festivity here.