Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!
One may recall the previous Advent post demonstrating the curious depiction of witches on Christmas cards. Well, Befana may go some way to explaining that little oddity…
In the Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (January 5) in a similar way Santa Claus.
Legend has it that Befana was approached by the Three Wise Men a few days before the birth of Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Son of God was but Befana 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. The men 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, Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus, however, she was unable to find them, so to this day, she is searching for the little baby. She leaves all the good children toys and candy or fruit, while the bad children get coal, onions or garlic.
Another legend takes a slightly darker tone as La Befana was an ordinary woman with a child whom she greatly loved. However, her child died, and her resulting grief maddened her. Upon hearing news of Jesus being born, she set out to see him, delusional that he was her son. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.
Also, popular tradition tells that if one sees Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn’t wish to be seen.
Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 21st