In the Bible tradition, the feast of the Epiphany is when the three magi arrive in Bethlehem to visit the Christ child, an event celebrated by Pope Francis with a Mass in St Peter's Basilica. In the popular fairytale version, the story goes that the wise men invited a witch to join them on their journey to bring gifts to the Christ child. She initially refused, but then tried to follow them. Unable to find Jesus she gave the gifts to other children. The witch has been in the Italian tradition at least since the eighth century, as part of the Epiphany.
According to the story, the four figures’ fates were intertwined when the Magi happened upon La Befana early on during their quest. She charitably hosted them for an evening in her humble but cozy cottage; the next morning, they invited her to accompany them to Bethlehem. Busy cleaning her home, La Befana declined at first – but then, after they carried on their way – she had second thoughts. She quickly filled a basket with gifts for the baby Jesus and set off alone. Although she followed the same star, she was unable to find the manger before the Wise Men did on January 6, the Epiphany.
Today, La Befana continues to travel the world on Epiphany Eve, searching every house for the child and leaving candies and chocolates for the good children – just coal for the bad – in her wake.
In Rome and other parts of Italy, children hang stockings by windows or fireplaces in anticipation of her visit to receive sweets if they've been good or coal if they have misbehaved. For almost a century the story has been reenacted each year in Piazza Navona, Rome and many of the city's shops and bars have a "Strega" perched on the counter for the day. .
Enjoy this very very sweet video of a mother discussing La Befana with her daughter and then exploring the Piazza Navona Christmas Market, where La Befana plays a starring role. Enjoy it below, e Buona Festa!
To listen to read-aloud of the La Befana Story, click on the following link: The Legend of Old Befana, Tomie DePoala
Prepared by Marianna Randazzo GMM Commissioner