I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Even though it’s over, the twelve days of Christmas continue, leading up to the Epiphany and the arrival of La Befana. According to Italian tradition you should not take down your tree until January 6th. That’s the day the three Kings visited Baby Jesus and the day La Befana visits all the children. La Befana is the Italian gift giver, but she is also known as Babushka in Russia. There are several different versions of the story, but this is my favourite.
La Befana was one of the inn keepers who turned Mary and Joseph away on their way to Bethlehem. According to the legend, the night before the Wise Men arrived at the manger they stopped at the inn of La Befana to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied that she was too busy. Then a shepherd asked her to join him but again she refused. Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Wise Men and the shepherd bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She got lost and never found the manger.
To this day La Befana flies around on her broomstick each year on the 11th night, bringing gifts to children in hopes that she might find the Baby Jesus. Children hang their stockings on the evening of January 5 awaiting the visit of La Befana.
Depending on what region of Italy you are from her appearance ranges from a benevolent old woman to a witch like hag. She always carries a broom and food treats.
The Befana you see here was part of a two year exhibit at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.
On the left is a close-up of the hand detail on this original one-of-a-kind sculpture. This version of La Befana is my interpretation of a more benevolent northern Italian Befana.
An excellent children’s book is “The Legend of Old Befana” by Tomie dePaola. The traditional Italian poem that children sing as well as a more indepth history of La Befana and a few different versions of the story can be check out the following website . . .