Celebrating La Befana

befanaGrowing up, we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany with a special meal and treats. While my brothers and I attached more significance to Christmas Day, my mother considered January 6th to be the Italian Christmas. She would regale us with tales of la Befana, the friendly witch who delivered gifts to good children and lumps of coal to the bad ones.

While I’ve heard many variations of this tale, I prefer my mother’s version.

The Magi stopped at la Befana’s house on their way to visit Baby Jesus. The gracious hostess treated them to a meal and offered them shelter for the night. She also gave them directions. Touched by her hospitality, the three kings invited her to accompany them on their journey, but she declined. She had too much housework. After they left, she changed her mind and decided to join them. She packed up some toys for the newborn child and set off on the journey. She never caught up to them. Disappointed but practical, she decided to share her bounty of toys. To this day, she delivers her gifts to Italian children on the night before the Epiphany.

Does anyone else celebrate the feast of the Epiphany? I would love to hear about your traditions.



17 responses to “Celebrating La Befana

  1. Here in France Epiphanie is celebrated usually the first sunday of January. We eat a special cake called “la galette des rois” and we drink cider. The youngest kid goes under the table, the mother slices the galette and ask “for who is this piece of galette ” and the child answers “for grand-mother… and so on. There is a broad bean hidden inside the galette and the man or woman who discovers it becomes the king or the queen and gets a paper crown. This custom comes from Antiquity in Roma

  2. In Ireland, we don’t take our decorations down till January 6th. In Holland, Sinta Klaas (not sure of the spelling, my sister lives there, which is how I know) leaves sweets in childrens shoes if they put them on the doorstep before going to bed, but I think that is early December, not January.

  3. My grandfather was 100% Italian so I enjoyed reading this article! We’ve always celebrated St Nickolas Day (Dec 6th) by finding candy in our shoes. I love this post Christmas surprise on January 6th and will have to start it up:)

    • Hi Anne, Great to hear that we share Italian roots! You could easily start up this tradition with your students. They would welcome another reason to celebrate with food and small treats. Best of luck in the new year. Joanne πŸ™‚

  4. Fantastic story! I’d never heard that one.

    We don’t do Epiphany celebrations, but a lot of people around here wouldn’t think of taking their Christmas trees down until “Old Christmas Day,” which I think is January 6.

    • Hi Kate, Interesting to hear that January 6th is also known “Old Christmas Day” in Newfoundland (maybe other parts of the world as well). Hope you enjoyed the holiday season. Best of luck with your books in 2015. Joanne πŸ™‚

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