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.

Over the years, Iโ€™ve heard many variations of this tale, but I still prefer my motherโ€™s version.


The Magi stopped at la Befanaโ€™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.


12 responses to “Celebrating La Befana

  1. Here in France, we celebrate Epiphany as the day the Magi arrived in Bethleem. Everybody savours “La galette des Rois”. There is a lucky charm hidden in it. And we have a ritual : the youngest child goes under the table, the mother asks “for who is this piece of cake ; the child names the person until everybody is served. The guest who finds the lucky charm becomes the king or the queen and ….. we drink champagne ! I really enjoys this tradition.

    Here is the “Galette des Rois” :

  2. Love this story, Joanne – especially the part where Befana declines the Magiโ€™s invitation, (because of too much housework!) Have sometimes made similar mistakes!

  3. What a nice story, Joanne. My family always leaves the tree up until Epiphany. We “celebrate” by each burning a tiny branch of the tree and making a wish for the coming year. No idea where that tradition comes from.

  4. Joanne, my family also considered Jan. 6 “Little Christmas” or Italian Christmas. My mother never let us take the Christmas tree down until that day. Thanks for sharing your memories!

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