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Annelies Ruijgrok,
Private tour guide Liguria - Italy

La Befana comes by night
With completely broken shoes…..

In popular tradition, the BEFANA is represented as an old, ugly and badly dressed woman that flies in the sky with a broom, like a witch. That’s why Befana in italian is synonymous for witch. The BEFANA though is handing out gifts to good children and coal to the more mischievous . In the night between 5 and 6 January, while everyone is asleep, in fact, the Befana descends from the chimney - which symbolizes the point of communication between earth and sky, to fill the stockings left hanging in the homes

According to legend, the Three Kings, directed to Bethlehem to bring gifts to the new born Jesus, unable to find the way, asked an old woman for information. Despite their insistence to follow them , the woman did not accept. Later,regretting that she did not follow them, after making a basket of sweets, she left the house and began to look for them. So she stopped at every house that was on the road, giving sweets to the children she met, in the hope that one of them was the little Jesus. Since then, the Befana would turn to the world, making gifts to all children, to be forgiven.

In reality, the source of the Epiphany is to relate to pagan agraria traditions of the Roman period on the beginning of the year. The appearance of an old woman with which it is represented, in fact, would be put in relation with the past year, now ready to be burned for being “born again” as the new year, while the use of gifts to be considered as good wishes for the ‘new-born year. The pagan custom was eventually taken up by the Christian tradition that has adapted it to the new content and passed it as a religious feast to commemorate the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, offering him gold, incense and myrrh.

In recent years, the feast of the Epiphany has been reassessed in terms of folklore and in the days around the January 6, across Italy it celebrates the old woman, according the different local traditions, also aimed to discover an authentic cultural identity, a typically local figure, as an alternative to SantaClaus who is typical of northern european countries. An old popular proverb says:”L’Epifania tutte le feste le porta via”, Epiphany takes away all the feasts, precisely because Jan. 6, signs the end of the Christmas holiday period.

Today, in many villages the Befana has been celebrated, as the tradition described above: Old women with candy and sweets for all went through the streets and ended up on the mainsquare where a big fire burns from Christmasday ...
But traditions change; here's a comment of a girl regarding the day of Epiphany:

"Epiphany is not anymore what it used to be …
when we were little
we all were very excited about the old lady putting
candy in our socks …
now you wake up in the morning,
go into the kitchen and see a sheet with written:
go buy bread, thanks mom kiss ….
but I asked only for happiness, no sweets ….
with this I want to wish you all a beautiful Epiphany
but instead of lots of candy i wish you so much happiness”

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