La Befana vien di notte…

Three Befane with their brooms.

Three Befane with their brooms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Italy today they celebrate la Befana. It is the Festa dell’Epifania: Epifania (Epiphany in English) is a Latin word with Greek origins and means either the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) or “manifestation (of the divinity).”

There are several legends about the Befana.

1) Following one christian legend, the Befana was approached by the biblical magi (Three Wise Men or Three Kings) a few days before the birth of Jesus. They came to her asking where the Son of God was, as they had seen his star in the sky. La Befana didn’t know, but gave them shelter for the night. When the three magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, she declined, saying that she was too busy with her housework. Later, she had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the little baby. – She leaves all the good children toys and candy (“caramelle”) or fruit, while the bad children get coal (“carbone”), onions or garlic.

2) There is also another Christian legend: La Befana had a child whom she greatly loved. This child died and her grief turned her mad. When she heard that Jesus was born, she set out to look for him. Eventually she managed to meet Jesus and gave him gifts to make him happy. According to this legend, Jesus was so delighted, that he gave La Befana a gift in return: she would be the mother of every child in Italy.

3) A popular tradition tells that the Befana doesn’t want to be seen. If you try to see her, she’ll give you a thump from her broomstick. Parents tell this to their children in order to make them stay in bed while they distribute candy (or coal!) and sweep the florr on Epiphany Eve.

4) Another Christian legend tells that the Befana starts at the time of the birth of baby Jesus. La Befana spends her days cleaning and sweeping (she always has a broom stick!). When the magi (Three Wise Men) asked her to help them to find baby Jesus, she sent them away because she was too busy cleaning (!). But then she sees a bright light in the sky and thinks this is the way to baby Jesus. She packed some baked goods and gifts for baby Jesus in her bag and took her broom to help the new mother clean and began her search for baby Jesus. She never found baby Jesus. For this reason, she is still searching for him and on the eve of the Epiphany, Befana comes to a house where there is a child and leaves a gift. Although she has been unsuccessful in her search, she still leaves gifts for good young children because the Christ Child can be found in all children.

There are several versions of the Befana rhyme, this is the one they use to tell in Rome:

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!

The English translation is:

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!

This is one the italian poet Giovanni Pascoli (see the full version here):

Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! La circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana

The English translation is:

Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!


6 replies »

    • Anka, somehow my reply didn’t appear here… Thank you for stopping by and liking this post. Actually, on the 6.1. among female friends (italians and those who know about la Befana), we congratulate each other or do jokes about riding our broom stick together in order to celebrate 😉 It’s meant to be funny, not offensive. – Have a lovely day xxx

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