Thursday, January 5, 2012

Santa's a Witch!

Not really. But he is an old, wrinkly woman who carries a broom and has a hooked nose. Tonight is the night that La Befana visits children and leaves them treats here in Italy. There are several different stories as to her origins. One story is that the wise men got lost while trying to find the Baby Jesus, so they stopped at an old woman's house to ask for directions. She put them up for night, but declined their invitation to come with them due to her household chore list (boy, does that sound familiar!). Befana regretted this decision, so she followed after the Wise Men, giving treats to little children as bribes for them to help her find the Baby Jesus. She still hasn't found Him, so to this day, Befana visits children and gives them treats in search of the Babe (or, she gives each child treats in hope that he/she is the Babe). Another story is that the Befana legend has come down from a pagan goddess of Roman times who gave gifts to celebrate the new year. OR, the ancient Romans visited an old crone at the winter solstice to have their fortunes told, and Befana is the modern day old crone who gives gifts instead of fortunes. And why the broom? Some say she rides her broom through the air, some say she needs the broom to clean up the soot after coming down the chimney, and yet another explanation is that cleanliness is so important to her that upon seeing the Star of Bethlehem in the sky, she set off to find the Baby and help the Mother with her cleaning. As far as her name goes, one theory is based on the Italian word for epiphany - Epifania. Befana is a play on Epifania...maybe. One Italian town even sets up a post office where children can mail letters to Befana (but she lives here in Italy, not in the North Pole). Santa may like milk and cookies, but wine and biscotti are Befana's preferred treats. And by the way, bad little children do indeed get lumps of coal in their stockings from Befana.

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