‘La Befana-an Italian folk tale’ Martina Quinzo Gumley House
While many British children grew up believing that it was Santa Claus who watched their every move and decided who was mean or nice each year, in Italy young children have long been told that this is what it does. La Befana. Its name is believed to derive from the Latin word for Epiphany, Epifania, which has Greek origins and means “manifestation.”
On the eve of January 6, what many Christians consider to be Epiphany, millions of Italian children will be impatiently waiting in their beds, just as they do for Santa Claus. However, they won’t be waiting for an old man in red with a white beard, but an old witch with a broomstick who gives candy to children who have been good last year, and charcoal, or even straw from her. broom for the kids who weren’t that good.
To make sure children don’t try to stand up to see the “witch,” some parents tell their children that La Befana will hit any child who is still awake on the head with their broom. To avoid this fate, many children go to bed very early on the night of January 5, and most wake up to find a stocking filled with delicious sweet treats.
While La Befana is simply a tale to scare young children into behaving well, it is widely celebrated and loved on Epiphany Day, which is a national holiday in Italy. Schools and most businesses will be closed to the predominantly Catholic population to commemorate the visit of the three wise men to the baby Jesus and the presentation of gifts, with different cities having their own ways and traditions to commemorate this.