06 January 2007

La Befana has arrived!

Christmas holidays have been over for a week now in the states, but here in Europe I have always been surprised about the tradition of leaving up the decorations until the 6th of January, or 12th night. The British told me it was bad luck to leave the decorations up after the 6th, the Austrians had the local priest come thru on the 6th, burning frankincense throughout the house and applying a brand new chalk mark of the 3 wise men's initials above the front door to bless the house for the year and the Italians have witches everywhere and lots of candy and little gifts for the children today and all the grocery stores and banks and such are shut shut shut.

So when I asked Fabrizio what La Befana means to him, he says that if you're good you get chocolate and small gifts, but if you're bad you get coal.
So we both got a bit of chocolate today!
He also said that she's mean, so she takes Christmas away with her. Hence the tradition of taking down the Christmas decorations on the 6th, is away with Befana (which looks a bit like a derivative of the world epiphany)

Here's an excerpt from "Christmas in Abruzzo" about Befana and another by the About site. Fabrizio sang me the little ditty when he saw that I had included it. It seems to be a childhood rhyme. And tomorrow, well...it's back to work for everyone and the yuletide season is over and put to bed for another year, Bye bye Befana!

The Befana
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col vestito alla "romana"
viva viva la Befana !!

Porta cenere e carboni
ai bambini cattivoni
ai bambini belli e buoni
porta chicchi e tanti doni !

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all broken
With a dress in Roman style
Up, up with the Befana !!

She brings ashes and coal
To bad nasty children
To the nice good child
She brings candies and many gifts !

"What we nowadays call the Befana is an image coming from immemorial layers of cultures and symbols. On the one side was the Christian tradition of the Epiphany, the first "revelation" of Christ as man and God to the Magi who came with gifts for the Messiah. On the other side were the many folk and pagan traditions connected to the New Year, and to the twelve days following the winter solstice which in the centuries came to be superimposed on the Christian Christmas cycle.

The name Befana appeared historically for the first time in writing in a poem by Agnolo Firenzuola in 1549. She is portrayed like an old ugly woman, dressed in dark rags who during the night between 5th and 6th January flies over the houses riding her broom and entering through the chimneys (in modern apartments through a keyhole). Into the socks that children left hanging near the fireplace she leaves candies and gifts for good children, black coal (actually black sugar today), garlic and onions to the bad ones. Parents of course would always include some coal over the gifts, to cheat their children. And the night before the family leaves some wine and cakes for the old lady."

Another version from About:Italian Language

"La Befana: Kindly old witch who brings children toys on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6. According to the legend of la Befana, the Three Wise Men stopped at her hut to ask directions on their way to Bethlehem and to invite her to join them. She refused, and later a shepherd asked her to join him in paying respect to the Christ Child. Again she refused, and when night fell she saw a great light in the skies.

La Befana thought perhaps she should have gone with the Three Wise Men, so she gathered some toys that had belonged to her own child, who had died, and ran to find the kings and the shepherd. But la Befana could not find them or the stable. Now, each year she looks for the Christ Child. Since she can not find him, she leaves gifts for the children of Italy and pieces of coal (nowadays carbone dolce, a rock candy that looks remarkably like coal) for the bad ones."


chemcookit said...

Hey Marla,
I love your Befana images :)
Unfortunately it looks like I won't be able to make it out there :( - I just travelled to the seaside to visit my grandparents... so if you want to stop by Turin later on next week, I'd love to meet you in some nice café :)

Ivonne said...

Thanks so much for the explanation about La Befana! Of course I know about her and always felt a bit jealous as a child that children in Italy got presents at Christmas and then also on January 6th! But I didn't know the history of this character. Very interesting!

eastcoastlife said...

This is new to me and very interesting. I learnt something new today! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I learnt about la befana in school and her story but i came here to find out the poem,anyway I am very intrested!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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