OUR RESEARCH WORKS
WHERE AND WEN IS THIS
TRADITION BORN ?
THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME
THE BEFANA IN THE PAST
The "Befana" is an ugly old woman, who brings gifts to the good
children on Epiphany Eve. She wears a black shawl on hear head and her dress is dirty of
soot because she goes into the houses through the chimney. If children had been
"bad" instead of sweet or toys they will find onions soot, garlic and coal in
their stockings. That's why children during the weeks before Epiphany try to be more
patient, good, rund and obedient than usual. On Epiphany eve children are very excited and
curious too, still they go to bed very early, after they had hung their stocking on the
fireplace. On Epiphany day they wake up very early in the morning, and they hurry to
discover what the Befana left for them: some children will be very happy, some other will
|Many children believe the Befana is Santa's wife and that she
lives on the South Pole. While he lives in the North Pole: as Santa Claus is too busy (he
has to satisfy all the children of the world!) the Befana helps him in his work some days
after Christmas. Some children believe the Befana does really exist, other assert it is
only a fancy, because they think that parents put the gifts in their stockings.
Nevertheless all of them wait for her with anxiety and trepidation. In our village, the
municipal corporation organises every year, an Epiphany's party during which and old woman
dress up as a Befana, distributes to the children among the presents, gifts, chocolates,
books, pens and sweets too.
One day the three Magi left their country with special gifts as Gold, Incense and
Myrrh, to reach little Jesus Christ because they wanted to give him their presents. They
travelled through many different countries guided by a particular star (the famous Comet)
and every town they passed, people run to meet them and join them in their journey.
|There was only one old woman who wanted to join them but
changed her mind at last and stayed at home. The day after, repented and displeased she
tried to reach the Magi, but they were too far from her! Therefore the old woman didn't
meet the Holy Child neither that time nor ever. Since that time the old woman (called
Befana!) visits every house to give the good children all the gifts she didn't give to the
Holy Child: to do that she flies on an old Broom with a big canvas sack on her shoulders
in the night between the 5th and the 6th January (the same night when she, in the past,
remained at her home!).
The Befana is celebrated on Epiphany day, and it is a religious feast that
recalls the visit of the three Magi to the Holy Child. Three kings - Melchiorre,
Baldassarre and Gaspare were their names -, started their journey from three different
countries maybe Nubia, Gaddia and Tharsi. They wanted to offer their special gifts to
little Jesus Christ: Gold, Incense and Myrrh.
|They run along different roads to reach Bethlehem following
the "Comet Star" that leads them to the Holy Child in thirteen days. Not far
from Jerusalem they met and even if they spoke different languages, they understand each
other and discover they had the same purpose. Therefore they went on together and when
they get to the Holy Cave, they offered their gifts to the Holy Child: they adored him
deeply and finally they left again.
It is not known where this tradition started to be celebrated, but we can
assert that Since the XIII century it is one of the most popular Italian feast long
awaited by children. Maybe the old woman - who sometimes fears the children symbolises the
ending Year that after Christmas Holidays departs, leaving gifts for good children.
The name derives from Epiphany (the Greek word has an original writing),
changed in Beffania to remind the "Beffania's witch" who flung on the houses
roof in that night. Once left the double "f" and the "i" the word
turned to Befana!
In the past, when our Grandparents were children, they used to wait for her with joy
and anxiety, hunging a hand knitted stocking on the fireplace. At that time children
Deeply believed in this tradition they used to write long letters to the old woman where
they expressed their wishes; but as those were hard times (they were poor) often children
were disappointed and the only gifts they received were sweets, nuts, chestnuts and
|Nevertheless they were very happy, because the Befana's
presents, were the sale they received! Some times they found in their stocking little
puppets, hand-sawn dolls and if they had been nasty or bad the stocking was filled with
onions, garlic and carats too. There were no traditional dishes to celebrate this day, but
some people used to stay together eating chestnuts, nuts and fruit pancakes. In some
villages - on this day - the local administration used to help the poorest families of the
neighbourhood, giving them a big amount of bread, sugar salt and pasta.