Those of us that didn’t grow up in Italy usually start our post-holiday health-kick right on January 1, with everything from alcohol to sweets being cast aside for as long as one can handle. In Italy, however, you need to wait an extra week to get started, thanks to La Befana, the Christmas witch that delivers candy and gifts the night of January 5th- Epiphany Eve.
Need help finding last-minute goodies for La Befana? Prontopia can help! Our team of local assistants can shop wherever you need and deliver to your door in Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples. If you’re in California and ready for your healthy new year, we’ve got you covered there too in Santa Barbara and San Diego.
La Befana is celebrated in Italian communities around the world, and unlike the mean witches many of us feared as children, Befana is more a mix of household icon and Santa Claus. Her name derives from the Feast of Epiphany - Festa dell'Epifania- and legend has it that she was invited to travel with the three wise men to visit the baby Jesus, but she declined. She changed her mind the next day and set out with gifts for the child but couldn’t find him, so she delivers to all the other children of the world instead.
On Epiphany Eve, La Befana visits houses and fills children’s stockings with candy and presents if they were good. If they have been bad, they get a lump of coal or dark candy, or even some garlic! In keeping with the Italian idea of everything in balance, many children find both a lump of coal (normally black rock candy), and a present in their stocking, to acknowledge that every child has behaved sometimes good and sometimes badly throughout the year.
Befana outside of Enoteca Gambi in Florence, Italy
Befana always has a broomstick with her to sweep the floors before she leaves a child's house. In doing this, she sweeps away all the problems of the year. We think she might need extra help this year! As a thank you to La Befana, the child's parents leave a small glass of wine and a plate with some food. To keep the children in their beds, kids are told that if they see La Befana, they will receive a thump from her broomstick.
Today La Befana is a national icon, and Urbania is thought to be her official home. Usually there is a big festival held to celebrate this national holiday, with nearly 50,000 people in attendance! There are three main festivity places in Italy held for the La Befana tradition:
Piazza Navona in Rome. Which also holds the biggest Christmas market in Rome. Here you can find figuritines of La Befana and sugar charcoal. At midnight when it turns January 6th,it's said that La Befana shows herself in a window of Piazza Navona.
In the town of Urbania in the Province of Pesaro and Urbino within the Marches, the national Befana festival is held each year between the 2th and 6th of January. Usually a "house of the Befana", is built and the post office has a mailbox reserved for letters addressed to La Befana.
Fornovo di Taro, a town in the province of Parma, where the national meeting "Raduno Nazionale delle Befane e dei Befani", is held on the 5th and 6th of January.
Obviously this year all festivities are on hold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate! For a little Befana inspiration, check out the movie The Legend of the Christmas Witch, or read Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s famous play written in the early 1600’s to close out the Christmas season.
The last festivity of the Christmas celebration is truly a time for everyone to celebrate renewal, make wishes and predictions for the new time/year to come. We look forward to helping make your life easier in 2021!
Photo courtesy of Enoteca Gambi in Florence, Italy