On January 6th every year, Italian children enjoy the sweets they received from the kind hag
After having welcomed Father Christmas on December 25th, Italian children look forward to receiving another visit. During the night between January 5th and 6th, the Befana arrives in their houses and leaves presents, sweets, and sweet coal (in the stocking hanging on the fireplace. In popular Italian folklore, she is portrayed as a hag wearing a shawl and rugs and carrying a gunnysack filled with the goodies. Her garments are covered in soot because she enters entering children’s houses through the chimney, which she reaches riding her flying broomstick.
The Befana is celebrated throughout Italy with many different traditions that involve the old lady’s character. However, it is a bitter-sweet tradition. In fact, an old Italian saying states that “l’Epifania tutte le feste porta via”, which means that Epiphany takes away all the holidays.
The following day, children go back to school and adults go back to work. Thus, it is a fun, and scrumptious, tradition to enjoy the last day off of the holiday season.
The old woman riding a broom comes from the magic pagans’ rituals, but the character gained popularity when she was included in the Christian tradition of Epiphany. According to it, the three Wise Men got lost on their way to Bethlehem, where they were going to visit Baby Jesus.
They asked an old woman to go with them to show them the way, but she refused to leave her house. But, after the Wise Men left, she changed her mind. So, she took a gunnysack full of sweets and went to look for them. Not finding them, she decided to go from home to home giving sweets to all the children she found. From that night, every year the Befana goes around the world, or at least Italy, on her broomstick.
(Ilona Catani Scarlett)