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Courses Holiday Culture

La festa della Befana

Posted in Touring, events, places and traditions on Jan 04, 2019

Christmas atmosphere in Italy is kept until the 6th of January when Italians celebrates Epiphany but as well an ugly old witch called Befana.

The term “Befana” derives from the word “Epiphany”, deriving from a Greek word meaning “apparition” or “manifestation”. La Befana is celebrated, therefore, on the day of the Epiphany, which officially closes the Christmas holiday.

The Befana is traditionally represented by an old woman with a long nose and a sharp chin, who travels on a broom bringing gifts to all children. Wearing a large dark skirt, an apron with pockets, a shawl, an headscarf or a big hat on the head, on the night between the 5th and 6th of January, the Befana flies over the roofs and, coming from the chimneys, fills the stockings children hang before going to bed. The next morning, good children will find gifts, naughty children will have coal.

In the Christian tradition, the character of the Befana is linked to the Three Wise Men story. The legend tells that on a very cold winter night, Baldassare, Gasparre and Melchiorre, on the way to Bethlehem to visit Baby Jesus, asked for directions an old woman who showed them the way. The Three Wise Men then invited the woman to join them, but the old lady refused. Once the three had left, she regretted not following them. The old lady, then, began to knock at each door, giving each child who met some sweets, in the hope that one of them was just Baby Jesus.

Befana is a national icon: on the 6th of January there are Befana festivals all around Italy; the biggest one is in Urbania, a town in central Italy where every year hundreds of Befanas juggle, dance and greet all the children.



I am a 45 years old certified Italian teacher with a degree in politics and a PhD in modern history.