La Befana: 1 Wise Woman

La befana, epiphany, italian traditions, things to do italy, best time to visit italy, christmas in italy

At a time when most of us are already some days into our new year’s resolution of eating lighter and drinking less, Italians are gearing up for yet another feast!

6th January marks the Epiphany on (most) Christian calendars, the date when the little baby Jesus was said to have been revealed as being the son of God.

Italian folklaw has it that on the eve of the Epiphany, La Befana (whose name have been taken from the Italian ‘Epifania’) is said to visit each home filling children’s stockings with sweets and gifts for the well-behaved or a lump of coal (or at the very least, coal-shaped candy) for the naughty kids.

La Befana is usually depicted as a wizened old woman with witch-like features, including crooked nose, pointy hat and flying broom. And like any good house guest she even cleans up after herself, sweeping the floors before leaving!

That may be why as opposed to the milk and cookies left for ‘Babbo Natale’ (Santa Clause), a glass of wine is left out for La Befana, in thanks for her efforts.

Whilst there are several versions pertaining to the origins of La Befana, the most popular is that the 3 Wise Men visited the house of La Befana during their search for the baby Jesus. She offered to accommodate them for the night, but refused to accompany them when they set out the next morning as she had housework to complete. Later, having either completed her chores or had a change of heart, she sets off with gifts for Jesus and goes in search of the wise men and baby Jesus but never succeeds. To this day, she continues looking for baby Jesus, visiting every house she comes across and leaving a small gift each time.

On January 6, Italians will traditionally gather for a big family lunch where they will enjoy a complete Italian meal (meaning starter, entree and main!) followed usually by the last of the Christmas Panettone for dessert.

Stores are traditionally closed on this day, as 7th January marks the official start of the big post-Christmas sales around Italy!

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