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  • Susan Clayton

The Feast of the Epiphany and legend of La Befana

In Italy, the 6th of January is a national holiday as significant as Christmas Day, especially for children.

The Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the twelfth day of Christmas when the Three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing gifts for baby Jesus, is accompanied by the legend of La Befana.

Pre-dating the tradition of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, Italian children also leave out stockings for La Befana to fill on January the 5th. La Befana is a witch-like woman riding on a broom who refused to join the Wise Men on their journey to see baby Jesus. Regretting her decision, she set out to take gifts to Jesus but could not find him. Instead, she gave the gifts to other children.

Since the XIII Century, Italian folklore has had a soot-covered Befana flying around the world on a broomstick every Epiphany Eve, coming down chimneys to deliver sweets and presents to children who have been good during the year. For those who have been naughty, she leaves lumps of coal. Shops sell black sweets that look like pieces of coal, so even those who haven’t been entirely good all year can still enjoy a sweet treat.

The arrival of la Befana is celebrated with traditional Italian foods such as panettone and marks the end of the festive holiday season in Italy. In honour of the Three Wise Men, Italians go to church and spend the day with family.

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