• La Befana vien di notte...

    La befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutto rotte, con le toppe alla sottana, Viva, viva la befana!

    Italy today celebrates the festivities of epiphany (the day after the three wise men arrived at the manger) with gifts and sweets for well behaved children and coal for the poorly behaved ones...I'm not sure they still give coal to children, even if in some cases its more than deserved! So what's all the fuss about?


    La Befana's history is commonly associated with a folklore tale of the three wise men meeting her on the way to the manger to visit baby Jesus. Originally she refused (well, wouldn't you if three men came knocking on your door asking you to visit a baby of some person you didn't even know?) but then had a change of heart (slightly concerning yet again). She got lost and never found baby Jesus in the manger. Since then she flies around on a broom stick in search of baby Jesus, giving gifts to all the good children and coal to all the bad ones.

    Now, earlier recounts of the Befana's history can go somewhere around to the Roman pagan festivities of saturnalia, which is the week before the winter solstice. Romans would visit a Temple in Capitoline Hill to have their augers read by an old lady...and like most things pagan, the story was turned into one of the Christmas festivities by the Christians.

    Modern day parlance 

    Because the Befana is depicted as an old ugly lady/witch type person, then it's hard to imagine that in modern day society it can be seen as a good thing. Listening to the radio today however, one of the Italian presenters Rosella Brescia, who was constantly mocked for being "una Befana" today, thought that history got it wrong, and that "la Befana" indeed was "un grande pezzo di gnocca!" (a stunner). Most modern day adverts depict either, a really ugly lady delivering gifts, or someone so stunning they are literally the gift!

    In Italy if you call a lady "una befana" or "la Befana" it can really go one of two ways, depending on how well you know them. Know them well, it's a humorous way of poking fun at some of their attitudes (sometimes a little antiquated) or the fact that they may appear to be a little harsh but in reality they are not. If you don't know them too well, it is as common an insult as reminding them that they are, indeed, as nasty as "Cruella De-Ville", they shouldn't be trusted around children and apparently dalmatians.

    So if you have any Italian friends, wish them a "Auguri della Befana" or "Buon Epifania" and be sure that if you are going to call them a Befana, you are well out of arms reach!

    Auguri a tutte le Befane!

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