Befana the Christmas Witch

We have another delightfully unusual holiday character for you, and this time she is from Italy.

Befana is an old woman, often depicted as a witch, who rides a soot covered broom (she enters through the chimney, after all) and delivers gifts to children on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany.  She fills the stockings of good children with small gifts and candy and a lump of coal in the stockings of bad children (sound familiar?)  She’s also more helpful than Santa; she likes house keeping and has been known to sweep the floor before she leaves.

Like most of these stories, the origins are foggy and most likely mixed with pre-Christian Pagan beliefs.  One legend explains Befana’s origins starting when she met the Three Wise Men.  They were on their way to find the baby Jesus and apparently asked Befana for directions.  Alas, she didn’t know the way, but offered her guests shelter in her home for the night.  She passed on the opportunity to join the Wise Men, later regretting it and seeking out Jesus on her own.  Unable to find him, she continues to search to this day, rewarding good children with sweets.

Another legend involves Befana being a bereaved mother and believing that the baby Jesus is her son.  After searching for him she eventually finds him and brings him gifts.  The child is so happy that he makes her the “mother of every child in Italy.”

Needless to say, Befana is a much loved member of Italian folklore.  The town of Urbania holds a special celebration for her in the beginning of January with music, dancing, fire eating and fireworks. For a full program of events check here.

When: 2-6th January 2013

WhereUrbania, Italy


5 thoughts on “Befana the Christmas Witch

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  4. Sorry if I may be so bold but Befana is not a “witch” – she is simply an old woman in pleasant clothes, often barefoot and has the broom because she was a good house keeper. The witch aspect has only come into being in the past few years with the introduction of Halloween in Italy and cheap witch-like toys which are then carried over to Christmas and marketed as La Befana. It is sad to see this lovely tradition being diluted by the North American influence but I guess it is to be expected.

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