Befana is a legend or story of which I had never heard until I set foot in the foothills of the Italian mountains. I am told though the Befana is famous in Italy, having regional versions in most parts of Italy, and perhaps the Befana is even a national icon! Legend has it that the Befana comes every year on Epiphany Eve to good little girls and boys. Befana fills children’s socks with candies and goodies and of course, if the children have been naughty, heaven forbid, a lump of coal is received. I am sure this is possible as there are lumps of black sugar coal that can be purchased in the local pasticceria (pastry shop)!
I have also discovered that Befana has indeed a prominent office in these hillside towns with a sign outside, La casina di Befana! La Befana gets mail of course! Children are writing letters. I am not privy to the contents of these letters…but she must be a busy lady before Epiphany, needing an office!
According to one version of the Italian legend, the Befana was a housewife, the cleanest and tidiest housewife in town and the Magi/wise men inquired of her if she knew where the Christ child was born and spent the night in her home. The Befana was invited to come along in search of the infant king but she was too busy with her housecleaning. (Is that true of us?…too busy with our housekeeping for the journey to see the infant Jesus…let’s hope not!) On second thought, not wanting to miss out on the birth of the century, she mounted her broomstick and sailed off in the night sky in search of both the wise men and the heralded Christ Child. Having never found them, and continuing her search until present day, she leaves goodies and particular Befana cookies for the good little girls and boys along her path.
Now these cookies are very particular, at least in these Italian foothills. Plates of Befana cookies are displayed in the window of the corner cafe and of course on bakers’ shelves for purchase. Italian friends have brought gifts of homemade Befana cookies to our home. The cookies are tasty and would certainly encourage me to be a good girl for the next year if a plate of these delectables would again arrive for me with the Befana!
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long live the Befana!