Merry Yuletide! – La Befana

Merry Yuletide to you all!

I’d like to share with you a post that I wrote for my She Who Oracle blog last Yule, it’s recent wonderful discovery for me, the Italian Witch and Gift Bringer, Befana.

I have Italian ancestors, my Mum’s Dad was half Italian, so I feel like I’ve discovered a little of my heritage but more than that I’ve discovered a positive image of a witch, an ancient crone at that, and a lovely story to tell Alice.

La Befana flies through the night carrying a basket full of goodies, comes down chimneys and brings presents to children- sound familiar? But she flies on her broom!

For countless centuries, on the Twelfth Night, Befana would leave her last holiday gift, marking the end of the Yule Season. She still visits children in Italy on the same night, now called the Eve of the Epiphany. And yes, like the other well known gift bringer, she fills their stockings with goodies or a lump of coal if they been naughty. Instead of leaving sooty footprints on the rug, before she leaves she sweeps the floor with her broom! It is customary to leave her a small glass of wine and a something sweet. In thanks for the sweeping, I think I‘ll leave her something chocolate. 🙂
Here’s a story told about her:
“In a little village high atop a hill, in Via della Padella number 2 to be precise, an old lady, part fairy, part witch, passes the entire year in company with her grotesque assistants (the Befanucci) preparing coal, making sweets and toys and darning old stockings and socks. These are all to be distributed to children on Rome’s magical night of nights, between the 5th and 6th of January. This seems the longest night of all. Every child is in awe of ‘La Befana’ a sentiment tinged with love and fear. Dressed in black and huge, she comes, entering the houses down the chimney to leave her presents for the children: coal for the bad boys and girls and sweets and candies for the good ones. The children prepare a plate of soft ricotta cheese for her, for everyone knows that she doesn’t have many good teeth left.” from “Nerone, An Insiders Guide To Rome” http://www.nerone.cc/nerone/archivio/arch54.htm
And here’s a couple of traditional poems to La Befana, I found on Wikapedia:
La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!
The English translation is:
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!
Another version told by people in the Province of Trento (northern Lake Garda):
Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
neve e gelo la circondan..
neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana
The English translation is:
Here comes, here comes the Befana
she comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
snow and frost (ice) surrounds her
snow and frost and the West wind
here comes, here comes the Befana!

Befana has been around for a very long time, she is even older than Babbo Natale; Santo Natale, Father Christmas or Santa Claus. She is believed to be associated with the Goddess Hecate and here’s an early 19th century, somewhat shocked and appalled, account of her association with the Roman Goddess Strinia,
“This Befana appears to be heir at law of a certain heathen goddess called Strenia, who presided over the new-year’s gifts, ‘Strenae,’ from which, indeed, she derived her name.[ Her presents were of the same description as those of the Befana—figs, dates, and honey. Moreover her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotous, and licentious character” from the book Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily by Rev. John J. Blunt (John Murray, 1823)
Under a slightly different name she may have also been a fairy Godmother. Befina was a celtic fae that visited the cradle of new born babies to bestow upon them talents and made predictions of their future.
May La Befana Visit you all!

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