Christmas is gone, but the Italian holidays’ tradition is not finished. Today it is Saint Stephen, patron of Italy, so we are still celebrating. But Teresa is something more curious. For us, the festivity will finish on 6th January, with Befana, an old lady.
Maybe it is not only an Italian holiday’s tradition but here it is like a second Santa Claus for kids. Someone, joking, define Befana as the wife of Santa. Anyway, this imaginary person comes from the folklore. It is a bit sad also because this character represents the last day of festivity.
Holiday’s tradition: the Befana
In origin, Befana was part of the holiday’s tradition in Rome and it became well known by all Italians in the 20th century. We believe that the name of this character is just the translation (mispronunciation) of the Greek Word Epifania, that it means appearance.
The Roman holiday’s tradition was concerning a gift exchange made at the beginning of January. It was a festivity in honor of Ianus and Strenia. We call ‘strenna’ a Christmas gift. Anyway, kids expect some presents.
How Befana looks like in holidays’ tradition?
The holidays’ tradition sees the Befana as an old woman shriveled by the ailments of age and cold, with few teeth. Her face wrinkled and sometimes, but not always, she has a very prominent nose to emphasize her old age and the little beauty due to her age. The old aspect derives from a symbolic representation of the old year: once really ended, it can be burned. To burn puppets is a tradition also in the North of Europe.
In order to shelter adequately, the Befana wears long, lysed and jotted patches; she often wears an apron. She also uses heavy anti-cold socks and comfortable shoes, but not boots much more suited to the witches of fairy tales. On the shoulders, sometimes hunched, she always has a heavy and colored wool shawl and not a fluttering cape. A true Befana uses only a handkerchief of heavy cloth (the pezzóla) or a woolly knit scarecrow knotted under the chin. She has a broom, often used to lean or fly briefly. Sometimes she can also use a stick instead of a broomstick. In the imaginary, the Befana rides the broom.
What does the Befana do?
The character has her own holidays’ tradition style. She has no sack of gifts, but she brings her gifts or her charcoal in jute sacks unmade and siphon. This takes the form of huge socks, or in a wicker basket. It depends on the territoriality and the tradition of the place where it is celebrated.
As the legend of the holidays’ tradition says, the Befana delivers sweets to good children or coal and onion to naughty children. Coal – or even ash – from the ancient ritual symbol of bonfires was initially inserted into socks or shoes along with sweets. This in remembrance of the seasonal renewal, but also of burned puppets. In the Catholic moral view of the following centuries, Befana was putting only the coal and the onions into socks and shoes as punishment. Only children who had behaved badly during the previous year got this gifts.
Will you receive sweets or coal?