The Story of La Befana
(an Epiphany legend)

One day three men dressed in strange clothes knocked on the door of a little old woman.

They explained they were seeking a newborn child--a wondrous child. They asked for directions, but she did not know.

They showed her their costly gifts and invited her to join them on the journey, but she declined, stating she had not finished her sweeping.

Later, the woman had a change of heart, and decided to bring a gift for the little child herself. She thought, "Frankincence, myrrh, and gold is all very fine, but a child really needs a warm blanket." She took a baby blanket from her old chest, thinking, "Perhaps a small toy as well."

Then she thought, "What if the child has older brothers or sisters. I'll bet the men never thought of anything for them." She slipped some more toys into her big sack; she picked out several because she didn't know what ages the other children might be. It was just dark when she left.

The men, of course, were the three magi from the East.

Alas, she did not ever catch up to the three magi. Though the woman left little gifts for any children she did find, she never did find the little child about which they spoke.

Still, the woman had such joy in giving, she continued to leave gifts at many Italian homes with children each January 5, the Epiphany Eve. She became known as La Befana, the old woman of the Feast of the Epiphany.

Her skirt and apron became torn and patched. Her shoes became worn. All the good children she visits get treats and toys, while all the bad children get a lump of coal or bundle of kindling sticks. Yet even the coal is not so bad, because sometimes the coal is really a black sugar candy.

As a tidy Italian nonnina, La Befana will quickly sweep the floor of any home she visits--just before departing. She has made this annual journey for many, many years.

In her travels, she walked all over Italy and eventually to other lands where there are Italians who tell her story and where there are children who could use a small gift or two. And now, I have told her story to you.

copyright 2011 Myth Woodling

These are different versions of the traditional La Befana rhyme from DI FILASTROCCHE.IT www.filastrocche.it/nostalgici/natale/befana/
ItalianEnglish
La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
col vestito alla romana:
Viva viva la Befana!
La Befana comes by night,
shoes all broken,
a dress Roman:
Viva viva la Befana!
La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
porta un sacco pien di doni
da regalare ai bimbi buoni.
La Befana comes by night,
shoes all broken,
carrying a sack full of gifts
to give to good children.
La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
vestita tutta strana:
viva, viva la Befana!
La Befana comes by night,
shoes all broken,
is dressed all strange
viva, viva la Befana!
La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
con un gatto e con un cane
e mangiando pane e salame.
La Befana comes by night,
shoes all broken,
with a cat and a dog
and eating bread and salami.
La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
con la scopa di saggina:
viva viva la nonnina!
La Befana comes by night,
shoes all broken,
with the broom:
viva viva la granny!
La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
vento e gelo l'accompagna,
viene, viene la Befana.
La Befana comes by night.
shoes all broken,
accompanying wind and frost,
comes, comes the Befana.
La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
col capello all'italiana.
Viva, viva la Befana!
La Befana comes by night.
shoes all broken,
Italian style with the hair.
Viva, viva la Befana!
La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
vien di notte la Befana
e la porta la tramontana!
La Befana comes by night,
shoes all broken,
The Befana comes by night
and brings the north wind!

Other links
La Befana--Italy's Holiday Witch--Now has Official Home
www.annoticeoreport.com/2008/12/la-befana-italys-holiday-witch-now has.html

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