Befana Festival

Befana Festival

January 5
Sometimes referred to simply as La Befana, this is the Twelfth Night festival in Italy where the Befana, a kindly witch, plays much the same role that Santa Claus plays in the United States on Christmas Eve—giving toys and candy to the children who have been good and a lump of coal or a pebble to those who haven't. According to legend, the Befana was sweeping her house when the Magi, or Three Wise Men, stopped by on their way to Bethlehem. But when they asked her to accompany them, she said she was too busy. She later changed her mind and set out to find the Christ Child, but she got lost. Every year la Befana passes through Italy in her continuing search for the GÉsu Bambino, leaving gifts for children.
The festival begins on Epiphany Eve, when the Befana is supposed to come down the chimney on her broom to leave gifts in children's stockings. In Rome, the Piazza Navona is thronged with children and their parents, who shop for toys and exchange greetings. Bands of young people march around, blowing on cardboard trumpets, and the noise level in the square can be deafening. In the countryside, bonfires are often lit on Epiphany Eve, and people try to predict the weather by watching the direction in which the smoke blows.
See also Día de los Tres Reyes
SOURCES:
BkFest-1937, p. 178
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 131
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 50
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 16
FestWestEur-1958, p. 87
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 17
OxYear-1999, p. 22
References in periodicals archive ?
To celebrate the Epiphany on 6 January 1938, over one hundred Italians living in Brisbane attended a Befana festival. In traditional Italian culture Befana is a witch who visits children on a broom in early January and distributes presents for those children who have been good during the year and coal to those who have not, a tradition arguably dating back to Roman times.