La Befana, the Good Witch


The visit of La Befana is celebrated on Epiphany Eve (January 5) throughout Italy. La Befana is a friendly witch with a broomstick, shawl, and sack filled with sweets and gifts for children. She originally set out to meet the Baby Jesus, but never found her way to Bethlehem. To this day, in an attempt to catch up with the Wise Men, on the eve of Epiphany, she stops at every home, leaving sweets and gifts for well-behaved children in stockings that they’ve hung in their windows. Naughty children are left coal. Years ago in Sicily, naughty children in rural areas were sometimes left a stick versus coal, while well-behaved children traditionally were given dried figs, dates, honey, and almonds. Today, in Messina, in the Piazza Duomo, an adult dresses as La Befana, and (with the help of the fire department) she flies through the air on a wire across the square. Below, children of all ages catch candy that La Befana throws from her sack.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. What a sweet tradition! I love the fact that the fire dept. jumps in and makes her a “flying witch!” It really sounds a lot more fun than Santa Claus!!!

    1. Yes, Dana, it does seem fun! The legend has a different sense because of La Befana’s efforts to find Jesus in Bethlehem and bring gifts on the Epiphany/Three Kings Day versus on Christmas Day. In the US, we’ve mixed many different cultures’ traditions together to make something uniquely American with Santa Clause and a tree with gifts, etc.

  2. Tom Petriano says:

    So interesting. Look forward to more interesting posts in the new year.

    1. Thank you Tom! It’s a pleasure to learn and share with you!

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