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John D. Calandra Italian American Institute

Section: Community Affairs


 

 

The Legend of ‘La Befana’:

 

Fun Activities for the Home or Classroom

 

 

La Befana is the benevolent old woman with magical powers who brings gifts to the children of Italy on the eve of the Epiphany.

 

Like any other legend, there are many versions.  There is an abundance of sources to research the history, origin, significance and the numerous versions of la Befana - an Italian Christmas tradition.  (Some resources are listed below.)

 

Derivation:  The name Befana is derived from the word epifania, the Italian name for the religious festival of the Epiphany.

 

A Tradition for Children:  In the weeks preceding Epiphany, the children of Italy are busy writing notes to Befana telling her the presents they would most like to receive.  And they are on their best behavior because they know that Befana will leave a lump of coal, instead of sweets and toys, for ill-behaved youngsters.

 

 

 

The Legend: 

 

Synopsis:  This story takes place at the time of the birth of Baby Jesus, the Christ Child.  La Befana is an old woman who lives in a house in the hills of Italy.  She once had a husband and child, but now lives alone.  Befana spends her days sweeping and baking.  One night, Befana notices a bright light in the sky, she thinks nothing of it and goes back to her work of sweeping and baking.  Later, a glorious caravan led by Three Wise Men stop and ask Befana for directions to Bethlehem and invite Befana to join them in their search for the Christ Child.  But Befana is too busy and knows nothing of this far-away place nor the birth of a special baby.  After the caravan disappeared over the hills, Befana thought of how much she missed her child who sadly died at a very young age.  She changed her mind and wanted to visit this special child, because she loves children very much.   So she placed some baked goods and gifts for the child in a sack, took her broom to help the new mother clean and raced out after the caravan in search of the Baby Jesus.  Befana soon was lost.  And just as she tired, angels appeared from the bright light, the magic star, in the sky to give flight to Befana on her broom - after all this was a night of miracles.  She searched and searched for the Baby Jesus.  Befana still searches, even today, even after all these centuries.  And so, every year on the eve of the Epiphany, whenever Befana comes to a house where there is a child, she drops in to see if it might be the child she seeks.   It never is, but Befana leaves a gift anyway.  For Befana has come to realize, over the years, that her searching is not vain, that in a way the Christ Child can be found in all children.

 

 

 

Poem:

 

La Befana vien di notte,

con le scarpe tutte rotte,

col cappello alla romana …

viva, viva, la Befana!

 

 

For another poem visit:  http://italian.about.com/library/weekly/aa120600j.htm

 

 

 

Craft activity:  Children can decorate a holiday stocking to prepare for the visit from la Befana.

 

 

Color-in activity:  To print a line drawing of la Befana, click here.

 

 

Storybook:  To print a simple storybook, that you can color-in, about la Befana, click here.

 

 

Full color image:  To print a full color image of la Befana, click here.

 

 

 

La Befana Doll: 

 

Among other places, a doll of la Befana can be purchased at:

 

E. Rossi & Sons

191 Grand Street (at the corner of Mulberry Street), Little Italy, Manhattan

(212) 966-6640

 

Capri Universal, Inc.

615 East 187th Street (near Arthur Avenue), Belmont section of the Bronx

(718) 367-1843

 

 

 

The Costume:

 

The costume of la Befana is simple and can be created out of items from the house:

q       shawl

q       scarf

q       apron

q       old broken shoes  (le scarpe tutte rotte)

q       eyeglasses

q       burlap sack

q       straw broom  (la scopa)

q       coal  (il carbone)

 

 

 

Storybooks:

 

The Legend of Old Befana  by Tomie De Paola

 

Befana:  A Christmas Story  by Anne Rockwell

 

The Legend of Befana  by Henry Chafetz

 

The Christmas Witch:  An Italian Legend  by Joanne Oppenheim

 

The Christmas Witch  by Ilse Plume

 

 

Video:

The Legend of Befana: The Italian Epiphany Tale by Judi Mazziotti
The tale is created in a bi-lingual video of puppetry and poetry.
($19.95, plus tax)
www.ritornello.com

 

Websites:

 

A simple keyword search of “la Befana” will retrieve several websites in English and Italian, such as;

 

www.labefana.com

 

www.labefana.info

 

www.labefana.it

 

www.la-befana.it

 

 

 

 

Viva,  viva,  la  Befana !!!

 

 

 


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