La Befana is on her way: Celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany

La Befana.  Nobody pays it any mind in America.  The Epippicturehany is the sixth of January, recognizing the day in which the three Magi arrived in Bethlehem.  The last day of the Christmas holiday.  Growing up in Italy, my siblings and I were thrilled to have so much time off from school (my teacher parents too!), since the most beloved holiday of the year (well, after the
glorious summer vacation -THREE whole months off in those days!) began on the 23rd of December and ended on the 6th of January.  Or the 7th, or the 8th, depending on what day of the week it fell on, which might even give us a few more days as il ponte (a ‘bridge’) would be built between the 6th and any one/two/three days before Sunday, so might as well take extra time off.  Sometimes, we ended up going back to school (and, some, to work) on the 10th!  It’s still that way today.  As it should be.  A long, luxurious break in the midst of winter, to ease one into the new year, which unfortunately begins with the miserable month of January.  Allora, the Befana is an old witch, a good witch, who flies on her trusty broom the night of January 6th to deliver little gifts to good boys and girls.  Sort of like Santa Claus, but wearing typical peasant woman’s clothes – long skirt, unsightly sensible hiking boots, and a kerchief on her head tied under her chin.  The three kings brought newborn Jesus the gifts of gold, incense and myrrh, right? So to re-enact that tradition, Italians created this old lady bringing gifts to their precious children.  No, not the grandeur of Christmas, but simple things.  Plus, well, ‘punishment’ presents.  Indeed, if the children were not well behaved, the sensible Befana would leave pieces of coal for ‘gifts’, as a just reward.  Old-fashioned parenting rules (which would do very well today, by the way).  Now, since I lived in the city and in the seventies, coal was not easily accessible, thus, as we Di Sandro kids weren’t always on the ‘good’ list, there would be several raw potatoes and onions waiting for us under the tree.  And candied coal.  Which was a kind of rock candy that looked exactly like chunks of coal, and was only perfectly appropriate to melt in your mouth (and cause severe cavities, though we never considered that aspect of it!), a sort of punishment gift with a soft side.  The onions and potatoes, we would immediately hand to my mother, who seemed always so enthusiastic at accepting them (Certo che mi servono, grazie, she said with a wink, I could certainly use them).  Of course there would always be adorable miniature panettoni, so each of us could have their very own (we weren’t that great at sharing, I’m afraid…). And you know what? Here I am in Westchester, NY, wrapping little gifts for my family, lovingly delivered by the Befana.  And no, no root vegetables for them, they’re way too well-behaved!  So, hold on to the Christmas holidays, my friends, let them fill those first days of dreary January.  Then, on the 7th, take down the darn tree that has been shedding for way too long!  Happy Epiphany!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s