Befana, is a legendary female gift giver
known to Italian children for almost two thousand years. She was active at
Christmas time and made her visit on the Twelfth Night or Epiphany.
The story is told that Befana, a very old
and decrepit woman, refused to interrupt her household duties long enough
to accept the invitation of the Magi to accompany them on their journey to
find the Christchild.
It seems the Magi needed a guide in their
search and asked Befana to help them find the way; but she refused to
leave her warm and immaculate house of which she w&s very proud.
However, after the Magi had left, Befana
had a change of heart and at dawn went in search of the Wisemen. She had
prepared a basket of food for the journey and added toys and gifts for the
Christ Child. Search and inquire as she might she was unable to find
the Wisemen; but she distributed her gifts along the way.
As years passed the story grew and Befana
now resembles a witch with a broom to fly and visit Home Pages on Epiphany. In
addition to her basket of goodies she also carried a cane and a bell. The
cane was to help her on the way and the bell was to warn the children of
her coming. Children were warned to be good so that she would leave them
gifts and not switches. When the bell rang, the children were hurried off
to bed to “be asleep before Befana comes.”
In Italy, Epiphany is also called Befana
Day. It is a day of feasting and celebration as well as gift giving and
fairs are held in Rome and rural areas in honor of Befana Day.
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