Sharp Monica

An honest voice in Italian paradise.

La Befana

“Befana” sounds like a very small child trying to pronounce the word Epiphany in Italian, and indeed the holiday, commemorating the 12th day of Christmas, is celebrated throughout the Mediterranean. 

Apparently, this old crone has broken shoes and brings the children toys on January 6th. She might be an estranged sister of Babbo Natale. At any rate, she is very old, very crazy looking, a little unpredictable, and requires cookies and milk that are very soft.

The last time we were in Europe for Epiphany we spent it in Seville, and watched the three wise men in somewhat alarming blackface make-up walk through town, giving small bags of chocolates to children including Victor.

This year with Jason in Rome with a gigantic group of newly-arrived university students, I was on my own. Fortunately, we had a stash of Christmas gifts that did not make it to Slovenia for Christmas Day. Those were quickly assigned to the final gift giving holiday of the holiday season in Italy.

I also stopped at a fancy chocolate shop last night after work in the center of town to pick up stockings for the kids, filled with chocolate. Jason had purchased small bags of fake candy coal for the kids earlier this week. Victor and I had many discussions about why does everybody get a little bit of coal? The answer? Because everybody is a little bit bad sometimes, and the coal reminds us of that. Nobody is perfect. I think this is a good message.

At Venchi I purchased the children stockings and gluttonously perused the adult boxes myself, pictured below. It is common to light candles to help the befana see which house is she should stop at, and I took a picture of some candles on the sidewalk last night.

We set out milk and cookies for our befana, and let two candles and put them on the landing by our front door. Victor was very nervous and went to sleep at 9:30 to hasten her arrival. Eleanor had had her second nap for the day and so did not give it up until 2 hours later. 

The children slept fitfully until light, and then ran out to see the presents that the befana left. Shouts of joy arose as they saw the huge haul. But joy turned to some disappointment for Victor as he realized that the gifts that were provided to him by certain agents of the befana were for a child far younger than he. This was further compounded by the fact that we seemed unable to assemble Eleanor’s new tricycle, and although Victor’s large toy was for a much younger child, it was in fact very hard to put together because it lacked an instruction booklet as we have learned to expect from our many Lego projects. 

Victor retired to the living room to cry under a chair, while Eleanor absentmindedly ate all of her candy coal. However, when I asked Victor if he would prefer that I call the befana and tell her to please not come next year because her gifts were not good, he vehementlyshook his head no.

Buona Befana!

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2 Responses

  1. As a child I and also my brothers always got some coal in our stockings. In Ohio it was real coal! But we got candy too. We did not mix up the two though my mother said she remembered doing that once and throwing away her candy! We got coal for exactly the reason you gave Victor.

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