Happy Befana!: The Epiphany in Italy

La Befana, the Epiphany Witch

La Befana, the Epiphany Witch

For those who don’t know, today is (another) excuse to overeat holiday in Italy. It’s the Epiphany, which means that last night, good little boys and girls got candy in their socks/stockings and the rest got lumps of coal from La Befana, the (good) Epiphany witch.

As an aside, as someone who comes from the Coal Region, can I just say I’m a little tired of “bad” being associated with coal? I mean, with the price of electricity in Italy, you’d think people would appreciate a free heating source from a witch or anyone for that matter.

But I digress.

La Befana looks a lot like what we know as a Halloween witch, and I love her story. La Befana, you see, was busy cleaning her house (she *is* Italian) when the Three Kings came to ask directions for finding the baby Jesus. Excellent hostess that she was, Befana put them up for the night. They invited her along to see The Savior, but she declined. She had housework.

Hello? Befana? Priorities?

Anyway, she soon realized that her dirty floor would be waiting for her when she got back, so she tried to find the Three Kings, but never did. Ever since then, she’s wandered on the night of January 5/6 in search of Jesus. During her travels, she leaves gifts for all the good boys and girls because she never knows which one might be Jesus.

Expensive, time-consuming mistake, Befana, but we live and learn.

On the other hand, some believe that La Befana is Santa’s wife but lives at the South Pole, and that she finishes up delivering the gifts he didn’t have to time to distribute. I’m not one to judge, but maybe living on opposite poles is the key to a happy marriage; these two have been together for, like, ever.

Folks, kids *love* La Befana here. A few years ago, I went to an event in which She was to appear, and my goodness, the screaming that erupted when The Broomstick was in sight. Think Sesame Street on Ice meets The Wiggles meets Lifesize Dora the Explorer meets whatever it is that kids are crazy about these days.

La Befana has groupies, mini though they are. And with the amount of tugging and ripping at her already-raggedy clothes, kerchief hat, and broomstick, well, you couldn’t pay me enough to be The Bef (as I call her; we’re close) for even a minute.

So today is typically a day spent with family, eating, drinking, laughing — you know, all that stuff that we haven’t done in at least six days.

And here in Calabria was no exception. P and I had an extended lunch with his sister and brother and their families. Salamis, cheeses, lasagna, roasted rabbit (yes, that’s hard to write without smirking and thinking of Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd) and potatoes, salad, fruit, nuts, cake, coffee, spumante. Phew.

Only 3 of the 17 nieces and nephews, though, so it was as calm an affair as one could imagine with 6 adults and 3 children under the age of 10 in a space smaller than your average mall restroom.

FYI, here’s a photo of the ever-popular presepio (Nativity scene) that P’s brother-in-law put up this year:




We ate well and only had one meltdown (nephew, year and a half old, screamer), but the highlight was an imaginary broth that P’s niece and I made. If anyone needs a good recipe:

  • 3 pairs of Barbie’s shoes (those heels that never stay on anyway if you got ’em)
  • 5 dabs of some weird, smelly hair cream that Mom doesn’t use anymore
  • 1 toothpick (used mainly for stirring, but throw in for fiber at end)
  • 4 crumpled bits of chocolate bar wrapper
  • 1 plastic lipstick (purple if possible)

Put all ingredients in small toy pot and stir vehemently until child’s uncle is so grossed out by the smell of weird, smelly hair cream wafting in his direction that he must leave the room.

Serve cold.

Happy Befana!

8 Beans of Wisdom to “Happy Befana!: The Epiphany in Italy”
  1. Shan

    Thanks for sharing Befana with us. I really enjoyed reading about her.

    Also I’ve had a similar broth many many times. I think it’s those Barbie shoes that make it so tasty.

  2. The Other Girl

    Hee. I love that. “I can’t go see Jesus! I have mopping!”

  3. Sharon

    You said it nice!!!! Check out my Befana experince.

  4. Annika

    I didn’t know the story behind la Befana until I read this post of yours. Now that I’ve read it, I strangely enough feel incredibly guilty for not caring more about cleaning.

  5. 11.04.2009

    LOL this post was absolutely hilarious, especially with the recipe at the end! Thanks for making my day! 🙂

    Catherine from NJ

    Glad you enjoyed Catherine 🙂

    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Off the Beaten Trail: Apricena, Puglia =-.

  6. Bonnie in Alaska

    Wonderful post I have shared with Facebook friends. I grew up with the story but was very sad that La Befana never came to my house! She will be visiting my nipotina though!! I always blame that Southern Italian gene for my wiping compulsion. I hate dirty counters!!!!

    Haha that’s funny about the counters — I’m like that too, especially where crumbs are involved. HATE crumbs! Happy 2011!

  7. Torre

    Thank you for this wonderful article with the story about La Bafana. This explains many things I have been wondering about for years. Now, I know not only know who she is, but I know more about her. Much appreciated and I guess this now gives us the origins of the phrase “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”

    Haha so true! Thanks for coming by Torre!

  1. [...] OK; I’ll have off again tomorrow for the Epiphany, which I’ve written about at Happy Befana!... bleedingespresso.com/2009/01/easing-into-the-new-year-with-a-5-things-meme.html



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Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
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Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake