January 6th is a national holiday in Italy as it is the day of the Epiphany. This day marks the end of the holiday season and it is the time when Christmas Trees come down and families add the figurines of the Three Kings (i Re Magi or Magi) to the nativity scene. As a matter of fact, the Epiphany recalls the arrival of the Three Kings to baby Jesus.
It’s a fun day to be in Italy especially if you’re a child (but also an adult LOL) as a magical character called “la Befana”, a good witch who travels the world dressed in rags on a magical broom, visits Italian children bringing sweets to well-behaved kids and sweet coal to naughty ones, leaving them in a long stocking near the chimney in the night between the 5th and 6th of January.
Most sources say that the myth of La Befana goes back to the 13th century. According to one of the legends the Three Kings stopped along their long journey to visit Jesus and they knocked at the door of an old woman to ask for directions to Bethlehem and to rest. They asked her if she would like to accompany them, but she refused, saying she had too much housework to do. She was known to be the best housekeeper in town. The Three Kings departed but La Befana changed her mind and decided she wanted to go along and see the baby king. She gathered together some sweets as a gift and ran out after the Three Kings. Sadly, she never found the Magic or the baby Jesus. To this day, she continues her search broom in hand, handkerchief on her head, filling stockings with sweets and toys.
This is a typical Italian song that children sing while waiting for la Befana:
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col cappello alla romana
viva viva La Befana.
It says that la Befana comes at night wearing broken shoes, and a Roman-style hat, W la Befana.
If you happen to be in Italy on this day, you will see many different stockings in sweet shops, supermarkets, and delis. This is mine for this year!