Epiphany in Italy
La Befana – the generous witch
La Befana looks like the effigy witches we in Denmark burn on bonfires at Midsummer. But the Italian hag is a kind and well-loved emblem of Epiphany in Italy.
Most of my Puglian friends born in the 1960s grew up without Christmas trees and Santa Claus, and they still find Christmas cards, Christmas presents and Christmas dinners a bit exotic. Instead they celebrate Epiphany and on the night before January 6th a friendly witch known as La Befana enters the house through the chimney to leave children small gifts of candy. Good children are rewarded with sweets and toys, while bad children receive a lump of coal (black candy) as punishment.
La Befana looks a lot like the effigy witches we in Denmark burn on bonfires to celebrate midsummer. She has a huge warty nose, wears a shawl and rides a broomstick. Yet the Italian witch is kind and generous, and she lives in Urbania near Urbino in Le Marche and not on the Brocken mountain in Germany.
Too Busy to Join the Three Wise Men
According to legend La Befana was the best housekeeper in her village, where she met the Threee Wise Men, who were on their way to see baby Jesus. She did not have time to join them on their journey, as she was too busy with the housework, and this has been a constant source of regret to her ever since. So every year around Epiphany, La Befana goes out to search for the divine baby and every time she comes across an Italian child she leaves a small gift.
Much preferable to the magic potions of her Danish colleagues.