An ancient tradition


The night before the Epyphany is magical. This is the night that many children wait with joy (if they think they had been good during the previous year). The night of “La Befana” in Italy (and in some other European Countries) and of “The Three kings (or wise men) in Spain”. Both tradition took origin from the travel of the magi, in the night before 6th of January, when they where looking for Jesus to give him their presents. But, even if the origin of the Three Kings is clear, there are different hypothesis on the origin of “La Befana” , a typical Italian tradition.According to some anthropologists, this tradition goes back to a pagan mith of the Goddess Strenia, celebrated by Romans at the beginning of the year, and “Christinized” by the earlyChristians as happened to further pagan traditions. “Christianity conquered paganism but paganism infected Christianism”( T.Hope).
La Befana is represented like an old woman who flies on her broom stick every
year on the night between the 5th and 6th of January, which is the Epiphany day, to bring presents to children. That is why she carries a big bag on her back full of sweets, which la Befana will use to fill the stockings kids have left by their chimney. The kids who have behaved well in the past year, will find sweets and chocolates in their stocking on the day of the Epiphany. Those who didn’t behave will also get a few lumps of coal. However, everyone loves La Befana. Some people imagine LaBefana with white hair, others with black hair but, a part from that, everybody agrees she has a long crooked nose, broken shoes and a patched dress.
The story
The story tells about a woman who lost her husband and her child. In a cold night, the 6th of January, nearly 2000 years ago this old woman received some visitors who reported that they saw the star and they were looking for Bethlehem. They spoke joyously. They were exhuberent in their quest and bid the old lady to accompany them as they searched for the king. But she was afraid. These were strange men, richly dressed, and
they spoke so eloquently. She feared she would not fit amongst such co mpany and she politely declined to go.y and by a shepherd came to her house. And he too told of “great tidings of joy”. How was it this lowly shepherd had heard of the star and the birth of the king, she wondered?

Word has spread,” said the shepherd, “and many of us have heard it from angels!”. He too bid her to come and rejoice with him in Bethlehem to welcome the newborn king. Again she declined, thinking it might be wise of her to wait until the morning. To her amazement she saw then the new star in the sky she had studied so regularly. So it was true! A baby! The very thought made her heart leap with hope and excitement. Yes, she thought, I will go in the morning.

All that night she prepared to depart. Gathering her most prized possessions she considered what she should do. She was poor and had little to give. But the kings had gold to bring the baby. And the shepherd too had gifts to bear. What could she, a lonely, sad old woman bring to honor this new king? She opened her chest and reached in for the doll. Tears instantly welled in her eyes at the touch of the aged toy. How she missed her baby! She thought of her chubby little fingers holding the doll, her wet little lips giving it kisses those many years ago. This doll, as much as she loved it, as much as she had caressed it in her pain of many years, would now bring joy again to another baby and ultimately to herself. She took the tattered piece of wool from her wedding dress, dyed it a lovely royal purple and sewed together a robe for the newborn king. These would be her gifts. Humble, but all she had. I n the morning she arose quickly and set out on the road, not knowing when she would ever return to her home. It mattered not to her. She had a mission. She had new hope. She had to find the Baby King.

But no one else was on the road that morning. She stopped to ask directions to Bethlehem but nobody she met had even heard of the place. She travelled all day, wandering and then into the night, where she looked for the star to guide her as it had the wise men and the shepherd. But the skies were unfamiliar to her now and the star she did not see. She was lost.

To this day she wanders, carrying her gifts and treasures, peering into the faces of babies as she goes. Still she seeks the Christ child. Though she has not found him, she gives what she can to the sweet children she visits each Christmas night. Her heart still longs for her baby and the gifts she brings are her way of feeling that child’s love.

Befana

La Befana Song

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the roman way
Long live the Befana!

Rosa for Migue’s blog 2010

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