Tomorrow, January 6 is the Epiphany, a date commonly celebrated in the Catholic church and cherished throughout Italy. If you aren’t sure what the Epiphany is, you can read up on it here. But please come back.
I grew up in a large Catholic family in Texas and have never celebrated the Epiphany. In fact, I was usually back in school by the time this post-Christmas holiday rolled around.
But it is quite different for Italians.
See this little witch here?
Well … she has something to do with how Italians celebrate the Epiphany. I wrote a blog post two years ago – when I first started My Bella Vita – about the legend of La Befana.
I’ve included part of it for you here today.
La Befana is one of Italy’s oldest and most celebrated legends. Each year on January 6 Italian children awaken to see if La Befana visited to their house. This day marks the day the three Wise Men arrived at Jesus’ manger. Apparently, over the years this has been a more celebrated holiday for the children of Italy than even Christmas.
According to the legend, the three Wise Men were searching for the Christ child when they decided to stop and ask for directions. (Now – I have a problem with this part of the story for 2 reasons – 1) why didn’t they keep following the star, and 2) men NEVER stop and ask for directions, especially if there were three of them … but anyway, along with the story!)
Upon knocking on the door of a small house, an old woman holding a broom opened the door slightly to see who was there. Standing at her doorstep were three colorfully dressed men who were in need of directions to find the Christ child. The old woman didn’t know who they were looking for, and could not provide them with directions. Prior to the three men leaving they asked the old woman to join them on their journey. (Sure, three colorfully dressed men are going to ask an old raggedly witch on a broom to join them??)
The old woman declined saying she had too much housework to do. However, after they left she felt as though she had made a mistake and tried to catch up with the men. After hours of searching she could not find them. Thinking of the missed opportunity, the old woman stopped every child to give them a small treat in hopes that one was the Christ child. Each year on the eve of the Epiphany she sets out looking for the baby Jesus. She stops at each child’s house to leave those who were good treats and those who were bad a lump of coal.
Have you ever celebrated the Epiphany? If so, how? Does Santa bring your stocking on Christmas Eve or does La Befana bring it on January 6?