This post is about the story, the origins, and the stocking of La Befana, an old-world Italian Christmas tradition.
La Befana, an Italian witch that brings candies and charcoal to children, is a folkloristic tale full of significance and local culture.
WHEN IS LA BEFANA
On the night between January 5th and 6th, “La Befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte… “, the Befana comes at night with her all broken shoes… This is a children’s poem/doggerel about La Befana. A mysterious figure from the old world.
THE LEGEND OF LA BEFANA
“La Befana” is a very old witch that fills children’s stockings with goodies. Or charcoal.
Apparently, la Befana has gone through a few changes in her life.
Ancient Romans believed Diana, the goddess of hunt and abundance, flew over the cultivated fields on the first week of the year and until January 6th to make them fruitful.
When Catholicism condemned all the pagan myths it couldn’t incorporate in its doctrine, Diana was turned into a witch.
Later, in a conciliation mood, she was turned into an old lady. A lady that had refused to help the Three Kings find the Child. Later she had regretted her behavior and made up by dispensing sweets and treats to all the children in her town. They simply had to leave their shoes – or stockings – out of the door on the night between the 5th and the 6th of January.
According to the legend of La Befana, modern children (and adults) hang out their stockings on the night of January 5th. If they were good, the old witch fills them up with candies and sweets. With charcoal, if they were naughty.
As usual, though, Italians have found their way out: be naughty, get the charcoal, and eat it! Cause it’s made of sugar!
A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR ITALIAN COOKS
LA BEFANA STOCKING
The b.c. (before consumerism) Befana stocking filling consisted of clementines, nuts, and dried fruits. When I moved to Italy, there were some modern additions: chocolate coins and lollipops.
Now, sad to say, people go to the supermarket and buy a Frozen-themed stocking.
But there’s one thing that has made it through the years: sugar charcoal. Every Italian pantry gets its winter stock. Because, let’s say it, no kid is a kid (likable) if he’s not been at least a little naughty.
HOW TO MAKE A TRADITIONAL BEFANA STOCKING
As you know, or might guess, I’m not the kind of person that buys a pre-made, over-commercialized stocking.
I may sometimes purchase an artisanal, handmade one at a Christmas market, like those you see in these pictures. If not, I make my own and make it as traditional as possible: with tangerines, nuts, Gianduiotti, and other Italian delights.
If you want to join me in celebrating the old, poetic way, here’s a list of items you can put in your stocking:
- Chocolates: think of Baci and Gianduiotti;
- Candies: you know those gummy bears covered in sugar? Those are the ones! And if you can find them, Rossana caramels (milk-cream stuffed caramels, heavenly delicious);
- Licorice: black, red, wheels, strings… whatever you find;
- Chocolate coins: a loooot!
- Fruits: mostly tangerines, mandarins, and oranges;
- Nuts: walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts…
- You can also add small, entertaining games like bubble soap bottles, mini-puzzles, crayons, stickers, mini cars, and rubber animals;
- Unmissable: sweet sugar charcoal.
WHEN LA BEFANA COMES…
Another saying about this heavily dutied lady is: “La Befana tutte le feste porta via”. Meaning when she arrives and leaves, on January 6th, she also takes with her all the festivities. Christmas is officially over. Time to melancholically put away ornaments, trees, and red aprons.
Time to face resolutions and blue Mondays.
But I feel less blue if I think of what’s coming next: movie nights, polenta nights, game board nights, hot teas, hot chocolates, wood socks, and cashmere sweaters…
That’s it, my friends, have a wonderful year and tell around the legend of La Befana to help people BELIEVE in magic!