Befana’s Italian Christmas

Epiphany puppets are sold at the traditional Christmas market in Rome's Navona square

This is Befana,the Italian mother Christmas. Traditionally, she is the one who delivers gifts, but the date is  not December 25th but on Epiphany, which is January 6th. You may know the expression “mamma mia” which is an Italian expression for surprise and or anguish.  Italians are known for  devotion to their own mothers as well as the Virgin Mary.

Anyway, back to Befana. . . . . .see the broom  she is holding?  That is not for transportation  as a witch  would use, but because she is a very committed housewife. She is constantly sweeping and cleaning her house.  In fact, she has a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder  in that regard.

One day Befana was sweeping as usual, when something extraordinary happens.  In her yard are three grand men fit to be kings with silks, and turbans and all sorts of grandeur. She does stop momentarily to inquire who they are and where they  are going.  They tell her they are astronomers who are following a  new and very bright star to find the new king who has been born. They are bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the baby king. Being kindly kings themselves, they invite Befana to join them on their journey.

“Oh gracious no,” answered Befana.  “I have much too much to do in my house, I have to clean and sweep!”  The kings with their servants and camels……yes camels……bade her goodbye as she was left sweeping her porch.

At some later time, Befana , herself, had an Epiphany when she thought, “Stupida! ( I am stupid!) I missed a chance to give a gift to a new king to stay home and clean!)  She ran around her house to find appropriate gifts for the child and set out on her journey to try and catch up with the Magi.2065_Befana

You guessed it but forever she is leaving gifts on the night of January 5th, at each house she encounters as she is not sure in which the baby is living and she doesn’t want to miss her opportunity again!

Befana is an excellent story to remind us to be ready and open to the important things in life and not consumed by all the temporal distractions demanding our time!


Tomie dePaola has published this lovely picture book for children.  My granddaughter, Alice, in second grade heard it at school this week!

The following is a lovey retelling from Befana herself set in a small Italian town.

Buon Natale!


About annetbell

I am a retired elementary teacher, well seasoned world traveler,new blogger, grandmother, and a new enthusiastic discoverer of the wonderfully complex country of India. Anne
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25 Responses to Befana’s Italian Christmas

  1. foodbod says:

    Lovely story and a great reminder, thank you x x


  2. bmyshot says:

    Hahaha I have a friend born on Jan 6th. I call her Befana! Needless to say she hates it!


  3. Hmmm, my Italian mother and aunts and friends are obsessive cleaners as well. I think it is an Italian trait. Cute story. Thanks for sharing.


  4. What a great story, I’d never heard of Befana before. Thank you for sharing this.


  5. In Spain (and other Spanish speaking countries) the 6th is called The Kings’ Day. They call the Three Wise Men the Three Kings and they are the ones who deliver the gifts to children on that day.

    I think the children don’t mind who delivers the gifts on what day…so long as they arrive.


    • annetbell says:

      It seems that many places in the world observed Epiphany as their major gift giving time. Pretty cool. I taught some Greek Orthodox children who followed that tradition. Didn’t know about Spain. I always heard that the tradition of giving gifts was from the Magi bearing theirs. Thanks for the comment! Merry Christmas! Is your Merry Christmas, similar to Buon Natalie? I know that there are many similarities between Spanish and Italian.


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