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.
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.