Question 4

  • During Christmas, small presents are drawn from a container known as the "Urn of Fate". In this lucky dip, there is always one gift per person. But the main exchange of gifts takes place on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, the celebration in remembrance of the Magi's visit to the baby Jesus. In Italy the children wait until Epiphany for their presents and hang up their stockings on January 6. They anxiously await a visit from "La Befana". According to the "La Befana" legend, while on their way to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus, the three wise men stopped during their journey and asked an old woman for directions. They also told her of Jesus' birth and asked her to join them. She refused them and they continued on their way. Later a shepherd asked her to join him in paying respect to the Baby Jesus and Befana refused again. Within a few hours the woman had a change of heart and wished she had gone to visit the Christ child. She arrived at the stable where Jesus was but could not find him as Joseph and Mary had long departed to escape execution by the King Herod who wanted to kill Christ. In Italian folklore, she is called Befana and depicted variously as a fairy queen, a crone, or an ugly witch on a broomstick. Befana is said to be flying around ever since, looking for the Christ Child each year and leaving presents at every house with children in case he is there. She slides down chimneys, and fills stockings and shoes with good gifts for good children and pieces of charcoal for the bad ones. In this, "Befana" may be said to be the Italian equivalent of Father Christmas or Santa Claus.