Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Today was the Day of Epiphany...The Legend of La Befana

Thanks to my sister for this entry...

An Italian legend...

Epiphany is the traditional commemoration of the arrival of the Magi with gifts for the twelve-day-old Jesus in Bethlehem.

On the eve of Jan. 6, La Befana, an ugly old witch, flies down chimneys or through keyholes throughout Italy to have her say over who's been naughty or nice.

La Befana comes to fill stockings hung with care -- candy and small toys for those who deserve it and a lump of coal for those who don't.

She appeared to be nothing more than a lonely old woman who lived alone. But the lines on her old face told the story of losing her husband and infant child to a sweeping disease, leaving her a widow and a childless mother.

She kept small treasures locked up in a chest -- a small doll her that once belonged to her beloved child and a scrap of wool from her wedding dress, worn long ago when she married the man she loved. At night she would sit alone on her porch and look at the stars. As she thought these things her mind centered on a rumor of a special star, a star she often looked for. The star signaled the birth of a new king -- a king of kings, a king of hearts.

The most common telling of the Befana story has the three wise men stopping to ask an old woman for directions on their way to Bethlehem. They invite her to join the party, but she refuses because she has too much sweeping to do. After realizing her mistake, she tries and fails to catch up with the wise men with a bag of treats. On the eve of their arrival she throws herself beneath a tree in despair. One of the branches turns into a magic broom, which she is to ride for eternity in her never-ending search for the baby Jesus.

To this day she wanders, carrying her gifts and treasures, peering into the faces of babies as she goes. Still she seeks the Christ child. Though she has not found him, she gives what she can to the sweet children she visits each Christmas night. Her heart still longs for her baby and the gifts she brings are her way of feeling that child's love.

Nobody knows the real name of the Befana -- according to many, Befana is merely a corruption of the name of the Epiphany feast on which she is most active.

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