sweep away these holidays
with your straw broom
this last day of Christmas
straw rope in Japan
straw brooms in Italy
beginning each new year
with hopes of prosperity
© G.s.k. 15
*the article in the link is in Italian
Last night in many parts of Italy, children hung their stockings up hoping to receive candy and small gifts from the Befana or if maybe coal (there is a sugar candy variety especially made for this holiday) if they’d been naughty, she usually leaves both as there’s no child who’s without a moment of naughtiness. Throughout the cities of Italy today we can see women dressed up like the Befana cackling and handing out candy and “coal”.
The Befana is old and curved with a big nose and sharp chin, she’s dressed in rags and has broken shoes and is covered in soot because she comes down people’s chimneys after flying around on her broom during the night.
One of the stories goes like this: the Three Magi stopped at an old woman’s house to ask directions for Bethlehem. She was very kind to them so they invited her to come with them to greet the Baby Jesus but she refused because she had too much to do. Once they’d gone though she felt she’d made a mistake, so she ran out to find them. She stopped at many houses without being able to find them but in each house she left a gift for the children, since she couldn’t know if maybe one of them was the Baby Jesus.
Italy is a long country and historically it has lived under many different nations, so when it comes to the Christmas season there are many days when a child can receive gifts. In the far North on the Austrian border (Bolzano) the feasting begins on December sixth with Saint Nicholas’s Feast and little further South in Trentino (but also in Sicily) on the thirteenth we have Santa Lucia but these holidays are not celebrated in most of Italy.
Of course Christmas Day is for everyone and it has been influenced by the American way of envisioning Christmas thanks to the Second World War. Christmas trees weren’t a traditional ornament in most of Italy as most families put up the crib scene. If families did give gifts on Christmas they didn’t come from Santa Claus or Father Christmas but from Baby Jesus.
Finally we have the sixth of January with Epiphany, that is the day when the Three Magi brought gifts to Baby Jesus, the Befana sweeps away all of the Christmas Holidays. Though this was originally a Central Southern custom she’s become popular all throughout Italy.
Not long ago, people celebrated just one of these holidays and rarely children got toys on Christmas day as that was usually reserved for the Befana.