Many of us think that once Christmas Day is gone (and Boxing Day in the UK), that the holiday season is all wrapped up! However, in many countries such as Italy, Spain and Latin American countries, they celebrate the full 12 days of Christmas in the original Christian tradition.
I'm always itching to take down our Christmas tree on 27th December but my Italian husband insists we keep it up for the upcoming important dates!
Visit of the Magi
The 12 days of Christmas ends on January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany. This particular day is important in the bible story as it's when the kings arrive to see the baby who will become Jesus Christ and give their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In Italy, they call this moment the 'arrival of the Magi' which is the phrase for the three wise men. 'Magi' in the ancient Persian world meant recognised religious persons such as the equivalent as a priest at that time. 'Magi' is the plural of the word 'Mago'.
What is less known outside of Italy is that on three kings day eve or January 5th another character comes alive!
Legend has it that before the three kings arrived in Bethlehem they spent a night at the house of an old witch called La Befana. They told her the story of their journey and invited her to join them.
She declined as she was cleaning her home. But later set off to join them with gifts for the baby. Although she followed the same new star, she was unable to find the manger. She continues to travel the world on Epiphany Eve, searching every house for the child & leaving sweets for good kids & coal for the naughty ones, similar to Santa Claus.
This still has cultural significance now as Italian children leave stockings out for her on the evening of 5th January along with some wine and treats such as a slice of panettone.
Not only is she kind leaving delights for little ones. She is also known for sweeping the house as she leaves, before hopping on her broomstick again.
The reason for this is to sweep away the problems from the previous year! Such a lovely sentiment.
Three Kings Day Celebration
La Befana is usually portrayed as a friendly witch riding a broomstick. She is normally covered in soot because she enters houses through the chimney. It's thought that if one sees La Befana they will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn't wish to be spotted!
Though not well known elsewhere La Befana is celebrated throughout Italy. There are often street parties, parades and many people dress up as elderly witches. The most common places to find big celebrations are Rome, Urbania and Parma.
This is a great day to be in Italy as often churches add the three kings to their nativity displays, there are more Christmas markets and family gatherings. This is still an official holiday in Italy and usually, schools don't resume until after this date.
The song of La Befana
Italian children sing this song about La Befana...
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col vestito alla "romana"
viva viva la Befana!!
Porta cenere e carboni
ai bambini cattivoni
ai bambini belli e buoni
porta chicchi e tanti doni!
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all broken
With a dress in Roman style
Up, up with the Befana !!
She brings ashes and coal
To naughty children
To the good child
She brings candies and many gifts!