La Befana

by Priya Khosla

Halloween, as it is tradition in North America and different parts of the world, is celebrated on October 31st, where children and young adolescents dress up for the sole purpose of collecting as much candy as possible. When one thinks of Halloween, we think of costumes and pumpkins, and among the favourites of costumes would be that of the legendary witch and the old magical broom alongside her.

Interestingly enough, when the Italians think of witches, or as they call it, la befana, one tradition that comes to mind is surprisingly not Halloween, but a festival called La Festa dell’Epifania. This festival takes place on January 6th but as myth has it, years ago, a witch would go around on the night of January 5th delivering chocolate to children who were good and coal to those who were not. There are many different reasons behind why she did this. One story behind this myth is that the night baby Jesus was born, the three wise men had stopped by her house asking if she knew where he would be. Her response was that she did not know, but she provided them with a place to stay for the night, providing only the best hospitality. She declined their invitation to go along with them in search of baby Jesus, however she later changed her mind. She went out looking for him but was never able to find him. Legend has it that to this day, she went around delivering goodies to the good children because she believes that Jesus lives in all of us.

Now, on this day, people all over Italy dress up to celebrate in honor of la befana. People in different towns dress up as witches and greet the children. And finally, to carry on the tradition, most childrenstill wake up on January 6th to find goodies in their stockings.