Friday 14 December 2018

LA BEFANA – Italian Christmas folklore, by Cynthia Ripley Miller #Christmas #History #Italy @CRipleyMiller

LA BEFANA – Italian Christmas folklore
By Cynthia Ripley Miller

Although I was born in America, my father and my maternal grandparents came from Italy to America and my paternal grandparents remained in Italy. So, I grew up with the idea of Santa Claus at Christmas time, but I also knew the Italian story of the old woman ‘La Befana’ from my parents.

La Befana comes from the word ‘epifana’ meaning epiphany. The Epiphany is the holy and twelfth day after Christmas on January 6, celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings or Magi (wise men) in Bethlehem with gifts for the baby Jesus who they believed was the ‘king of the Jews’.

Wise Men On A Journey

The story is told that the Magi came to the house of La Befana while on their journey to Bethlehem. Like a good Italian housewife, she gave them refreshment and asked them about their travels. They shared with her that they were following a star that would lead them to a newborn king, a baby prophesied as a savior to the world, and that they wanted to bring him gifts and pay him homage. They asked La Befana to join them on their journey, but she refused saying she was too busy keeping her home.This is why she is often depicted with a broom. She was considered a ‘casalinga’ housewife and not a witch as some stories make her out to be.

After the Magi left, La Befana felt remorse and stopped her sweeping. She gathered up some sweets as a gift and chased after the Magi to join them, but could not find them. Sorry for her choice, she continued to search for the baby Jesus, leaving sweets for all the children along the way, some say by their doors, others in their shoes or hanging stockings.

The legend adds that on every January 5th, the eve of the Epiphany, La Befana, still searching, brings sweets and toys to all the children who have been good during the year. In addition, a more modern element to the legend adds that if children have not been good, she will only leave them a lump of coal. My father is a native born Italian and says that he grew up with the belief that he would either get sweets (figs, dates, candy etc.) or a lump of coal in his shoes from La Befana. He claims he only received treats and never any coal. Hmm. I guess I believe him.

A Housewife More Than A Witch

La Befana ideally should be remembered as an old woman housewife who wore a kerchief and carried a broom—a symbol of her curse for choosing her household duties over honoring the baby Jesus—more than a witch, flying around on a broom. Either way, it’s a Christmas tradition wrapped in the spirit of the season that captures the imagination of children and adults alike. A song that Italian children chant on the eve of the Epiphany while waiting for La Befana:

La Befana vien di note        The Befana comes at night
con tutte le scarpe rotte        with broken shoes             
col cappello alla romana       with a Roman hat             
viva viva La Befana           live, live, La Befana     


On the Edge of Sunrise

 Book One of the Long-Hair Saga

When love commands, destiny must obey.  The year is AD 450.  The Roman Empire wanes as the Medieval Age awakens.  Attila the Hun and his horde conquer their way across Europe into Gaul. Caught between Rome’s tottering empire and Attila’s threat are the Frankish tribes and their ‘Long-Hair’ chiefs, northern pagans in a Roman Christian world, and a people history will call the Merovingians.

A young widow, Arria longs for a purpose and a challenge.  She is as well versed in politics and diplomacy as any man … but with special skills of her own. Emperor Valentinian, determined to gain allies to help stop the Huns, sends a remarkable envoy, a woman, to the Assembly of Warriors in Gaul.  Arria will persuade the Franks to stand with Rome against Attila.

When barbarian raiders abduct Arria, the Frank blue-eyed warrior, Garic, rescues her.  Alarmed by her instant and passionate attraction, Arria is torn between duty and desire.  Her arranged betrothal to the ambitious tribune, Drusus, her secret enlistment by Valentinian as a courier to Attila the Hun, and a mysterious riddle—threaten their love and propel them into adventure, intrigue, and Attila’s camp.  Rebels in a falling empire, Arria and Garic must find the strength to defy tradition and possess the love prophesied as their destiny.

The Quest for the Crown of Thorns
 Book Two of the Long-Hair Saga

AD 454. Three years after the Roman victory over Attila the Hun at Catalaunum, Arria Felix and Garic the Frank are married and enjoying life on Garic’s farm in northern Gaul (France). Their happy life is interrupted when a cryptic message arrives from Arria’s father, the esteemed Senator Felix, calling them to Rome. At Arria’s insistence, but against Garic’s better judgment, they leave at once.

On their arrival at Villa Solis, they are confronted with a brutal murder and a dangerous mission. The fate of a profound and sacred object—Christ’s Crown of Thorns—rests in their hands. They must carry the holy relic to the safety of Constantinople, away from a corrupt emperor and old enemies determined to steal it for their own gain. But a greater force arises against them—a secret cult who will commit any atrocity to capture the Crown. All the while, the gruesome murder and the conspiracy behind it haunt Arria’s thoughts.

Arria and Garic’s marital bonds are tested but forged as they partner together to fulfill one of history’s most challenging missions, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns.


Cynthia Ripley Miller

Cynthia Ripley Miller’s short fiction has appeared in anthologies and ezines. A Ring of Honor-Circle of Books Award winner and Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist for her novel, On the Edge of Sunrise, she has reviewed for UNRV Roman History, and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on her website, click HERE!

On the Edge of Sunrise and The Quest for the Crown of Thorns are the first two novels in her Long-Hair Saga series set in Late Ancient Rome and France.

Also connect with Cynthia on: Twitter Facebook


  1. My Italian friend was once left coal in her shoe at Christmas by her prankster brother. She cried for ages!

  2. Jackie, sorry so late to respond. But yes, coal is not a good thing to get from La Befana! My dad as a child worried about it. They believed. Lol


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