La Befana

Today, January 5th, children all over Italy are impatiently anticipating the arrival of La Befana. 

In Italian folklore, La Befana is a witch-like character who visits the homes of children on the eve of Epiphany (January 5th), filling their stockings with candy and fruit if they’ve been good all year, or coal or onions if they have been naughty. Sounds suspiciously similar to another popular Christmas figure, doesn’t it? 

The legend of La Befana, however, predates that of Santa Claus, most likely a relic of pagan worship. Over the centuries, the story of La Befana evolved, incorporating Christianity into the story, and has become an integral part of Italian culture. 

Legend has it that the night before the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem, an old woman was visited by the three wise men on their way to the Christ Child. They offered her a ride on their camels, but she refused, saying she had too much housework to do. Later that night she regretted her decision and set out to find baby Jesus, bearing gifts for him. She never found him, but to this day she still roams the skies on the night of January 5, delivering gifts and sweets to all the good children, and coal or onions to the naughty ones. 

La Befana is a beloved figure in Italy, where children hang stockings and leave out a glass of wine and a plate of traditional Italian Christmas sweets, such as panettone or pandoro, in anticipation of her arrival. Some families even leave out a broomstick for her to ride. In the morning, children will wake up to find their gifts from La Befana, tucked away in their stockings.

Celebrate La Befana this week with some of our favorite Italian sweets!