La Befana: What a Way to Go

La Befana: What a Way to Go | ©Tom Palladio ImagesWhile most households that celebrate the Christmas season have already taken down the ornaments and thrown away the tree, and, most importantly, begun wondering how they’re going to pay off the credit-card debt, here in Italy the holiday spirit continues, at least for one more day.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, and it’s a national holiday of religious importance around the Bel Paese.

La Befana: What a Way to Go | ©Tom Palladio Images
This day marks the occasion when three wise men from the east followed a bright star in the night sky across the desert.

Finally arriving at a manger next to an inn in the little town of Bethlehem, the Magi honored the newborn King, the baby Jesus, with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

That’s the religious significance of the Epiphany.

La BefanaThe folkloric take here in Italy is la Befana, an ancient witch, draped in rags, who flies around on a old-fashioned broom on the eve of the Epiphany bearing gifts of sweets for the nice children and lumps of coal for the naughty ones.

The old witch works hard making her appointed rounds, just like Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) did on Christmas Eve.

The only difference between the two gift givers is that Santa got cookies and milk for his efforts.

And la Befana? Well, she could only look forward to being burnt in effigy in town squares all across La Penisula when the sun went down last night.

La BefanaNow, I’m a bit too old to believe in la Befana — Santa Claus, that’s another thing — but there was a loud knock on my door early this morning that woke me from a deep sleep.

When I finally answered no one was there, but lying on the welcome mat was a small bag with a handwritten note attached to it that read: For the Palladian Traveler.

What do you suppose was inside?

A sweet or a lump?

©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images

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