Twelfth Night

Published January 4, 2012 by Tony


Many Italian children, in these days, are anxiously waiting: they are waiting for the arrival of the Befana who delivers Christmas gifts. In fact, in many Italian regions is a custom to celebrate the Epiphany (word transformed in Befana), the day when the Magi arrived to the hut and gave to baby Jesus their gifts; so, for a lot of Italian children, he isn’t Santa Claus to bring gifts, but an old ugly woman or hag, children call Befana, who flying on a broom will bring toys to any good children during the night of January 5. She is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she could enter the children’s houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy and presents. If children have been naughty could get a few toys less and a piece of coal as a warning, symbolized by a big lump of black sugar put in the stockings left hanging in some corner of the house. The next morning, magically, the sock has turned into a long and red velvet sock full of candies and sweets, while nearby the child will also find a few toys. The Befana may also be whimsical and hide the toys anywhere in the house, so the children, woke up early in the morning, must quest for them, looking behind curtains or under the bed. Children usually leave their letter for the old witch near the sock (children call it “letterina” meaning small letter), in the hope of receiving the aspired toys. To ingratiate themselves with the witch, the parents can leave some sweet on the table with a glass of liquor or wine, and in the morning children will find only crumbs and the glass empty. Whether it’s Santa Claus or Befana, Christmas for children is time for gifts at any latitude, although parents should bring to the attention of children that in the world, however, there are many other children not so lucky because Santa Claus or Befana can’t go to their homes.


Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season, as Twelve Days of Christmas and as the saying go:
Epifania tutte le feste porta via“,
which can be rougly translated in “Epiphany all holidays takes away”, meaning that with this festivity, the long period of celebrations (began with New Year’s eve) just ends (and schools reopen too).
There are different poems that children say about Befana and the most known is:

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!

(Literal translation : The Befana comes by night, With her torn shoes, She comes dressed in the Roman way, Long life to the Befana!)
To keep rhymes you could say something like:

The Befana comes by night
with her torn shoes is here
to her broom tight-knit
hooray Befana come to me

Once, many southern moms sang this lullaby to their baby:

Ninnaà, ninnaò,
questo bimbo a chi lo do
se lo do alla Befana
se lo tiene una settimana
se lo do all’Uomo Nero
se lo tiene un anno intero
ma se il bimbo fa la nanna
se lo tiene la sua mamma

“Ninnaòà, ninnaò,
who’ll I give this child to
if I give it to the Befana
she’ll keep him one whole week
if I give it to the bogeyman
he’ll keep him one whole year
but if the child goes to sleep
then his mom will him keep”


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