December 19, 2012

Befana (La Strega, La Vecchia)

On Epiphany Eve children in Italy go to bed expecting La Befana to visit the house during the night. She leaves gifts for children who have been good during the past year and warns those who have misbehaved. The name “Befana” comes from the Italian word for Epiphany, Epiphania. La Befana may also be referred to as La Strega, meaning “the witch,” or La Vecchia, meaning “the old woman.”

Although not much is known about the history of this figure from Italian legend, some authorities believe that La Befana may be related to Berchta, another witch-like figure who visits homes in central and northern Europe during the Twelve Days of Christmas and, especially, on Twelfth Night. La Befana also appears to be related to Baboushka, a Russian folk figure about whom a nearly identical tale is told.


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