Wednesday, December 30, 2009

La Befana

As William has mentioned in the last post, there is another Folktale of a Yuletide Season character. This one coming out of Italy and Scicily, by the name of La Befana.

I was waiting to talk about her until after I had a chance to read a new children's book about her, that I recently ordered.  This one is a light hearted read, with another slight variation on the standard story, and is also illustrated by the author.

But all versions now have her delivering gifts to good children, and coal to ones that have been naughty, flying her broom down chimneys.

In trying to do some background research on La Befana, sadly, I found only one reference that her story may go back to Pagan times, when she appeared in Roman festivals as an aging Mother Nature, passing out the last of her gifts.

I found two very brief, slight references that she was initially thought of as evil, and that people would ring clay bells, and other noisemakers to keep her away. 

But like some of the others of holiday folklore fame, she too has evolved into a cheery, kind hearted, benign character, bringing gifts to children on the night of Christian Epiphany.

I also found that there are similar legends of another gentle spirit, Old Babushka, who is honored in Poland, Rumania and Russia.

While I'm delighted to have made these discoveries, I am disappointed that their full characters have been watered down to the point of being barely recognizable as their former robust selves! And this has been going on for so long, it is nearly impossible to find out their true stories.

It amazes me that here I am at 6 {mumble, mumble} years old, and am now just discovering these colorful folktales! 

Last Fall, my friend Pam, who lives in Pennsylvania, and I were comparing how there are so many more characters associated with Halloween, over those with the Yuletide season, and how much more fun they are. 

She then brought up Black Pete, and was surprised that I had never heard of him.  I thought that he was more of a regional story, but again, I was wrong!  Living here in this apparently protected cocoon in the north eastern edge of the midwest, I probably wouldn't have ever learned of these various legends, if it weren't for the internet!  Our local library has never had whatever few books have been written about them.

It makes me wonder why these characters have faded into almost oblivion. It can't be because people are afraid of scaring their children. Not with letting them watch all of the violence that they see on television and in the movies, or even the electronic games that they play!   Even that nasty looking Krampus doesn't measure up to the realistic gore that is imprinted into little minds through the media.

And I can't help but wonder how these characters would be received today, if traditions were brought to life once again.  Would new generations embrace them as something novel, or would they be pushed aside for the glitz and glamour, or declared as something from the "Dark Side" that has no place in a religious holiday celebration? 

I know the challenges that they would face within my own family.  A few years ago, I bought a rather innocent little tale of a Witch at Christmas time.

It is a fanciful, harmless little open minded story of some children who have a Witch for a neighbor, and how much fun she is, and how she winds up helping Santa deliver presents one year. 

My grown kids, with kids of their own, were aghast that I would introduce a Witch into the Christmas festivities!!  That just isn't done!! So THAT went over well! {sigh}.

While I wish that these characters (and maybe there are more that I haven't discovered yet!) would be fleshed out again, with the depth of personality that they once had, I don't see that happening.  But I'm so happy that I have met them!  It made my holiday season a lot richer!

I hope that you too made some new discoveries that have enriched your life, or at least have brought some enjoyment to you!


  1. I loved this post as it was very entertaining and I would have read The Witch at Christmas. After all it is a story and much better than some of the other things kids watch, as you mentioned.

  2. Now, if we could just turn ol'Santa into a wizard like Dumbledore I think I'd be really good with Christmas...HaHaHa! Nice post Suzie.

  3. Must check out the books for the grandkids.

    Hope you don't mind, but I'm planning a post about La Belfana for January.

    Happy New Year!

  4. I'd love having that witch live next door! She not only sledded down hill, but up! And her tree was decorated with skulls & dragons! lol

    Jeanne, I wrote to you personally,so I'm repeating myself, that of course I don't mind you posting about La Befana too! The more that people know about her, and the other unfamiliar characters of the Yuletide, the better! I'll be very interested in what you have to share with us!

  5. What a great blog!! I am glad I found it. I also enjoy a less gory version of Halloween so I will return here often. Jan


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