La Befana

January 7, 2014 / Events

Italian children are just luckier. They receive gifts from both Babbo Natale (“Father Christmas”) on December 25th AND from la Befana on January 6th.

La who?! The Befana is the at times stern and at times simpatica old crone of pre-Christian origins that rings out the old year and brings in the new one, delivering gifts (or coal! ..usually made of black rock-sugar, occasionally real) into children’s stockings.

She’s tied into the Christian tradition as the old woman who passed up an invitation to follow the Three Kings on their way to pay homage to the newborn Baby Jesus. Realizing her mistake, she immediately set out but was too late and could not find the manger… and so has since been delivering gifts to all households with children, searching for the Christ Child.

The following is a little ditty that is sung to (and by) children, almost as an invocation for the arrival of the Befana. Auguri per la Befana (yesterday) to all!

La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte,
neve, gelo, tramontana,
viva viva la befana!

La Befana comes at night,
wearing her ruined shoes,
snow, frost, winter winds,
long live la Befana!


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

13 Responses to “La Befana”

  1. trionfale

    Well, many European kids are doubly lucky, too, with small gifts and treats (in some places in their newly cleaned and polished shoes placed outside the door) the night before Saint Nicholas Day (Dec. 6 or Dec. 19 for the Orthodox). Italian kids are triply lucky, I suppose.

  2. Susan Caracciolo Keane

    I have a homemade La Befana from my Aunt/Godmother that I hang in the kitchen every Christmas to keep me company in my favorite spot and to remind me of her love.

  3. Anne Robichaud

    Enjoyed! And still chuckle when I remember our three children’s glee when coals from our fireplace were in MY stocking a.m .of Jan 6th! Thanks, GB

  4. Jules Ghedina

    Point of note
    I recall that Babbo Natale used to be in Early December back in the 1950’s
    I’m guessing Dec 6th, but not certain if the date

    Jules Ghedina

  5. Debra Duckman

    Another delightful sharing of tradition and tale from you. Happy New Year GB !

  6. Epifania and it’s celebration of the Befana is a great time for those of us in the grey-haired set to send out greetings to our gal pals in the similar Befana age category. Happy Befana to all my “girl” friends. Today’s our day!

  7. In my 2007 novel from HarperCollins, VIVALDI’S VIRGINS, “la Befana” is the name used by the girls of the orchestra to refer (behind her back only!) to the maestra who is so bitter and unfair.

  8. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    As I read each note and understanding of this ancient tradition ,you come to appreciate how each community in Italy use this tale to train children respect, fear of doing wrong and reward. Are any more correct ? Does it matter?

  9. la befana….la befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte……..better be good than bad…..she’ll know…big kiss johna

  10. Oleria Jean Portner

    I Have done this for over 25 years with fruit and nut & candy this is the only year I missed and I feel very bad that I missed it, The grandchildren now in there mid twenty’s still look forward to this tradition it;s all about family


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