Befana, also known in the non Italian name as Befanta, is the benevolent Italian Witch Fairy who flies her broomstick, on the Twelfth Night of the holiday season, to come down chimneys and bring presents to children. Befana can be found thought history for centuries. She is believed to be associated with the Goddess Hekate.In a little village high atop a hill, in Via della Padella; number 2 to be precise, an old lady, part fairy part witch, passes the entire year in the company of her grotesque assistants; (the Befanucci) preparing coal, making sweets and toys and darning old stockings and socks. These are all to be distributed to children on Rome's magickal night of nights, between the5th and 6th of January.
This seems the longest night of all. Every child is in awe of 'La Befana', a sentiment tinged with love and fear.
black and larger then life, she comes, entering the houses by sliding
down the chimney, leaving her presents for the children: coal for the
bad boys and girls and sweets and candies for the good ones. The
children prepare a plate of soft ricotta cheese for her; for everyone
knows that she doesn't have many good teeth left. In origin this
character is even older than Babbo Natale; Santo Natale, Father
Christmas or Santa Claus. Her festival has usurped an ancient pagan
feast celebrated on the Magic Night, the 6th day of the New Year,
chosen by ancient Eastern astronomers according to their complicated
Epiphany, later called
Twelfth Night by Christianity, was therefore, pagan inorigin.
Therefore, Befana pre-dates her elfin counterpart, Santa, by a few
thousand years. It was much later when the story was changed to be
associated with the life of Christ. So strong was the remembrance of
things past that two other events in Jesus' life were calculated to
have taken place on this day: His Baptism and the Wedding at Cana.
Indeed until the forth century Christmas itself was celebrated on 6
January. Until the end of last century La Befana could be found in
Piazza Sant'Eustachio or in Piazza dei Cappellari where the annual
Christmas fair with cribs and toys took place. Then, because of the
fashion for crinolines and large hoop skirts, the fair was moved to
Piazza Navona, where it is still today. This takes the place of the
four-hundred years-old spices market which had to be moved over to
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