Along with all the things we celebrated in December that’s never enough. Moving into January we will celebrate on January 6th, l’epifania (Feast of the Epiphany) when LaBefana (a good witch) leaves some sweet treats (I dolciumi), if you are good, in la calza (your stocking). Naughty children find, il carbone (coal) a sweet made with black sugar. It’s a holy day, a day for church and growing up church activities, took prominence, were never debated and always exciting with the continuance of Christmas carols until the Three Kings arrived. We might gather around our table later in the evening with our relatives and end a festive meal by enjoying such treats as il torrone, panettone, pandoro, and other “varie pasticcerie (various pastries) to name a few. The essence of the day as always is family, food and God.
A folktale regarding La Befana dates back many years. It claims that the night before the Wise Men arrived at the Baby Jesus’ manger, they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along with them, but she said she didn’t know where and was too busy. A little later a shepherd asked her to join him but again she refused. Later that night she saw a great light in the sky and decided to try to join the Wise Men and the shepherd bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She got lost and never found the manger and Baby Jesus.
So now, LaBefana flies around on her broomstick each year before Epiphany (Twelfth Day of Christmas or Twelfth Night) bringing gifts to children in the hope that she might one time find Baby Jesus and on the evening of January 5th, children hang their stockings to await her visit.
(In my house, growing up, it was usually Little Nonna who filled our stockings with an orange and a few pieces of candy and we were delighted).