Today the Holy Three Kings are celebrated in many parts of Germany and Europe.
In my home country Italy it is also a very exciting day for the children. It is the day when the Befana (a good dear witch) comes and brings the children little gifts and sweets! Yes, just like in Germany on 06.12., the day where Nicholas brings candies for the children.
The Epiphany, from which the name Befana originates, is a church festival of the three kings. According to the legend, the witch should have heard from the shepherds the glad tidings that the Jesus child was born. She, too, was to lead the star of Bethlehem to the crib, but she broke up too late and missed the star.
In the national science, the Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the feast of the Feast of the Three Kings to fill their socks with sweets and gifts when they are good, or a lump of coal when they are bad. In many poorer parts of Italy, and especially in rural Sicily, instead of coal, a stick was laid in a stocking.
As a good housekeeper, many say that she sweeps the ground before she leaves. On the one hand, sweeping means turning away from the problems of the year. The child’s family usually feeds a small glass of wine and a plate of regional food for the Befana.
The popular tradition says that when you see the Befana, you get a hit from her broom because she doesn:t want to be seen. This fact is told to the children to keep them in their beds!
She is usually depicted as a witch on a broom, with a black scarf, covered with soot, as she enters the children’s houses through the chimney. She smiles and carries a bag filled with sweets or gifts or both. It is also referred to as the Christmas witch.
Another Christian legend says that the Befana was an ordinary woman with a child she loved very much. But unfortunately her child died and that made her very sad.
When she heard that the Jesus child was born, she was on the way to see him, delirious that she was her son. She finally met the Jesus child and brought him gifts to make him happy. The Jesus child was delighted, and he gave the Befana a gift and made her the mother of every child in Italy.