Wednesday, December 8, 2010

La Befana

I turned 46 last week. I love celebrating a birthday around holidays. I use this a time to self-evaluate-where have I been, where am I going and how can I become a better version of me?

I was sitting here last night in front of the fireplace thinking of all the celebrations in the past 46 years-some festive, and others not. I came to understand fully the significance of these ceremonies & milestones. The history we live, and the stories we tell about it, help us to identify with those qualities we want to embody and share with others.

In my quest (okay-suddenly its becoming more of an obsession) for remembering and finding more holiday traditions, I came across the legend of La Befana. (Sent to me by Sydney Solis of  'Storytime Yoga'.) She (La Befana...and Sydney for that matter) embodies the feminine spirit of benevolence.

La Befana  is a female version of Santa Claus in Italy, who loves children dearly. She is a kind old woman with magical powers who brings gifts to the children of Italy on the eve of the Epiphany. (Jan 6-the date that is said to be when the wise man found the baby Jesus in the manger.)

The name Befana is derived from the word epifania, the Italian name for the religious festival of the Epiphany. In the weeks leading to the  Epiphany, the children of Italy write notes to Befana telling her the presents they would like. They are on their best behavior because they know that Befana will leave a lump of coal, instead of sweets and toys, for children who misbehave.

There are several variations to this legend that takes place at the time of the birth of Baby Jesus, the Christ Child. La Befana is an old woman who lives in a house in the hills of Italy. She once had a husband and child, but now lives alone. Befana spends her days sweeping and baking, and gathering wood.

One night, Befana notices a bright light in the sky, she thinks nothing of it and goes back to her work of sweeping and baking. Later, a glorious caravan led by Three Wise Men stop and ask Befana for directions to Bethlehem and invite Befana to join them in their search for the new King-the Christ Child.

Befana is too busy and knows nothing of this far-away place nor the birth of a special baby. After the caravan disappeared over the hills, Befana thought of how much she missed her child who sadly died at a very young age. She changed her mind and wanted to visit this special child, because she loves children very much. So she placed some baked goods and gifts for the child in a sack, took her broom to help the new mother clean and raced out after the caravan in search of the Baby Jesus.

Befana soon was lost. And just as she tired, angels appeared from the bright light, the magic star, in the sky to give flight to Befana on her broom - after all this was a night of miracles. She searched and searched for the caravan & Baby Jesus and could not find him.

Befana still searches, even today, even after all these centuries. Every year on the eve of the Epiphany, whenever Befana comes to a house where there is a child, she drops in to see if it might be the child she seeks. It never is, but Befana leaves a gift anyway, for Befana has come to realize, over the years, that her searching is not vain; that the qualities and unconditional love of the Christ Child can be found in all children.

In another version, the children are afraid of her and think she is a witch even though all she does is sweep and bake. In fact, before people realized how kind she was, they rang bells made of earthenware and blew glass trumpets to scare her away. This has all been forgotten now, and, as her story shows, Befana never deserved it.

Storytelling and legends, are a way for us to preserve family history & cultural traditions. Share these stories with your children & students and encourage them to tell stories of their own. Help build positive character traits such as benevolence, acceptance and inclusion, encourage emotional growth and development, spark imaginations & open young hearts & minds.

Buon Natale!

Happy Holidays to all!

To read another version of this beautiful story, click here.

To order "The Legend of Old Befana" children's Book, click here
To read more about Holiday Celebrations, Stories and Traditions from around the world, click here.

To find more holiday stories that teach, Click Here.

*What are some of the legends & stories that you or your family tell during the holidays? Please tell us in the comments below!


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