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news 18.12.15

Enjoy an Italian-style Christmas

Perhaps it’s balancing that wonky homemade angel on top of the tree, or belting out Christmas carols as loudly as you can while getting stuck in to the seemingly endless wrapping. Maybe it’s more about the lavish roast dinner with gravy done only the way your mum can, complete with cracker-pulling and the Queen’s speech.

However you celebrate Christmas it’ll be all about your traditions — those handed down through the generations and those you’ve carefully decided to start. And it’s the same all over the world, although the traditions vary quite a lot: take one of our favourites, for example: the tale of Italy’s La Befana.

Rather than our jolly, bearded Father Christmas, the main mythological figure in Italy is La Befana, a smiling old lady who also chooses to enter the homes of children by Chimney to deliver gifts.

Whilst Santa originates from folklore, La Befana’s humble beginnings are found in the tale of the nativity. She supposedly encountered the three wise men on their trip to see baby Jesus.

Unable to direct them to the nativity scene, she hosted them for the night before they left.

After they had made their merry way to Bethlehem, she realised that she actually wanted her own chance to see the baby, but left without directions (and the key knowledge to follow the star, we presume), she missed out on that opportunity of a lifetime. The story goes that she’s been searching ever since for a glimpse of the baby Jesus, but instead settles for giving to the children of the world, instead.

On the night of 5 Jan, she visits homes all over Italy to leave gifts for children who have been good, and coal for those who haven’t. Now days, cheeky kids get lumped with coal candy rather than their real, inedible counterparts, so everyone’s a winner. It’s a tradition observed every year without fail, and La Befana is a Christmas institution in her own right.

Historians can argue all they like over the true origins of La Befana. What really matters is that it’s a tradition at the heart of Italian life and, as such, should be treated with respect. We feel the same way about local traditions in the communities we serve. We listen to local opinion to find out what’s important and then craft our offerings accordingly.

Source: Walks of Italy. (2013). Introducing La Befana: An ItalianChristmas Tradition. Available: Last accessed 18 Nov 2014.

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