YuleTide: Santa Klaus and His Companions #6 – La BEFANA (and STRENUA?)
Posted by invizweb on December 25, 2008
There is a story about a woman. On one night each year she goes searching for her lost child. Sounds like La Llarona? It isn’t. It is the tradition gift giver of rural Italian winter holiday celebrations: La Befana. La Befana is described as a frightening crone whom “is as kind as she is ugly.” She wears a scarf and has a large mole on her nose. On Epiphany, January 6th, in Urbania (of Central Italy) and other towns in Southern Italy, she flies into homes on her broom stick (through keyholes where there are no chimneys) giving “good” children a “bag of goodies,” which include but is not limited to candy. She also gives children coal (and perhaps a bop with her broom). In return, families leave her a stocking filled with fruit (oranges, again?) and a glass of vino.
The name La Befana first appeared in a poem in 1594. Legends of La Befana place the woman to the Biblical Era. In one tale, the three magi who were searching for the soon-to-be born Jesus receive shelter and food from her when she cannot provide directions to Bethlehem, or her accompaniment on the journey due to the need of sweeping. She realizes her mistake too late, and thus wanders the world searching for Jesus to this day. In another variation she continually searches for Jesus due to sadness in losing her own child. Yet in another version, she is a widowed Princess who retreats to the wilderness and becomes a witch. In this telling, Jesus searches and finds her and offers her the role of “the Mother of All Children,” which she accepts.
It is theorized that the Strenia (strenua), the Sabine culture and then Roman Goddess of Strength and Fruit was the origin of La Befana. The word “strenuous” may have its origins to this Goddess. She presided over the New Year’s festival and is related to Salus, Goddess of Health, Sanitation, and Salvation. Her main base of worship was Rome, and her sanctum was the Via Sacra.
I know she is not really companion as she is a substitute but I did not feel liek leaving her out. If there is a place in your home for Santa, why not La Befana? If you think about it, letting Santa into your home also means entertaining his Elves, Black Petes, Krampus(se), Father Whip, Reindeer, Knight Rupert, and Belsnickel as well as Saint Nick. One of those in the entourgae would grumble if you do not pay him/her respect equal to the others. Since you have an orange or two out already, might as well leave something for the Yule Goat…