THE HISTORY OF THE BEFANA EPIPHANY

THE HISTORY OF THE BEFANA EPIPHANY

codeblab epifania, epiphany , ,

The name
The name “Befana”EPIPHANY , understood as the female puppet exposed the night of the Epiphany, was already widespread in the popular dialect of the fourteenth century, especially in the lands of ancient Etruria (Tuscany and Tuscia in present-day northern Lazio), then used for first in Italian by Francesco Berni in 1535, then by Agnolo Firenzuola in 1541. Since, by tradition, the Befana leaves the gifts in a sock hanging from the fireplace, in Dovadola in the Appennino Forlivese, it prepares the sock called “the longest of the world”. There are still some rare places where, in popular language, the term “Befana” has remained, as, for example, in the town of Montignoso, in the rest of the Province of Massa-Carrara, in that of La Spezia as well as in Garfagnana and Versilia, with traditions not in line with the usual celebrations of the Epiphany.
There is a kind of American witch (Mamma Natale) who only helps her husband and has neither a story nor a day. Instead, a religious legend tells that the Three Wise Men traveling to Bethlehem asked for information on the way to an old woman, and that they insisted that she go with them to bring the gifts to the savior. The old woman refused, but shortly after, repentant, she prepared a basket of sweets and looked for the Magi and the baby Jesus. Not finding them knocked at every door and handed sweets to the children hoping to be able to forgive the lack. Even the repentant old woman has turned into a witch with the cat flying over the broom.

The character
La Befana recalls the religious tradition of Saint Lucia, who dispensed gifts to the children before her, as St. Nicholas did before the advent of Santa Claus. It is not therefore bad, it is only annoyed with adults and scorbutica with those who do not like it because it tries to be smart; but with the children he shows himself lenient and sympathetic, a grandmother full of attentions and sweets.

Physical appearance and symbology
This is not a beautiful woman, young and captivating, but, on the contrary, a little old woman shrunken by the ailments of age and cold, with few teeth, wrinkled face and sometimes, but not always, a very prominent nose to emphasize old age and lack of beauty due to age. The old aspect derives from a symbolic representation of the old year: once really finished, it can be burned, as it happened in many European countries, where there was a tradition of burning puppets dressed in worn clothes, at the beginning of the ‘year (see, for example, the Giubiana and the Panevin or Pignarûl, Casera, Seima or Brusa la vecia, the bonfire of the old man who takes place in Bologna on New Year’s Eve as the “shot of the Pupo” in Gallipoli, or the burning of Veggia Pasquetta that every year on January 6 opens the carnival in Varallo in Piedmont). In many parts of Italy, the use of burning or sawing in pieces of wood an old-shaped puppet (in this case full of confectionery) was among the rituals of late Lent. From this point of view, even the use of gifts would again take on a propitiatory value for the new year.

La Befana in Montepulciano Station
The clothes and shoes
In order to protect itself adequately, the Befana wears long, lysed and jotted patches; he often wears an apron. It also uses heavy anti-cold socks and comfortable shoes, but not boots to the Gascon much more suited to the witches of fairy tales. On the shoulders, sometimes hunched, he always has a heavy and colored wool shawl and not a fluttering cape as it happens to find in some images on the net.

The handkerchief
We must not confuse the Befana with witches, purely Halloween-like. A true Befana, in fact, does not have a pointed hat, as it often appears on many sites, blogs, and even in some television commercials. Instead, use only a handkerchief of heavy cloth (the pezzóla) or a woolly knit scarecrow knotted under the chin.

The broom or the stick
He has a broom, often used to lean or fly briefly. Sometimes it can also use a stick instead of a broomstick. In the imaginary, the Befana rides the broom on the contrary of the depictions of witches, ie holding the branches in front of her. Even in this, therefore, the specific iconography of the Befana is not comparable to that of witches.

The sock
Another frequent error of “image” of the Befana is that related to the sack of gifts: in reality the real Befana brings his gifts or his charcoal in jute sacks unmade and siphon that take the form of huge socks, or in wicker basket , depends on the territoriality and the tradition of the place where it is celebrated.

The coal
According to oral tradition, the Befana delivers sweets to good children or coal and onion to naughty children. Coal – or even ashes – from the ancient ritual symbol of bonfires, was initially inserted into socks or shoes along with sweets, in remembrance, in fact, of the seasonal renewal, but also of burned puppets. In the Catholic moral view of the following centuries, only the coal and / or onions were inserted into socks and shoes as punishment for the only children who had behaved badly during the previous year.

National Day of the Befana
The Official House of the Befana is traditionally placed in Urbania. Every year there is also celebrated the “National Day of the Befana”, a twenty-year tradition and known throughout Italy.

In Tuscany, in the province of Grosseto, there are the “Befani”, men who on Epiphany Day go together with the Befana through the streets of the towns to perform traditional Maremma songs, wishing “Happy Easter” (augurio linked to the liturgy of the Epiphany, when “the announcement of Easter Day” is read in the Church).

THE HISTORY OF THE BEFANA EPIPHANY

Nursery rhymes and popular legends
“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
with patches to the skirt
live the Befana alive! »

from which the variant derives:

“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
with the Roman hat (or in another version: with the Roman dress)
live the Befana alive! »

This is a popular variant in Tuscany:

“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
crosses all the rooftops
bring dolls and confetti »

or:

“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
if you buy another pair
with the pen and the inkwell »

Other variants:

“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
the trullallà dress
the Befana here it is! »

“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
the all-blue dress
the Befana comes down »

“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
the dress with a great skirt
live the Befana alive! »

“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
the dress and the bandana
the Befana comes! »

“La Befana comes at night
with broken shoes
and he broke them on top at the top
the Befana is poor

According to a “Christianized” version of a legend dating back to the 12th century, the Three Wise Men, headed to Bethlehem to bring the gifts to the Child Jesus, could not find the way, asked information from an elderly lady. Despite their insistence, so as to follow them to visit the little one, the woman did not leave the house to accompany them. Afterward, regretting not having gone with them, after having prepared a basket of sweets, she left the house and began to look for them, without succeeding. So he stopped at every house he found along the way, giving candy to the children he met, in the hope that one of them was the little Jesus. From then he would go around the world, giving presents to all the children, to be forgiven.

In some versions it is said that it is the wife of Santa Claus, or in others a friend of hers or a relative; in others it is said that they are in light conflict as the gentleman in red would spread the rumor of the non-existence of this old woman. In others it is said that the Befana has a husband (Il Befanotto) very old, ugly to such an extent as to incite terror in children seeing him arrive, while accompanying his old and battered wife.

In some areas of Italy since time immemorial there is the use of singing and playing serenades and stornels of the Befana in the evening and in the night between 5 and 6 January

The origin was probably connected to a set of pagan propitiatory rituals, dating back to the X-VI century BC, regarding the seasonal cycles linked to agriculture, or related to the harvest of the last year, now ready to be reborn as a new year, widespread in northern Italy, in central and southern Italy, through an ancient Mithraism and other related cults like the Celtic, linked to the boreal winter.

The ancient Romans inherited these rites, associating them with the Roman calendar, and celebrating the temporal interregnum between the end of the calendar year, basically the winter solstice and the recurrence of the Sol Invictus. The twelfth night after the winter solstice, the death and rebirth of nature was celebrated through Mother Nature. The Romans believed that in these twelve nights (whose number would have represented both the twelve months of the innovative Roman calendar in its transition from purely lunar to lunisolar, but probably also associated with other numbers and mythological symbols) of female figures fly over the cultivated fields , to propitiate the fertility of future crops, hence the myth of the “flying” figure. According to some, this female figure was first identified in Diana, the lunar goddess not only linked to the game, but also to the vegetation, while according to others she was associated with a minor deity called Sàtia (goddess of satiety), or Abùndia (goddess of abundance) ).
Another hypothesis would connect the Befana with an ancient Roman festival, which always took place in winter, in honor of Giano and Strenia (from which the term “strenna” derives) and during which gifts were exchanged.
La Befana would also refer to some imported figures of the same Germanic mythology, such as Holda and Berchta, always as a feminine personification of the same winter nature.

As early as the 4th century AD, the then Church of Rome began to condemn all pagan rituals and beliefs, calling them a fruit of satanic influences. These superimpositions gave rise to many personifications, which resulted, starting from the late Middle Ages, in the current figure cleaned up by fabulous or pagan contaminations, even if its appearance, benevolent and not negative, was and still is, by influence of the feast of Halloween, mistakenly associated with that of a witch. In reality it is not a witch, but an affectionate little woman, represented on a flying broom, an ancient symbol that represents a purification of houses (and souls), in anticipation of the rebirth of the season.

Thus condemned by the Church, the ancient female pagan figure was gradually accepted into Catholicism as a sort of dualism between good and evil. Already in the period of the theologian Epiphanius of Salamis, the same recurrence of the Epiphany was proposed on the date of the twelfth night after Christmas, thus absorbing the ancient pagan numerical symbology.

the epiphany  at  Gubbio
In 1928, the fascist regime introduced the festivity of the fascist Befana, where gifts were distributed to the children of the less affluent classes. After the fall of Mussolini, the fascist Befana continued to be celebrated in the Italian Social Republic alone.

In the most recent period, countless and widespread are the Italian representations of the Befana and the parties dedicated to her; often it is a figure that descends from the bell tower in the square of a village, or old men in disguise to distribute sweets and gifts to children. Tradition wants it “old” to indicate the end of a cycle: with the winter solstice one passes from the old to the new, from the cold and from the endless nights to the lengthening of the period of light; moreover, at the level of the legal calendar, with the end of the year one enters the new Gregorian year; also at the liturgical level the Liturgical Time is strong, Christmas, and the Ordinary begins. Precisely for this reason, on the day of the Epiphany, when the Befana is celebrated, “Epiphany, all the feasts take away” is recited.

 

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