Tag Archives: befana

Arriva la Befana | The Befana Is Coming

Around Italy, i ragazzi, the kids, are getting ready to hang their calze, stockings, by il camino, the chimney, with care, in hopes that la Befana soon will be there.

i bravi, the good ones, will get caramelle, candies, and little regali, presents, while i cattivi, the bad ones will get carbone, coal.

While Babbo Natale, Santa Claus, comes on Christmas Eve, la Befana arrives during the night between January 5/6, coinciding with l’Epifania, Epiphany.

There are other noteable similarities and differences between the main present-bringer, Santa, and la Befana.

Just like Babbo Natale, la Befana travels through the air. In place of a sleigh with flying reindeer, befana dollla Befana flies a broomstick from house to house where there are bambini, children, entering by way of il camino.

Where Babbo Natale is rotund, merry, white-bearded and dressed in red and white, la Befana is depicted as a smiling, grandmotherly-looking witch, wearing tattered clothing and covered in soot astride a broomstick.

Just like Santa Claus, la Befana’s origins are nebulous, mainly the stuff of folklore, with many variations.befana + re magi
The most common story I encounter is that la Befana lived along the route the Magi took to Bettlemme, Bethlehem. In this version, they stopped at her house seeking food and shelter, but she wasn’t feeling sociable and sent them away.

Later, la Befana had a change of heart and set out to find the Magi to accompany them to find the Christ Child. But by then, she was too late to catch up, and she never found the three kings or the baby Jesus.

So, as the story goes, to this day, at this time of year, she still travels the world, leaving gifts for every child, lest they be il Gesù Bambino, the Baby Jesus.

Poster for a Befana event

January 6, the Epiphany, marks the official end of the Italian Christmas holiday season. It is also said that la Befana takes away the old year, and i dolci, sweets, and regali she brings symbolize seeds to grow in the new year.

Many cities and towns hold special events and parties dedicated to celebrating la festa dell’Epifania/la Befana, Epiphany holiday. People play bingo and cards, and gather outdoors in the piazze, squares, for festivities, including music, processions, live presepi, nativity scenes, mercatini, open-air markets, and live appearances by la Befana.

And while it’s mainly a celebration for the kiddos, you’ll find adults getting in on the action, too, dressing up and parading around as la Befana.

Feeling festive? Perhaps you want to get into the act, too… You could wish people “Buona Befana!,” a popular greeting on January 6 in Italy.

This could be a great time to adopt a fun new tradition, with kids, family or friends. All you need is una calza, a stocking!

Buona Befana, and hope she brings you caramelle!

Have you heard of la Befana before? Do you have any special observances for Epiphany?

Have fun practicing the Italian words in this story on Quizlet!! Click here to access the Quizlet Christmas Round-up list, and use the password JODINA.

Posted in Italian Customs, Italian Holidays, Italian Vocabulary, learn italian | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Holiday Vocab Round-up! Top 30 Italian Christmas Words & Phrases + Quizlet Practice Set!

Ciao ragazzi!

Before going on holiday break, my students asked if I would create some materials to help them practice their Italian and stay engaged with the language during the holidays…

So, here’s a round-up of the most popular Italian Christmas words and phrases. I’ve set it up the same as the “Words of the Week” (WoWs). WoWs are words we choose and practice each week from the materials we’re working on in class.

I’ve added this week’s WoWs below, to a list I created in Quizlet. If you’re already familiar with Quizlet, then you know how engaging and fun it is to use the many interactive exercises it features to build your vocabulary and strengthen your memory. Click here to access the Quizlet Christmas Round-up list and use the password JODINA.

  1. Natale: Christmas
  2. la vigilia di Natale: Christmas Eve
  3. il presepe, il presepio: Manger, nativity scene
  4. i regali: gifts, presents
  5. gli addobbi: Decorations
  6. le luci: lights (also, “le luminarie”)
  7. le palline: ornaments (lit. little balls)
  8. l’albero di natale: Christmas tree
  9. la stella: star
  10. il vischio: mistletoe
  11. le castagne: chestnuts
  12. le caldarroste: roasted chestnuts (also called castagne arrostite)
  13. il panettone: Italian Christmas cake (dome shaped with candied fruit and raisins)
  14. le lenticchie: lentils (eaten to ensure good fortune in the new year)
  15. il cenone: big dinner, from the word cena (dinner) plus the suffix -one, indicating ‘large’
  16. la chiesa: church
  17. santa messa: holy mass
  18. Gesù Bambino: Baby Jesus
  19. Babbo Natale: Father Christmas (babbo is a colloquial word originating in Tuscany and meaning dad, daddy, pops)
  20. Buon Natale!: Merry Christmas!
  21. Buone Feste!: Happy Holidays!  
  22. Auguri di stagione!: Seasons Greetings!
  23. Capodanno: New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day (lit. the ‘end of the year’)
  24. Buon Anno!: Happy New Year!
  25. Prospero e felice anno nuovo!: Prosperous and Happy New Year!
  26. l’Epifania: Epiphany, celebrated Jan 6th
  27. i re Magi: the wise men (three kings, magi)
  28. la Befana: gift-bringing witch (comes on Epiphany)
  29. la calza: stocking (to hold candies and small gifts la Befana brings)
  30. i biglietti di auguri: greeting cards

Got any Italian holiday questions or words to add to the list?

Let me know if you like this and find it helpful… If I know people are using it, I’ll create more practice materials!

Posted in Italian Holidays, Italian Vocabulary, learn italian | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

La Befana viene stanotte! | Befana Comes Tonite!

befana cartoon, on broomBabbo Natale (Santa Claus) didn’t check everything off your list? Not to worry. You get a second chance tonite.
Kid’s all over Italy are getting ready to hang up their stockings for la Befana to fill this eve of Epiphany, January 6, the day of when the wise men are said to have arrived in Bethlehem.

Just like Babbo Natale, la Befana flies through the air (in place of a sleigh with reindeer, befana dollthe Befana flies a broomstick – both pretty incredible, really) from house to house where there are bambini, entering by way of il camino (the chimney) and leaving treats for i bambini che sono stati buoni (the kids who have been good) and coal for i bambini cattivi (the naughty children). No mention is made of whether she has a list that she checks twice, but I digress . . .

Where Babbo Natale is rotund, merry, white-bearded and dressed in red and white, la Befana is depicted as a smiling , grandmotherly-looking witch, wearing tattered clothing and covered in soot astride a broomstick.
So what do we know of la Befana’s origins? Well, it’s all pretty much lore; just like what we know of Santa from “Santa Claus is coming to Town”, etc., it’s pretty fantastical… and both seem like stories that pre-date Christian traditions.

befana + re magiThe most common story I encounter is that la Befana lived along the route the Magi took to the Natvity Scene. In this version, they stopped at her house seeking food and shelter, but she wasn’t feeling sociable and sent them away. Later, la Befana has a change of heart and sets out to find the Magi, and to accompany them to find the Christ Child. But by now, she’s too late to catch up, and she never finds the child. So, as the story goes, to this day, at this time of year, she still travels the world, leaving gifts for every child, lest they be il Gesu` Bambino (the Baby Jesus).befana festa poster7

 

What does the Befana bring to good children? That depends on the traditions (and budget) of the household where they live. Most just get little treats, candies and gizmos, similar to what St. Nick (from whom Santa Claus derives) puts in stockings of kids whose families observe St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), but some lucky kids get iPods and other such fancy loot!

 

befana di personaMost cities hold special events and parties dedicated to celebrating la festa dell’Epifania/la Befana (Epiphany holiday). People play bingo and cards, and gather outdoors in the piazze (squares) for festivities, including music, processions, live nativity scenes, open-air markets,  live appearances by la Befana, and more. You’ll find links to a few of these happenings below. befana parade

And while it’s mainly a celebration for the kiddies, you’ll find adults getting in on the action, too, dressing up and parading around as la Befana in carne e ossa (in the flesh).  The picture here looks like a sort of Befana bunny hop!

befana calze

Feeling festive? Perhaps you want to get into the act, too. This could be a great time to adopt a fun new tradition, with kids and family or friends and housemates. All you need is una calza (a sock or stocking) – any type, even a long sock will do – and some little treats!

Buona Befana!

Have you ever heard of or celebrated la Befana? Comments welcome!

Epiphany/Befana celebrations in Italy:  Roma-Milano-Napoli  |  OstiaBaby Befana Party

 

Posted in Italian Customs, Italian Holidays, Italian Vocabulary, learn italian | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

La Madonnina, La Befana & Babbo Natale

~ The holy trinity of present bringers ~

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limoncello and biscotti

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     As I sit here sipping on limoncello and nibbling biscotti, I am thinking to myself that it’s time for another blog post. So why not tell you about la Madonnina, la Befana and Babbo Natale?… this time of year in Italy you’d hear quite a few people name-dropping these illustrious personages… but just who are these three characters, and what do they have to do with an Italian Christmas?

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While they certainly are not the holy trinity, we could perhaps group them together as a trinity of Christmas gift bringers — that’s at least one thing that they do all have in common.

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statue of la madonnina on milan's duomo rooftop
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     La Madonnina, meaning little Madonna, is the nickname of the Virgin Mary, especially common in Milan. La Madonnina is also the name of the golden statue of the Virgin Mary that adorns the top of Milan’s majestic Duomo cathedral, both characteristic symbols of the city.

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La Madonnina, or the Virgin Mary, has her own special national holiday — L’Immacolata Concezione (the Immacolate Conception) — on December 8th, observed throughout Italy. Though this day is not actually associated with Christmas, it ushers in the holiday season, much like Thanksgiving does in the U.S.

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la befana riding on a broomstick

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     La Befana is a character of a much less saintly appearance. A much-loved icon of Italian folklore, she is depicted as a grandmotherly figure riding a broom, wearing a shawl and covered in soot. Lore has it that la Befana zips in and out of chimneys on the eve of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) delivering little presents (candy, fruit, etc) to good children and coal to the naughty ones.

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     The advent of  Babbo Natale in Italy, known as Santa Claus in English (and translating literally to Daddy Christmas), was likely inspired by American GIs dressed up as Santa in Italy during WWII. This makes Babbo Natale a relatively new player on the Italian Christmas scene. Prior to Babbo Natale, the main bringer of presents in Italy was la Befana, and the goodies were delivered after Christmas, on January 6th*. Many older Italians in fact, only recall presents being brought on Epiphany, when they would hang up their calze (stockings) for the old lady to fill during the night.

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(Epiphany is when the three wise men are to have arrived in Bethlehem. This holiday ushers out the Christmas season in Italy.)

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italian santa claus on vespa scooter

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     Babbo Natale therefore is somewhat of an interloper… and while the tradition of la Befana is alive and well in Italy, the Babbo has certainly supplanted her in many homes, where only Babbo Natale comes on the night between the 24th and 25th. Though some lucky kids get regali (gifts) from both Santa and la Befana… kind of  the way some kids in the U.S. hang up a stocking for St. Nicholas on the 6th or 7th of December and also get presents from Santa.

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     And there you have the three Italian Christmas gift bringers: La Befana brings the sweets and the treats, Babbo Natale brings the regali, and la Madonnina brings perhaps the most important gift of all — il Gesu Bambino (the Baby Jesus).

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     Oh, and I almost forgot … another really cool thing that they all have in common is that they all have songs dedicated to them!

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Oh Mia Bella Madunina

(Video with nice pictures of Milano, subtitles in Milanese)

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Santa Claus Is Coming to Town“, Michael Bublé
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La Befana Vien di Notte is nursery rhyme Italian children  learn.

(Lyrics below.)

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La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!

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The English translation is:

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long live the Befana!

~

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     I wasn’t able to find a video of the Befana song, but I did find this entertaining storyteller recounting the “Befana’s Italian Christmas Story,” filmed at Epcot in Disney World.

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Had you heard of la Befana before? Got any good Befana stories? Who’s più simpatico (more charming), la Befana or Babbo Natale? Love, love, love your comments!

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Buone feste e buon Natale! (Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!)

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Posted in Expressions, Italian Customs, Italian Holidays, Italian Music, Italian Vocabulary, learn italian, Sayings, Vocaboli Italiai | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Italian Holidays>>

It’s not over ’til the old lady…

…flies in on a broom!

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befana italian good witch

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[Note: Any passages in Italian are followed by a translation in English.]

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Yes, the lore of la Befana is one of my favorite parts of the Italian winter holiday traditions. So, while I’m en route flying back home (on a plane, not a broom) from the holidays, it seems like a great time to tell the tale of that beloved Italian ‘Epiphany witch.’  Befana is the folk character who rides in on a broom on the eve of January 6th, coinciding with l’Epifania, (Epiphany), the date when i re magi (the wisemen) are said to have arrived in Bethlehem.

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stockings and gifts

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She is usually depicted as a smiling old lady riding a broomstick through the air, bent over, with long, straggly hair and covered in soot because she enters children’s houses through the chimney. She fills Italian kiddies’ calze (stockings), delivering presents – mostly candies, chocolates, fruit and small trinkets to the bambini bravi (good kids) – and a lump of carbone (coal) or black-colored candy for bambini cattivi (naughty kids). (‘Simile al carbone finto che ho dato ai miei fratelli e nipote per scherzo insieme ai loro regali’… Similar to the fake coal I gave my brothers and nephew as a joke along with their gifts!)

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coal

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Dunque (So then), this might be rather a brief blog post, or not, as I compose it and pay homage to la Befana between planes, layovers, and delays while I journey from the frozen heartland of Wisconsin to San Diego on the eve of the Epiphany. (Currently I’m getting a bit of extra electricity to my laptop as I wait in the airport for the snow-delayed aircraft to land in Milwaukee(!) Uffa! (Darn it!)

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Befana & the 3 Kings
Allora (Well then), back to la Befana…legend has it that la Befana lived on the route the tre magi took when they set out to visit il Gesù Bambino (the Infant Jesus). They stopped at her house to ask her for directions to Bethlehem as well as for food and shelter.

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three wisemen and the star of bethlehem

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However, la Befana wasn’t in a very sociable mood just then, and she sent them on their way. Later, she had a change of heart and decided she wouldn’t mind entertaining a few guests after all. But by then the guests were far beyond recall. Befana decided to go after them in any case and set off for Bethlehem. Like them, she followed la stella cometa (the guiding star), but unlike them she was unable to find the stable where the Christ Child lay.

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befana

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Befana however wasn’t the sort to give up and is still flying around looking through windows and down chimney tops. She visits every house where there are children and leaves gifts just in case one of them happens to be the Christ Child. For the naughty children it is said she only leaves coal – but that is very rare, since there are very seldom any really naughty children, especially during Christmas time, when they know Befana is on her way.

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Origins of la Befana
While the legend of la Befana is a charming one, it is definitely somewhat exotic, and seems to me like it could be a blending of different stories and traditions over the centuries as the winter holiday season in Italy morphed from the celebrations of the Roman Empire’s pagan practices to those of modern Christian times.

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saturnalia ancient roman winter solstice festival

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During Roman times, the winter holiday season lasted almost a month, starting with the festival of Saturnalia (winter solstice celebration), that kicked off on December 17, and going until the end of Lupercalia (end-of-winter festival), on January 15. This period was marked by wild revelry and lots of eating, drinking, and merrymaking (definitely some similarities to modern times), and also featured the honoring of various goddesses.

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Perhaps la Befana is a holdover of the female figures celebrated as a part of the tapestry of this season in times past. Doing a bit of digging, I found that there is indeed evidence suggesting Befana’s connection to the ancient Roman goddess Strenia, who presided over the New Year’s gifts, delivering the same types of goodies that the current-day Befana does now.

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santa claus and italian epiphany witch

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Befana vs. Babbo Natale
Babbo Natale (Santa Claus or Father Christmas) is a relative newcomer on the holiday scene in Italy… I have heard that one early glimpse of Santa in Italy was by way of American servicemen in Italy during the WWII years, who would dress up as Santa Claus at Christmastime and give out presents to children. Prior to that point, la Befana was the main bringer of presents, and in this sense, Babbo Natale is somewhat of an interloper.

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santa claus

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While many families still practice the tradition of la Befana and put out their calze before bed on the eve of Jan. 6, she is not as key a player in her role of ‘bringer of holiday goodies’ as she once was. In many parts of Italy she has been replaced or overshadowed by Santa. But since she has been around delivering the holiday loot for more than 2000 years, chances are she’ll be an important figure for many more to come.

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real life befanas
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Befana la Befania….
One more role that la Befana plays is to officially usher out the holiday season in Italy. Diversely from the United States, where the holiday season ends after New Year’s day, in Italy it continues through January 6th. Therefore, the Epiphany, or la Befana as it is colloquially referred to, marks the end of the Italian winter holidays. In fact there’s a rhyme to that extent: “Befana e Befania, tutte le feste se le porta via,” meaning that la Befana (the present-delivering witch) and Befania (another name for Epiphany, derived from Latin and Greek) take or carry all the holidays away with them when they leave. Or, like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s not over ‘til the old lady flies in on a broom!

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Any thoughts or comments on the Befana? I’d love to hear ‘em! Please leave comments below (beneath the sign-up form).

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consider using powerpoint joke from don nealon about the ‘regine magie’

Posted in Italian Customs, Italian Holidays, Sayings, Uncategorized, Vocaboli Italiai | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments