Recent Blog Posts
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- “Blackbird Days”: Italy’s Distant Cousin to Groundhog Day
- A proposito di propositi… Speaking of Resolutions… + Quizlet Practice Set!
- Arriva la Befana | The Befana Is Coming
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- Holiday Vocab Round-up! Top 30 Italian Christmas Words & Phrases + Quizlet Practice Set!
Tag Archives: befana
i bravi, the good ones, will get caramelle, candies, and little regali, presents, while i cattivi, the bad ones will get carbone, coal.
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, la 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Natale: Christmas
- la vigilia di Natale: Christmas Eve
- il presepe, il presepio: Manger, nativity scene
- i regali: gifts, presents
- gli addobbi: Decorations
- le luci: lights (also, “le luminarie”)
- le palline: ornaments (lit. little balls)
- l’albero di natale: Christmas tree
- la stella: star
- il vischio: mistletoe
- le castagne: chestnuts
- le caldarroste: roasted chestnuts (also called castagne arrostite)
- il panettone: Italian Christmas cake (dome shaped with candied fruit and raisins)
- le lenticchie: lentils (eaten to ensure good fortune in the new year)
- il cenone: big dinner, from the word cena (dinner) plus the suffix -one, indicating ‘large’
- la chiesa: church
- santa messa: holy mass
- Gesù Bambino: Baby Jesus
- Babbo Natale: Father Christmas (babbo is a colloquial word originating in Tuscany and meaning dad, daddy, pops)
- Buon Natale!: Merry Christmas!
- Buone Feste!: Happy Holidays!
- Auguri di stagione!: Seasons Greetings!
- Capodanno: New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day (lit. the ‘end of the year’)
- Buon Anno!: Happy New Year!
- Prospero e felice anno nuovo!: Prosperous and Happy New Year!
- l’Epifania: Epiphany, celebrated Jan 6th
- i re Magi: the wise men (three kings, magi)
- la Befana: gift-bringing witch (comes on Epiphany)
- la calza: stocking (to hold candies and small gifts la Befana brings)
- 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!
Babbo 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, the 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.
The 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).
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!
Most 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.
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!
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!
Have you ever heard of or celebrated la Befana? Comments welcome!