In Italian folklore, La Befana is an old woman who delivers small gifts and treats to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5th). Italian children leave a snack for her and hang their stocking before going to bed, hoping to find it filled come morning.
At the Italian Children’s Market, owner Isabella Centofanti recalls her introduction to this tradi-tion. She was only 10 when her family spent a year living in her father’s birthplace, a small village in Italy’s Abruzzo region. It was there and then that Isabella first heard the story about reclusive old Befana whose constant baking and sweeping made her the object of curious whispers among her neighbors. The legend unfolds to describe the appearance of a brilliant star that brought about events which would change old Befana, and the world, forever.
Isabella and her sister, Maria, never forgot the wonder of hearing the story and experiencing the tradition for the first time. A few years ago, hoping to remind or introduce new generations to this cus-tom, they collaborated on a retelling of the legend in the form of a picture book entitled “The Night of La Befana.” While creating the book, they drew from their memories of their father’s village, its people and their Italian grandmother who baked bread, worked hard and sang the ninna nanna with passion, just like old Befana. Maria’s simple yet lyrical prose and Isabella’s full-page watercolor illustrations together cap-ture the essence of the legend’s strange wintry night when three royally dressed men invite lonely Befana to join them on their star-led search for the Newborn King, and stubbornly, she declines.
What happens when old Befana wakes to regret her decision is why January 5th is known as the night of la Befana and the reason Italian children hang their stocking that evening before going to bed!
Isabella has recently created two additional Befana items. Like “The Night of La Befana,” both are available exclusively at the Italian Children’s Market. One, a musical snow globe, evokes a scene straight from the beloved Christmas legend. Inside the globe, there’s a cobbled village road and a tiny sculpture of wise old Befana. She’s looking up and smiling as though enjoying a moment’s pause before embarking on her gift-giving journey. The music box movement plays “Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle.” You’ll also find a lovely ornament featuring a wise and smiling Befana, ready with her broom and sack of treats, perfect for dis-play upon a Christmas tree or elsewhere. All Befana items are available at www.italianchildrensmarket.com.