venerdì 6 gennaio 2017

Epiphany in Italy: the character of Befana and the Italian folklore

L’Epifania tutte le feste si porta via” is an Italian saying which means “Epiphany carries away all festivities”. Actually the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on 6 January with a national holiday in Italy, is a big part of Italian Christmas celebrations. Befana, a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl, plays a starring role in this feast and is loved as much as Santa Claus. In popular folklore Befana visits all the Italian children on the night of 5 to 6 January to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal if they are bad.

The Legend
Probably the name Befana is derived from the Italians' mispronunciation of the Greek word Epifania or Epiphaneia (in English “Epiphany”), a term which commemorates the visit of the Magi (also known as the Three Wise Men) to the Baby Jesus on 6th January.

According to the legend, a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus, the Magi asked Befana for directions to where the Son of God was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village, with the most pleasant home. The Magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, Befana is searching for the little baby, leaving all the good children toys and candy, while the bad children get coal.

The origins
The origins of Befana may actually go back farther, to the Roman’s pagan festival of Saturnalia, starting just before the winter solstice. At the end of this feast, the Romans used to go to the Temple of Juno to have their augers read by an old crone who call to mind the character of Befana.

Celebrations in Salerno
Many towns and villages celebrate the Feast of Epiphany with festivals, processions and living nativities. Every year on 5 January in the town of Pontecagnano Faiano (Salerno), an handcrafted sock record, about 70 meters long, and a procession of women dressed as Befana, greet the arrival of the hag.

Discover the folklore of Epiphany in Salerno with Accademia Italiana, we are waiting for you!

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