The Holiday Shopping Season is finally over. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. But all is not lost. I've come up with a way to put off the shopping ordeal until after Christmas next year … as long as it's done before January 5.
When I lived in Rome in the 1960s, Santa Claus was almost non-existent. Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) had been visiting Italy since WWII—he wasn’t completely unknown—but Italian children didn’t leap out of bed at the crack of dawn Christmas day and run to see what Santa had brought them. Instead, in Italy, the day children received gifts was January 6, La Befana (The Epiphany).
The Befana is a big part of the Italian Christmas tradition and, like many holidays, mixes legend, tradition and a little religion. I don't know if Italian-Americans celebrate it in the US. We never did
LOOK! IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE, IT'S ... LA BEFANA?
[I'm dating myself; but if you're old enough, you know how the phrase really ends.]
Sounds a tad familiar, right?
In most regions of Italy, even adults give little presents to each other, and so do lovers, along with stockings full of chocolates.
According to Wikipedia, Epiphany "is a Christian feast day [January 6] that commemorates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ." Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus. Without going into the details, the celebration has been around since at least 380 AD.
It is celebrated on January 6 and officially ends the Christmas holiday. In Italy, everyone takes down the decorations on that day. There is an Italian saying that "The Epiphany takes away all festivity."
Don't get this wrong. Epiphany isn't like a stay-at-home holiday. It's a full blow festival with parades, re-enactments, special sweets, and crowds of people.
Like everything else, there are a number of theories about origins of the "good witch" including the celebration of the Epiphany and the idea that she's an heir descendent of the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina, who presided over the new-year's gifts of figs, dates, and honey. It's also suggested she's the Christian substitute for the old crone who read the augers at the pagan festival of Saturnalia.
"According to the legend, the night before the Wise Men arrived at the manger they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied that she was too busy. Then a shepherd asked her to join him but again she refused.
Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Wise Men and the shepherd bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She got lost and never found the manger.
Now La Befana flies around on her broomstick each year on the 11th night of Christmas, bringing gifts to children in hopes that she might find the Baby Jesus."
Although she has been unsuccessful in her search, she still leaves gifts for good young children because the Christ Child can be found in all children. http://www.goitaly.about.com
Another variation of the Three Wise Men legend is the same up to the point where she has regrets about not going with the wise men.
"So she made lots of cakes and walked outside her home. She offered cakes to all the children she met on her way, hoping one of them were Jesus. Since then, Befana brings gifts to all the children." http://www.mybefana.it/
In another variation, found on Wikipedia, La Befana was an ordinary woman with a child she greatly loved. "However, her child died, and her resulting grief maddened her. Upon hearing news of Jesus being born, she set out to see him, delusional that he was her son. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave La Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Befana
BITE THE BULLET
Now, go tell your children and/or grandchildren they have to wait until January 6th to open their presents. Oh, yeah. That's going to go well.
ANOTHER WAY TO CELEBRATE THE EPIPHANY
If you're running out of ideas for an Epiphany celebration, consider the Russian Orthodox version. In Russia, thousands of Russians plunge themselves into icy rivers and lakes to cleanse themselves of sins with water deemed holy. The overnight temperature there at this time of year often drops to about 14° F.
HOWEVER YOU CELEBRATE IT, HAVE A WONDERFUL END OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON!