Friday, January 2, 2009

Catholic Christmas Traditions: The Legend of La Befana

The Legend of La Befana – A Reminder of the Second Great Commandment

The Italian legend of La Befana is a moral story about charity given to our neighbors for love of God, especially if we feel they are blocking our way to a greater good.

In Italy, the story of “Le Befana,” is a lesson about the Second Great Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The old story says that the three Wise Men stopped at an old woman’s house, asking for food and shelter. As one who eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah, La Befana was intent on leaving her home and searching for Him.

Anxious to be on her way, she at first refused her unbidden and unknown guests, whom God had intended would lead her to the Christ Child. She relented too late, for the Magi had gone, and she set out in search of the Infant Jesus. Because of her refusal to the Wisemen, she was never able to find the Holy Infant. The legend says that, to this day, she is still searching for Him, leaving gifts and toys at every home that shelters a child, hoping the Christ Child abides therein.

Throughout the years, the legend has changed so that La Befana, especially seeks for children who are well-behaved, hoping one of them is the Christ Child or may know of Him. Those children usually receive toys, oranges(a rare treat in the Mediterranean not too long ago) and “bombanierre,” a sugar-coated almond treat. Those who misbehave receive pieces of straw or a shoe-full of ashes.“

"La Befana” (which roughly translates to the feminine form of “The Epiphany”) traditionally visits homes on January 6, the day she would have been with the three Wisemen when they finally found “the infant with Mary His mother.”

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