My prompt from Sunday Scribblings today is new. Good word, new, like the blank screen in front of me, all new and waiting for my words to come out and play.
So many things come to mind, since everyday brings a new discovery about Italy and its culture. I would like to tell you about "La Befana" as it is a tradition celebrated today, January 6th, all over Italy.
La Befana is and old ugly woman that looks a lot like a witch. She wears old black clothes and a black shawl. She is a beloved figure whose visit is awaited by all children. She is said to come on the eve of the Epiphany to leave gifts for the good children and coal for the bad ones (rock candy dyed to look like a very realistic piece of coal.) La Befana usually flies on her broom and comes down the chimney (hence the black outfit) to leave her presents on the stockings left there for this purpose. The family leaves some wine and bits of food for her.... this is Italy so you better leave wine!
I had never heard of La Befana before moving to Italy, and the first hint I got of her presence was at the post office. Yes, the post office! I was there to pay my bills in December, when I noticed that each of the clerks in the office had placed a brightly decorated little broom at their window. I looked at the brooms closely to see if they were some kind of post office merchandise, but the three of them were different, and they seemed to be decorated with "Christmas" ribbons and paraphernalia. I asked my friend Pien about it, and she told me about the gentle Befana.
Tradition tells that the Befana (actually a misspronuntiation of Epiphany in Italian) was approached by the three Wise Men asking for directions to Bethlehem. She had not heard of the baby Jesus, so she couldn't help them, but she provided shelter for the night for the three kings. The Befana then was invited to join them in their search, but she declined (she had housework to do, they say!!!) After the Wise Men left, she changed her mind and decided to bring some candy and gifts for the baby, but she did not find the Wise Men. She then gave away all her gifts to all the children she encountered, in the hopes that one of them would be Jesus. Isn't it a beautiful story?
I just love the tale and the echoes of many of my own traditions in it. To celebrate, today we dressed in our Sunday best and headed for Varese for breakfast. We went to one of our favorite places, and Nicolas ordered a camel, a pastry camel filled with chocolate. Sooooo good! There were camels of all sizes and with all kinds of fillings. I wanted to take a picture of the display, but the owner stopped me from doing it. I guess they were afraid I would steal their idea! There were pastry camels in every single cafe in the city! We then walked around the downtown area and went to mass. It was a solemn affair, and a beautiful one. Of course, after mass we had to go have a festive lunch! We stopped at a nice little restaurant that got really crowded soon after we got there. There was so much o eat, lots and lots of aperitifs (on the house) and great food. We ate "just" a secondo, but everyone around us had much more. As to not feel left behind, we ordered dessert, and coffee, and a nice grappa. There were big tables of ten or more, families with babies and grandmas, and every single one of them was enjoying the last drop of the holidays. We enjoyed the fact that we were there amongst them. I just love Italians!
I should have come back to take down all my holiday decorations, instead I am writing this post. I will do it tomorrow and let the Befana worry about all the cleaning today.