Saturday, December 27, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: La Befana

Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

 Coming in at number 6 on the 12 Scares of Christmas is La Befana, the Christmas witch from Italy. The Ghost has been intrigued enough by the legend of the Befana to write of her before, and even created Christmas cookies of the witch of the yuletide. 

Painting by James Lewicki, from "The Golden Book of Christmas Tales" 1956. 

 The legend of the Befana goes something like this-- though, as legends do, the stories vary and change throughout the year and in the words of the teller. The Befana was an old woman, or a witch, who was tending her house somewhere in a land before the birth of Jesus Christ, and she was visited by the three wise men who were travelling to visit the baby Jesus. After staying at her house a night, the wise men left and asked the Befana to come with them to see the baby Jesus. The Befana declined, in many of the tails because she had too much housework to do, too much sweeping with her broom. Sometime after the three men left, the Befana regretted her decision, and she took off after them-- and never reached the wise men she had met or Jesus himself. And so, she goes from house to house every Christmas, looking for the baby Jesus, and leaving gifts, presents or tokens for the children she does find. Yes, in some areas of our great world, Santa Claus is an old witch on a broom. 
Photo from

 Although the Befana is never-- in the majority of tellings-- meant to be a witch who scares children, the fact that the Christmas season contains a witch lands the old woman on list of the scariness of Christmas. Because, in the end, the Befana represents all the figure of the witch is about: a character who can be, for lack of a more impartial term, villified by being dubbed a scary witch simply because she is different, old and carries a broom. 

      In today's culture, the Befana is depicated as everything from a kindly, warm and inviting old lady or grandmother type, to a straight up witch with a pointed hat and nose and cackling cat, a refugee from the world of Halloween. But whatever way the old woman may be represented, I think we can all agree that the season of snow and multi-colored lights and good will to men could use a little more witchiness, no? 

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