Children’s Story was written by Grazia Martienssen
Angela and Angelo are 5-year-old twins that live in Italy. They are very excited because their Christmas tree will go up soon, on the 8th of December. This also coincides with the celebrations of the Feast of the immaculate conception of Mary. A canon is fired from Rome’s Castel Saint Angelo to mark the start of the festivities.
This period is a very magical time in Italy. In fact, the festivities continue until the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January. Churches have special services during the lead-up to Christmas.
We call this the Advent period, which comes from late and means “coming” to signify the period of preparations before the arrival of baby Jesus that arrived on Christmas day.
In the lead-up to the 25th of December, children go from house to house dressed as shepherds, performing Christmas songs or poems, in exchange for sweets or money. A highlight is the midnight mass at the Vatican, but many people also enjoy skiing during this period.
Did you know that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus? What do you like best about Christmas?
The epiphany: (When the wise men found baby Jesus)
The good children are excited well beyond Christmas day because on the evening of the 5th of January, the legend of the old Befana will bring them gifts. If they were good, she fills their Christmas stockings for them with sweets and candies but, if they were bad, they will get a lump of coal.
She is a good housekeeper and will sweep the floors before leaving the children’s houses. She sweeps away all the problems of the previous year. Families leave a glass of wine out, and Panetone (Christmas cake) for her. They also leave out red or sand colour stockings for her to fill.
Angelo and Angela listen carefully as papa tells them for the first time that La Befana used to live in the empty cottage next door, and that she is gone out to look for baby Jesus and will bring gifts to the children. The kids listen on as mamma explains that a long time ago, she was sweeping in front of her house, and then suddenly the 3 wise men stopped to talk to her.
She offered them food and shelter. They asked for directions to baby Jesus and asked her to join them. She was too busy so she refused. That night she saw a bright light and took it as a sign to follow the wise men. She had the urge to go to Bethlehem to bring the newborn baby gifts, so she took freshly baked goodies with her, and off she went with her broom in her hand.
She went off to see him for herself, and to help the new mother with housework. Although she followed the same star, she got lost and did not find him, so legend has it that she is still searching for baby Jesus today. Sometimes the children see her flying through the sky on her broomstick. She enters the houses through the chimneys, so is covered in soot. The twins know they have been good, so mamma and papa help them to write letters to the Bafana. They also learn poems about her.
Would you like to learn one? Try to repeat this one, first in Italian and then in English.
La Befana vien di notte /Con le scarpe tutte rotti/Con vestito alla romana /Viva viva la Befana.
The Befana comes at night/with her shoes, all tattered and torn/She comes dressed in a Roman way/Long live Befana.
Have you seen an old woman flying through the sky at night on a broomstick?
La Befana is back!!!!
The next day the children went out to play and saw an old woman sweeping in front of the house next door. “Befana,” they shout out excitedly. “Grazie per I bel regali” (Thank for the gifts).
“Piacere,” (Pleasure) responded the old Befana. She then entered the house and came out with some freshly baked biscuits for them. They could not wait to tell their cousins and friends about their special neighbour, and her delicious biscuits.
Do you have a special neighbour?