Ciao Bambini! - Hello Children!
La Befana viene di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col vestito alla Romana:
Viva viva la Befana!
My Nonna Romana used to say this to me every year on the eve of La Befana!
So today is La Befana, and if you aren’t Italian you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. So let me give you a brief history. La Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5th) in a similar way to Santa Claus. However, instead of using reindeers to get around, she uses an old broom. This Italian gift-giving spirit is also known as La Vecchia (the Old Woman) or La Strega (the Good Witch).
I confess that growing up I didn’t exactly know who La Befana was or why she was special in any way. Truth be told, my parents always told me she was Santa Clause's distant relative and I wasn’t in a position to argue with them after they told me I would be lucky to be getting anything that year, even a lump of coal. Well much to my surprise I awoke the next morning to find something that looked just like COAL... with an odd licorice scent. As I examined my "gift" from La Befana closer I found that what I thought was coal was actually a marshmallow dipped in black licorice!!
A brilliant scheme to trick me, but you have to be kidding yourself if you think that I was going to accept such disrespect from La Befana. I marched up to my Papino Vito, who the night before implored me to leave a glass of Limoncello and some of those Taralli that Nonna makes for La Befana. His story was that she needed to regain her strength after coming all the way down our chimney (My family lived in Brooklyn at the time and we had no chimney at all. I suppose my father was referring to the radiator pipes.) to leave presents for us, AND sweep the floor before she left. Santa's leftover milk and cookies wasn’t going to cut it. Apparently La Befana had developed a taste for cordials over the years that I knew nothing about.
In the end, Papino Vito, copped to acting as La Befana's assistant the night before. He told me that she said that I had been a good girl, but she was just making sure that I would STAY that way for the rest of the year... then Papino Vito shelled out the real candy and all was well with the world! Not before he reminded me that when he was a little boy in Italy, even if he was good all year, all he got was an orange… clearly times have changed.