I thought I had completed my Christmas market circuit across Europe. That is until we hit Rome for New Years. On an evening stroll, we came across market stalls in Piazza Navona.
“Christmas markets!” I exclaimed with glee.
Upon closer look, we were a little creeped out. Witches were covering the tents, stacked in baskets, and the proprietors were waving their hands in the air, prompting them to all howl and cackle. What the heck? Delayed Halloween Italian-style??
We spotted a cute cappuccino ornament and got it for our travel tree to remember Italy. When the shopkeeper responded to my bad Italian by saying, “eight”, I got the courage to ask her in English what the meaning of the witch was. She looked perplexed. I indicated to the hundreds of old ladies riding brooms hanging from her booth, with puzzled eyes.
“Ah, Befana,” she said, “Good luck for New Year.”
I Googled it later.
In Italy, “Befana” is not a witch, but merely an old lady who rides a broomstick and delivers presents to good Italian children. There are many interpretations of the legend, one being that the wise men wanted to stay at her inn, but she was too busy doing the housework/sweeping. She later realized the importance of their journey and then seeks to find Baby Jesus to deliver presents but never found him. The story nowadays is that she searches in every house looking for Baby Jesus, leaving small presents if she doesn’t find him, as the presence of Christ is found in all children.
We bought a little broom to remember Befana. For more interesting Christmas figures, be sure to check out Schwingen In Switzerland’s Schmultzi, St Nicolas Vigilante Style.