Babbo Natale (Santa) vs. Befana (the old flying Witch)
Christmas Traditions in Le Marche Area
Are your Christmas traditions revolving around indoor trees (real and plastic) and a plump, bearded man sliding down chimneys? Here in Le Marche, in Central Italy the old tradition involve a simple or complex nativity scene and an old woman flying with a broom.
The conception of Santa Claus can be attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. With “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” (poetryfoundation.org) this poem enshrined the image of Santa–with his “little round belly” and a beard “as white as the snow–and propagated the idea of him coming through chimneys to deliver gifts in stockings. Arbitrary or not Christmas traditions are not only the purview of the United States.
We can locate in Italy and Le Marche one of the most notable and bizarre Christmas time tradition.
There’s not another place in the world where witches bring gifts to children. That’s La Befana, a broom-flying, ugly witch about two weeks after Christmas on Epiphany to deliver gifts to the good, and ash to the bad. The witch has her roots in the pre-Christian pagan tradition, from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strenia.
Strenua or Strenia was the goddess of the new year, purification, and wellbeing.
The name Strenia was said to be the origin of the word strenae (preserved in French étrennes and Italian strenne), the new-year gifts Romans exchanged as good omens in an extension of the public rite.
More recent italian Christmas traditions describe the Befana as an old woman who refuses to give the Wise Men directions to Bethlehem because she is too busy cleaning, and is forced to ride a broomstick for eternity as a result.
There was a time in Le Marche folklore, were only the Befana was delivering gifts to children filling their socks with candy and presents if they were good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they were bad. The night was the Epiphany Eve (the night of January the 5th) in a similar way to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus.
Nowadays many lucky children receive the visit of both Christmas Characters, It’s up to you to decide who is the winner of the match: Santa vs. Befana. Next time we will tell you about the Le Marche’s match Albero di Natale (Christmas Tree) vs. Presepe (Nativity Scene).