To me, the oddest thing about Christmas in Italy is that it’s January 6th, and they’re still celebrating. In case you were wondering, it turns out that celebrating the holidays in January feels just as inorganic as celebrating them in July, maybe even a little Groundhog Dayish. I’m supposed to be doing something like starting a new all kale diet or a 5am exercise routine, because that’s what the first few weeks of January are for: setting and failing at impossible goals. At least that’s the tradition in our house.
Not in Italy though, they’re still scheduling feasts and handing out candy. If I were a traditional Italian matriarch this would be at least the 3rd thanksgiving style feast I would have prepared since Christmas Eve. They have my admiration for their efforts, but no thank you.
A few weeks ago I wondered over to the Piazza Navona Christmas Market to see what Christmas in Italy is all about. The answers weren’t there, but I did find stalls peddling nativity scene paraphernalia, street performances, carnival games, and most notably thousands of Christmas Witches.
This is another reason why the Christmas season feels off here, witches in December. Her name is La Befana, and last night, the eve before La Festa dell’Epifania (The Feast of the Epiphany, today) was her night. According to legend, Befana was approached by the Three Wise Men few days before the birth of Jesus. They asked for directions to where he was, but she didn’t know. They invited her to join them, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to find them. She never found them, so to this day La Befana is searching for baby Jesus.
So now on Epiphany Eve La Befana visits the children of Italy and fills their socks with candy if they are good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves (which seems like a mixed signal considering she’s got into this mess by minding her chores before doing house-calls). The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with some regional food for Befana. Basically, she is a scarier version of Santa Claus.
For two euros it seemed worth my while to bring home my own Christmas witch, despite the made in India tag. I didn’t get anything else from the market. All the parts and pieces to set up my own nativity from thousands of figurines seemed like a lot of work, and I wasn’t in the market for candy or stuffed animals. But it was an interesting insight and an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
Today is the last day of the market, since I believe this is the last day of the Italian holiday season. Now we can get on with the new year and start those resolutions. Along with the standard eat more super foods and exercise more, my main resolution is to get conversational with Italian. What’s yours?
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