By Gloria Ibanez, Marist Italy FFE 2013-14
“Okay, I need bananas, apples, and soy milk…”
This was my usual grocery-shopping list, although sometimes it included chocolate. On this particular day, I was in a hurry; I had to grab food and run back to work. I headed for some last minute veggies, and paused when I saw a scary looking witch attached to the Kinder chocolate I was so used to seeing in Florence. I thought it was odd, and laughed assuming they had leftover Halloween chocolate. I bypassed the Kinder and grabbed a random milk chocolate bar. I left the store not giving the scary witch a second thought.
Later that day, somewhere between work and a desperately needed nap, I passed another Kinder witch hanging outside the Euro Store. Once again I thought it was odd, so being the 21st century teenager that I am, I googled it. “Christmas witch with chocolate in Italy.” Of course now I had to weed through everything Google gave me, but in a matter of a few minutes I was able to pull out the important information.
For many countries outside the United States, the Christmas season lasts through January 6th, which is the Feast of the Epiphany. I was familiar with this because I am half Mexican, and part of our Christmas tradition was having the Three Wise Men come on January 6th and leave candies in our shoes. Italian children, on the other hand, have La Befana. She is a witch who brings candy, tangerines, or chestnuts to good children and leaves it in their socks for them to find. One website gave the perfect story,
Legend has it that she was an old Italian grandma-type happily cleaning her house, when three men showed up at her door. No fool, she was skeptical. She shooed them away when they said they were searching for baby Jesus, the newborn king. After a little while, she had second thoughts. Perhaps, the men were honest and telling the truth. If so, she missed her chance to help them reach the king. She decided she should try to catch up with them. But they were long gone. So, she handed out gifts to all of the children in the neighborhood in the hopes that one of them was Jesus. Every year she goes to look for the three wise men – and most importantly baby Jesus. When she does, she leaves little surprises for the little Italian girls and boys.
Francesca Di Meglio
I liked this story the best, because it turns the scary looking witch I saw in the grocery store, into a kind old lady bringing presents to little kids. Although it was a myth, it is the way I am used to spending my holiday season. Like Italian children, I too, anxiously await the candy in my shoes. Not necessarily for the candy, but for the joy in celebrating an old tradition.