Befana vs Little Christmas

The 6th of January is an interesting date in both Ireland and Italy.

It surely marks the end of the Christmas season, and I think it’s time for me too to put aside the decorations that this year I particularly enjoyed.

Why is this day special?

Let’s start from Ireland.

Here, the feast of the Epiphany is also known as Little Christmas, or Womer’s Christmas, or Nollaig na mBan.

After having worked so much during the Christmas holidays, women take a rest for the day and gather to celebrate, while men are supposed to look after the house chores.

I don’t know how popular this tradition is nowadays, but I have heard that it is still quite strong in Cork and the South West Coast of Ireland. I’ll investigate more in the next years.

Talking about Italy, we have a nice character coming on the night between January 5th and January 6th to bring treats to children. This is when we use our Christmas stockings, which are actually called Befana stockings.

The name Befana derives from the name of the feast: Epiphany. She is an old, not too pretty woman, who wears old clothes and broken shoes, and flies on her broom, visiting every house where children live during that night. She is a sort of good witch.

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As it is for Salta Claus, children can’t see her, and she won’t come if they are not asleep.

This tradition was born on the North of Italy, where they do bonfires to burn the Befana after she brought her treats. I know, it sounds brutal, but, as it usually is with bonfires, that is the symbol of renewal and letting go of the old.

When I was a child, I used to spend that night in my granny’s house – she was my mum’s mum, and she came from the North. My sister and I would choose the biggest and longest stockings we could find in my granny’s drawers, and we would hang them above the stove in the kitchen.

The Befana is supposed to come down the chimney as her colleague Santa, but the fireplace in Italy is not that common to find in a house. So we would hang them on that stove, or under the kitchen fan.

My granny would then fill the stockings in a traditional way, as in the past, when people didn’t have much and were happy with very little.

She would wrap every single piece in newspaper pages. The content consisted of: pieces of fruit, walnuts, little sticks or edible sweet coal (if you had been naughty), chocolate, sweets, and little toys or stationery.

Yesterday, I decided to have a cultural exchange with Mr J. I did something related to the Little Christmas, and I gave him a taste of what the Befana was for me as a child.

I made him prepare breakfast and then we decided to go out for dinner, and I filled one of my socks with some little surprises (sticks and nuts and an orange included).

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The stocking was actually ugly

It was fun. He said he will make one for me next year. We’ll see how it goes and how much he has learnt from this experience.

Do you have any particular tradition on this day in your country? Tell me about it!

Moonily Yours,
Serena

***

Il 6 di Gennaio è una data interessante sia in Irlanda che in Italia.

Di certo sta a segnare la fine del periodo natalizio, e credo proprio sia giunto anche per me il momento di metter via le decorazioni, che quest’anno ho amato particolarmente.

Perché è una data speciale?

Iniziamo dall’Irlanda.

Qui, la festa dell’Epifania è anche conosciuta come Little Christmas, o Natale delle Donne, o Nollaig na Mban (in gaelico).

Dopo aver lavorato tanto durante le feste, le donne si prendono un meritato giorno di riposo e si incontrano per celebrare, mentre gli uomini sono incaricati delle faccende domestiche.

Non so quanto sia ancora popolare questa festa al giorno d’oggi, ma ho sentito che è ancora sentita molto a Cork e nella costa Sud-Ovest. Investigherò meglio nei prossimi anni.

Parlando dell’Italia, beh, tutti conoscono la Befana. La bruttina e adorabile vecchietta che viaggia nella notte dell’Epifania a riempire le calze dei bambini con dolci e sorprese, e che viene bruciata il 6 Gennaio come segno di un nuovo inizio.

Quando ero piccola, trascorrevo sempre quella notte in casa di mia nonna materna, originaria delle Marche. Io e mia sorella sceglievamo le calze più grandi che potevamo trovare nei cassette di mia nonna, e le appendevamo sopra la stufa in cucina.

La Befana dovrebbe scendere giù dal camino come il suo college Babbo Natale, ma non è facile trovare camini nelle case italiane. Quindi, da me si appendeva o sopra la stufa o sotto la ventola della cucina.

Mia nonna, poi, riempiva le calze in modo molto tradizionale, come si faceva ai suoi tempi, quando si era poveri e contenti con poco.

Avvolgeva ogni pezzo in carta di giornale. Ci potevamo trovare: frutta, noci, bastoncini o carbone dolce (come monito a comportarci bene), cioccolato, caramelle, e piccolo giocattoli o cose per la scuola.

Ieri ho deciso di fare uno scambio culturale con Mr J, facendo qualcosa legato al Little Christmas e preparandogli la calza.

Così, lui ha fatto la colazione e poi abbiamo deciso di andare a cena fuori, e in cambio ha ricevuto le sorprese nella calza (inclusi bastoncini, noci e un’arancia).

E’ stato divertente, e Mr J ha detto che l’anno prossimo farà lui il Befano. Vedremo quanto ha imparato da questa esperienza.

E voi avete delle tradizioni particolari in questa giornata? Raccontatemi!

Lunaticamente Vostra,
Serena

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. un post interessante! complimenti Lory

    Like

    1. Grazie Lory! 😀

      Like

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