Is Anybody There?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says Yahweh Sabaoth" Zach 4:6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dio di Signore, nella Sua volontà è nostra pace!" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin 1759

Thursday, January 05, 2012

La Befana



6 years ago for Epiphany I shared my version of the story of La Befana, the old woman who gives gifts to the bambini in Italia on the Eve of Epiphany (5 January). Those who have been good get caramelle (candy) & toys. But if you have been bad you get carbone, cipolle o aglio (coal, onions or garlic). 2 years ago I slightly revised my version.  I originally wrote my version in order to correct what I think is a long standing libel in the legend about her.  I think it is time to once again tell her story, so here it is.
Even though the bones of St. Nicholas were stolen from Myra in 1087 by Italiano sailors and brought to Bari, Santa Claus doesn't visit the children of Italia. Instead, each year the children look forward to the visit of La Befana. This is her story.
Long ago, at the time Christ was born, there lived near Jerusalem una vecchia (an old woman). She was living alone. Her husband had died & she had no children to care for her. Each day she would clean her house, gather the twigs she needed to cook & do her baking. Still, she was very lonely.
One day as she was leaving her house to gather wood she saw a caravan approaching. It was the Magi. One of the servants came over and asked if his master could talk to her. She approached the wise man. It was Melchior. He told her that they had traveled far in search of Il Bambino, the newborn King of the Jews, the Christ Child. They had come with gifts to honor him. She told him that she had heard nothing about him. Then Melchior invited her to join them on their journey.
She apologized. "I'm sorry, but I haven't the time to join you. I have too much work to get done. I need to gather wood so that I might get my baking done." With that, they said farewell and left.
Almost immediately she began to regret not going with the Magi. Dropping the few twigs she had found, she quickly went home. There she gathered the few small items she had that she knew a small child might like. She put them in a bag, took her broom to use as a walking staff, & began to travel in the same direction as the Magi.
Whenever she met anyone, she inquired about the Magi. Always she was told that she had just missed them. But she didn't give up. She kept searching and searching.
Time passed, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries. Still she searched. She traveled further & further from her home. At times she was very tired & weary. But she refused to stop searching.
Eventually she reached Italia. On Christmas Eve of 1223 she approached thr town of Asissi. When she got there, there was a big commotion. She asked someone what was going on.
He replied: "The Holy Man, Francesco Bernadone (We know him as St. Francis) has set up a presipio (manger). There you can see the newborn King of the Jews."
She was excited. At last she had reached her goal. As she approached the site she saw a camel. The man next to it looked familiar. He was wearing the same clothing as Melchior with whom she had talked to so long ago. Waiting her turn she drew near to the crib. It was then that she saw that Il Bambino was a wax figure. Puzzled, she asked someone why this was so. She was told that this was merely a reenactment of an event that had occured over 1200 years ago.
Disappointed and in shock she just stood there. When everyone else had left, she began to cry. Her heart was breaking from the sorrow she felt.
As she sobbed, she heard a noise and saw a glow from the crib. A gentle voice told her to come near. Scared, she slowly approached and looked into the crib. The wax figure had come to life.
"Why are you crying?" it asked.
She replied: "I have been looking all these years for Il Bambino. I thought I had finally found Him. But all I found was a wax figure. I am so tired and weary from searching. The disappointment is just too much."
Il Bambino said: "Dry your tears. From heaven I heard you cry and have come to you. I am grateful for the gifts you have brought me, but I no longer have any use for them. However, there are many children who have no toys. You can give the toys to them."
Overjoyed, she began to do as she was told. She began visiting the Italiano homes where there were children. At first people were afraid of her. Because she was old and traveled with a broom, they thought she was a witch. So they refused to welcome her. Some even threw stones at her to drive her away. Eventually people began to realize the truth. Soon children began to look forward to her visit on the Eve of Epiphany. Since no one knew her name people began to call her La Befana from the Italian word for Epiphany. To this day, she still travels all over Italy honoring Il Bambino, the Christ Child by leaving presents for all the children. She is no longer lonely, but is very happy to bring joy and to share her love of Christ with them.

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