Legends, stories and ancient traditions: this is la Befana in Sicily

la Befana in Sicily

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are two of the most important holidays in Sicily. But in this moment of year there is an ancient tradition: it’s la Befana.

  • The origin. According to one legend, Magi asked an old woman to go to Bethlehem with them, in order to show them the way to the place where Jesus was born. The old woman refused. Then she repented and prepared a basket of sweets. But she didn’t find Magi. She knocked on the doors of each house, giving sweets to children, hoping to find Child Jesus. Since then, she would turn around the world, hoping to make amends.
  • The shepherds. According to another legend, the shepherds were going to meet Child Jesus and invited an elderly woman to follow them. She refused, promising to meet Child Jesus the next day. But the next day she found no one in the cave where Jesus was born.
  • Gratteri. In this village in the province of Palermo the Epiphany is called la Vecchia (“the old woman”). On December 31, a guy who plays la Vecchia (wrapped in a white sheet) comes out from the Grattara cave riding a donkey along a winding path that leads up to the town. La Vecchia is followed by a procession of teenagers dressed in traditional clothes and with a lighted torch in the hand. This unique parade passes through the streets of Gratteri, with la Vecchia distributing candy to children, and ends in the town’s main square. The procession ends just before midnight to welcome together the arrival of the new year together.
  • Bordonaro. In this neighborhood of Messina, on the day of the Epiphany, January 6, is set u pagghiaru: around a tall pole surmounted by a cross are placed branches and other colored objects to make it looks like a sort of Christmas tree; the young of Bardonaro try to climb to the top.


Image source: Flickr.com/photos/kintarojoe

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