Saturday was another national holiday here in Italia, Epifania, which commemorates the Magi visit to the infant Christ child in Bethlehem. This day is also special to the children of Italia as it is the customary day for a visit by La Befana.
The story of La Befana seems to vary slightly depending on the source but the jist is that she was an old lady intent on always cleaning her house. She was visited by the Magi on their way to Bethlehem and when asked if she wanted to accompany them to see the newborn Savior she declined as she had too much cleaning to do. She later realized her mistake and has spent the millennium searching for the Christ child along with her broom.
This story also parallels the story that most Americans are used to concerning Santa Claus as La Befana carries a basket which has sweets for good children and coal for the bad which she places in stockings hung by the fireplace. I have also heard stories that she goes from roof to roof and enters houses via the chimney.
Ascoli Piceno put on a big show for the kids in Piazza del Popolo with a stage and blaring music where they tracked La Befana’s progress to Ascoli Piceno. When she arrived she descended from various parts of the piazza including the Palazzo Capitani bell tower, some second story windows and from side streets on stilts. In all I counted seven Le Befane. This was a delight to both the kids and adults, and I too found myself smiling as La Befana was entertaining.