Shelved Dolls: La Befana – The Female Santa Claus

Because after La Befana brings the presents, she cleans up the house.

Have you ever thought about the amount of soot Santa Claus (not real) would theoretically track into a house after coming down a chimney? A lot. That’s how much. A lot. That’s never even accounted for, is it?

Incidentally, La Befana (real) also comes down the chimney sometimes.


If there is no chimney, La Befana finds another way inside, usually via the front door.

So La Befana is completely sane and rational. Someone who loves wine, tartufo and giving, and cleaning, and politely entering through the front door.

She is a terrific housekeeper because she evolved from the Roman goddess Strenua or Strenia, who was the goddess not only of the New Year, but also purification, and well-being. Her presence was supposed to make those around her vigorous and strong, which . . .  goes along with being a good housekeeper?

I’ll buy it.

Also, fun fact, the ancient Romans also gave one another presents to celebrate the New Year! According to Symmachus’ Epistula the traditional holiday exchange originated because:

From almost the beginning of Mars’ city the custom of New Year’s gifts (strenae) prevailed on account of the precedent of King Tatius who was the first to reckon the holy branches (verbenae) of a fertile tree (arbor felix) in Strenia’s grove as the auspicious signs of the new year.

I have absolutely no idea – none – what fertile tree branches have to do with giving gifts, except, well, Christmas trees, so that actually makes a ton of sense. So that explains Christmas trees. That does not explain how King Tatius saw the connection, but I am going to suggest “lead poisoning.”

Hahaha, no, kidding, Tatius wasn’t one of the bad emperors.

Back to La Befana . . . Despite all her fine attributes, unfortunately, she also has a terrible sense of direction. This is the story of how this wonderful but directionally challenged lady became La Befana, by modern traditions that have nothing to do with tree branches.

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    • Amy

      “I like to believe TheGloss has a certain precocious baby readership.”

      HA! Another great shelved doll article. Love your work! I adored the one about badass Julie d’Aubigny and her shenannigans. Are there any famous lady pirates you could write about?

      • Matthew McVeagh

        There was a female leader of Chinese pirates who was very powerful. Not well-known in the west but maybe Jennifer could write about her.

    • Samantha

      I teared up when I read the ending of this story. Shelved Dolls is always awesome, but this one feels particularly timely and lovely.

    • Katie

      Can we make this into an awesome holiday on like January 5 or 6? Where we clean our houses and than at night drink wine, and eat regional specialties and brownies in honor of La Befana? I think this is going to become a thing at my house. La Befana Day!