Shelved Dolls: La Befana – The Female Santa Claus

Ultimately, I just like the idea of La Befana because I feel she is somehow less aggressive than Santa Claus. I don’t feel she is competing to show people how fast and cool she is on her sleigh. She is just a nice lady who lost her own child (and, God, this is especially heart-wrenching right now, at this season) and who wants to make people happy. And clean houses. I think it’s all summed up quite charmingly by this nursery rhyme, which runs:

Sleep, child, this is the night,
the Befana comes from her cave,
and carrying candies and sweets
she goes over the rooftops.

Slowly, slowly, gently, gently
she puts her ear to the chimney
and if she hears tantrums
or someone moves, she moves on.

And to the children who are rude,
mean, or don’t want to go to bed,
and to the children who are bad,
she leaves only lumps of coal.

But if when she listens,
she hears everyone asleep
then with a skill that would surprise you
she slides into your home.

And she takes from her sack
all the goodies, and all the
beautiful things, like dolls and flowers,
and candies and cookies for the children.

Remember the bit about coal is chocolate coal. It’s okay, even if you’re not a “good child.”

And I think that’s a fairly nice message to give, especially to children who feel a lot of pressure, as I think many of us do in this day and age, to be good nearly all the time.

So. This Christmas, if you have kids, remind them of La Befana, the nice witch lady who wants to fly in on her broom to come and visit them.

Your children will freak out. That will be absolutely terrifying for them. Possibly, you should not actually do that, unless your children are the tiny Gloss readers, in which case, they have a healthily developed sense of humor.

But do leave a lump of chocolate in their stocking to remind them that sometimes, even if they are not good, they deserve a nice treat.

And remember, when you are sweeping up all the debris left under the Christmas tree, you are like a much cooler version of a saint.

And, then there is this ending to the story, which I think is particularly nice:

What the woman did not know was that she did come upon the Holy Child.
In gratitude for the woman’s generosity the Holy Child gave the woman the most wonderful blessing and gift of all.
His blessing to the woman was that for one night, and on the eve of the Epiphany for all eternity, the woman would have all the children of the world as her own.
His gift was that he gave the woman a name, he named her “La Befana”
The “Giver of Gifts”

Additional reading:

Divine Caroline, Legend of La Befana

Candida Martinelli’s Italophile Site, Legend of La Befana

GoItaly, La Befana

Pictures via Wikipedia Commons

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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!