Advent – The Story of Befana

by Fr Duncan McVicar on 28/11/2011 -

Befana was an old woman who lived in a small village in Italy. She was known throughout the village for her wonderful baking and the cleanliness of her kitchen. And many had heard her say that she was so busy baking and cleaning that she rarely had time to do anything else. One winter day, while Befana was sweeping in front of her home, three travelers stopped to ask her for a drink of water. They told Befana that they were astrologers (they were often called the three wise men) who were following a star to the birth place of the Christ Child. She kindly gave them water and then invited them to dinner. After dinner the astrologers prepared to continue their journey and asked her if she would like to come with them to see the Christ Child. Befana shook her head saying that she could not possibly take the time needed for such a journey. She was secretly itching to get back to her cleaning and cooking. Befana started being busy again. But hours later she began to feel that she had made a mistake. Befana decided to follow them. She quickly grabbed a basket and filled it with gifts of all kinds. Befana traveled all through the night but never caught up with the wise men and she never found the Christ Child. Ever since that night, Befana stops at the home of every child at Christmastime, leaving them gifts in their stockings. She hopes that one of the children she visits will be the Christ Child at last.


Befana the Housewife, scrubbing her pane,

Saw three old sages ride down the lane,

Saw three grey travellers pass her door –

Casper, Balthazar, Melchior.

“Where journey you, sirs?” she asked of them.

Balthazar answered, “To Bethlehem,

For we have news of a marvellous thing.

Born in a stable is Christ the King.”

“Give Him my welcome!”

Then Caspar smiled,

“Come with us, mistress, to greet the Child.”

“Oh, happily, happily would I fare,

Were my dusting through 

and I’d polished the stair.”

Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn.

“Then send but a gift to the small Newborn.”

“Oh, gladly, gladly I’d send Him one,

Were the hearthstone swept 

and my weaving done.

“As soon as ever I’ve baked my bread,

I’ll fetch Him a pillow for His head,

And a coverlet too,” Befana said.

“When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,

I’ll look at the Babe.”

But the Three rode by.

She worked for a day and a night and a day,

Then, gifts in her hands, took up her way.

But she never could find 

where the Christ Child lay.

And still she wanders at Christmastide,

Houseless, whose house was all her pride,

Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;

Wanders, and knocks at every gate,

Crying, “Good people, the bells begin!

Put off your toiling and let love in.”



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