On Witches and Socks

According to a Christian legend, while the Three Wise Men were on their way to Bethlehem to bring gifts to the Infant Jesus, they bumped into a very old woman and asked her if she knew were the Son of God was, as they seemed to be quite disoriented. Unfortunately she didn’t know. Nevertheless, she offered them accommodation for a night, after all, she was the best housekeeper in the village, with the most comfortable home. The following day, the Three Magi tried to convince the old lady to join them to the visit to the baby Jesus, but despite their insistence, she refused, as did not feel like leaving the house, she was too busy with her housework after all.

Yet, very soon she repented for not having gone with them. She quickly prepared a basket of sweets and left the house in search for the Three Wise Men, but in vain. She stopped at every house she found along the way, giving candies to the children she met, in the hope that one of them was the baby Jesus. Since then, she goes around the world, giving presents to all children, so that she might be forgiven.The good ones will have toys, candies or fruit, while the bad ones get only coal, onions or garlic. That’s why it is tradition here in Italy to leave empty socks next to beds of children the night of the Epiphany, so that the old lady, that is actually called Befana, may fill them with presents. Befana’s iconography is a little scary, however, as she wears a dark and wide skirt, an apron with pockets, a shawl, a handkerchief or broad black hat on his head, a pair of worn slippers, all enlivened by numerous colored patches and she travels around the world flying on a broom.


Wait, wait, wait, but if Jesus was not born on Christmas day, even the date of his revelation to the Magi cannot be that certain. Why was it fixed on the 6th of January? Even in this case a Christian tradition actually overlapped a pagan one. We have go back to Roman Mithraic rites, again. If you remember, we have already stated that originally on the 25 th of December the winter solstice was celebrated along with Mithras, the Sol Invictus. On the twelfth night after the winter solstice, that is the day of the Epiphany, the death and rebirth of nature through Mother Nature was solemnized. But why after 12 days? Because the twelve days represented the twelve months of the years, therefore, the entire natural cycle. It seems that on those days, female figures flew over the cultivated fields, to propitiate the fertility of future crops, hence the myth of the “flying” figure, the so-called Befana.

Now, I cannot but go and look for a capacious sock, and advice you to do the same, you’ll never know.😜

“The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long live the Befana!”




9 thoughts on “On Witches and Socks

  1. Every European culture seems to have its slightly sinister spirit of Christmas, but I don’t recall reading or hearing about a female figure–excluding the Virginia Mary, of course–in connection with this season. And of course, now I’m thinking Why ever not?

    • The coming of the Befana the night of the Epiphany is almost as popular as the coming of Santa on Christmas Eve, especially here in Rome. They both bring gifs, but the Befana is a bit more melacholic as she sweeps away with her broom all Christmas madness forcing us to go back to our routines. By the way, my sock is ready. πŸ™‹πŸ˜‰

  2. I didn’t know of this Italian tradition and the history of Befana. She sounds a bit scary. It’s funny how the flying witch emerges across cultures, with each culture adding it’s own twist. Thanks for this enlightening post and Happy New Year.

    • It is scary, in fact. I’ve never loved the old lady that much in my younger years. Happy New Year , Kristin.
      Stefy πŸ™‹
      (It is a pity I’ve not been able to get your book before Christmas , as I gave you my school address. When I am back next Monday, I’ll probably find it there . Looking forward to!)

  3. S many intriguing traditions associated with this time of the year… In England as a child, we used to make sure all the decorations were down on Twelfth Night, and of course in medieval times Twelfth Night was the feast/party-time with a Lord of Misrule elected, who presided over the bacchanalian feasting and fun…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.