The Legend of La Befana

Want to add a bit of Witchiness to your Christmas festivities but you don’t want to stray too far from the traditional Christian message?

Well fear not! You can have both Jesus and a Witch in your nativity scene thanks to the Legend of La Befana.

I came across the Italian Legend of La Befana when I was doing research on the history of Santa Claus. As soon as I realised there was room for a broom riding, chimney visiting,
gift-giving Witch in Christmas stories I was hooked. But who is La Befana and how did she
become part of Christmas?

As with any folkloric tale there are many versions and variations but basically Befana is an old Witch who loves to clean and bake. The Magi (the Three Wise Men) come to her home and ask her for directions to Bethlehem as they are on their way to visit the baby Jesus. Unfortunately Befana can’t help them. In some versions the Magi stay the night and find her to be a wonderful host. The Magi invite Befana to come to Bethlehem with them but she refuses as she has a lot of housework to do. Not long after they leave she regrets her decision and packs up some gifts for the baby Jesus. She takes her broom as both a form of transportation and to clean the manger for the mother. She is after all a Witch renowned for her cooking and her cleaning! Following the Star, she sets off to find the Magi but she never finds them.

Each year on Epiphany Eve, or Twelfth Night, Befana flies on her broomstick visiting the homes of children via the chimney. Some say she is still looking for the baby Jesus, others that she sees Jesus reflected in every child. She leaves behind gifts and sweets for children who have been good, or lumps of coal for children who have been bad. Sometimes she leaves black coloured candy made from black sugar instead of coal. Although Befana is portrayed as scruffy and covered in soot, she always cleans up after herself with her trusty broom! She is also very grateful for any refreshments you may leave out for her.

I was drawn to the Legend of La Befana, and not just because it features a witch 🙂 There is something so wickedly pleasurable about a woman who has better things to do with her time than visit the home of a baby male saviour. It’s the first time I haven’t questioned the role of woman as housekeeper!

So if you do put up a Nativity scene this year, why not add a flying Witch in honour of La
Befana?

Befana’s Frozen Black Coal Candy
(adapted from Amber Shea Crawley’s recipe for “Salted Tahini Caramels” in Practically Raw Desserts)

IMG_5911c

Ingredients
1/2 cup black tahini
1/4 cup sesame flour
1/4 cup honey
black sea salt flakes

Instructions
Line a freezer safe container with plastic wrap or baking paper. (The size container will depend on how thick you want your candy.)
Mix together the black tahini, sesame flour and honey until combined.
Pour into prepared container.
Sprinkle with black salt.
Cover and freeze.
Once frozen, slice into desired sized portions with a sharp knife.
Eat straight from the freezer!

If you can’t find black tahini use regular tahini and add food colouring if desired.
If you can’t find sesame flour you can use coconut flour instead.

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