That Befana is one sneaky witch.

So I was all prepared to write a cute post about the numerous ways in which I have celebrated Epifania over my past five years in Italy… until I went to assemble some photos and realized that I haven’t always actually been in Italy for the Epiphany. Which could be the reason that that bitch, the Befana, never left me anything in my stocking.

photo credit: Flickr user Ele G. - click image for link

photo credit: Flickr user Ele G. – click image for link

If you don’t know who the Befana is or why the Epifania is a thing here in Italy, please stop and follow that Wiki link in the previous line. The short and ridiculous version is this:

The story goes that she was an old lady who apparently was known and revered for being quite a good housekeeper (Italian enough yet? She probably ironed EVERYTHING). The Three Wise Men supposedly stopped to ask her for directions to find Baby Jesus, but she didn’t know and instead offered them lodging for the night. The next morning they asked her to join them on their voyage. She declined because… get this… she had too much housework to do. Ya know, she needed to work that broom a bit more. Jesus can wait.  Later, after she had finished her housework I guess, she decided to try and catch up with them. Being in Italy, of course, that’s easier said than done. (The Three Wise Men were probably in a Ferrari, and she had like a 3-wheel Ape car or something. Plus, who knows what directions they got from the next person on the side of the road. No doubt, it included the phrase “a un certo punto“… the Italian filler for a gap in the precise directions). Anywho, the Befana still to this day roams the Italian peninsula, handing out candies to good children and coals to bad children on the morning of the Epiphany. She has a broom with her, because… (ha ha… seriously)… this was her gift to Mary, so that she too could be a good mamma and housekeeper.


I didn’t make up most of that, honest. Check the Wiki entry.

Anyway, for 2009, she has no excuse for not filling my stocking. I was here. I remember it vividly. My poor Texan body was somewhere in the middle of shooting up antibiotics intravenously and dying. You may call me dramatic, but holy crap. My first winter here in “sunny Italia” I got deathly ill five times, 3 times requiring heavy doses of antibiotics. The family doctor thought my husband had brought home a dud: “take her back, she’s broken!”.

Perhaps it’s because I was new to Italy… or perhaps because she didn’t think I’d live through the night… but the Befana brought me nothing. Absolutely nothing. Unless you count the gift of a tested immune system.

Still… the snow was pretty. Everyone insisted, “Noooooo, non é mai così, ti giuro!” (Noooo, it’s never like this, I swear!) They swore up and down that this was the most severe winter they had ever had, and that I shouldn’t worry – it would never be like this again.

In 2010, it snowed even more. 

Noooooo, non è mai cos’, ti giuro!” … all over again. I was starting to catch on to the game at this point. If you wave your hands around a bit and say, “noooo, daaaiiii“, it makes the person you’re talking to seem foolish… even when SHE WAS TOTALLY RIGHT THAT IT WAS AN EVEN MORE SEVERE WINTER!

In an effort to keep his girlfriend alive, my then ragazzo took me down south to seek warmer temperatures. We had some Irish friends that got snowed out of their flight to Dublin from Rome, so we spent a few days catching up with them. I held out as long as I could, but as soon as we got back to the house I had to go see the doctor and get another order of horse pills (side note: why are antibiotics so BIG? Don’t they know we have a swollen throat when we take them?!).

So, I suppoooooose the Befana could have possibly gotten confused as to my whereabouts, but I mean, come on. I was in the capital city. How hard can it be? Not even a lump of coal to acknowledge my existence? Really? Again, I concluded that she was a bitchy witchy.

Looking back at my photos years later,  however, I realized that on that Epifania in 2010, I just happened to be in the very exact spot in Rome where 3 years later my husband proposed to me… That’s when it first occurred to me – Perhaps her gifts are less tangible than we think?

Mercato di Traiano - Roma - 2010

Mercato di Traiano – Roma – 2010

By the time 2011 rolled around, I had wised up a bit. My then boyfriend and I had had a rough year with our startup architecture studio, and we were tired from working day and night for months and making no money. We decided we really needed a vacation, and we definitely needed it to be in a warm place so I wouldn’t spend the whole winter sick. 

So the obvious choice for two tired, grumpy people to relax and recuperate a bit for the new year is…


Um, no.

If I have to hear one more young fighetto Italian man with a multi-colored scarf draped haphazardly around his neck and a yoga mat under his arm tell me that his trip to India was a spiritual wonderment, I’m going to vomit. Anyone who tells you that line of horse crap probably paid a driver to deliver them from the door of the hotel to the door of the yoga class to the door of the temple and back to the hotel.

We, instead, spent one month in the streets and trains of Northern India, wishing we had selected a different destination. Don’t get me wrong – amazing experience, and I am glad I’ve got it under my belt. Definitely one of those life-learning situations.


I spent the Epiphany that year extremely close getting attacked by a group of very large Indian men in rural Orissa, who were under the impression that Western women like sexual assault. Whole other post required to get into that one. Needless to say – not my favorite trip.

And of course, when you come from a place with weather like this…

Orissa, India - 2011

Orissa, India – 2011

… back to snowy Italia, what happens?

You get sick.

Back to the doctor for horse pills, once again. At this point, I’m thinking, “at the VERY least, the Befana could fill my stocking with antibiotics… right?” But no. Nada. Zilch. On the other hand, I guess I should give the Befana some slack here, seeing as how I was actually IN an airplane on the Epifania returning from India via Abu Dhabi. Still… a postcard or something would have been nice.

I suppose a sentimental or superstitious person could say that she did get me home safely (and for that I am eternally thankful).

So, in 2012, I was basically like: “Darling, if you don’t let me go home for winter, I’m going to scratch your eyes out.” He agreed. I spent most of December and the beginning of January in Texas, soaking up the sun.

The evening of January 5th, my mom pulled out this huge old sea chest that once belonged to grandmother, and her grandfather before that, and his grandfather before that. We had never really spent any time looking through its contents, but I had recently started tracing my family tree on, so we were intrigued to see what my Nonni had left behind for us. Along with tons of stuff from my grandmother’s line of Nova Scotia sea captains, we stumbled into a treasure trove of information about my Nonno’s Sicilian family as well. As January 5th faded and turned into the 6th, we stayed up late into the night sorting through fantastic family photos, journals, and scrapbooks.

That night I found this wartime photo of my Nonno, a first generation Sicilian-American.



His parents, along with their gaggle of siblings, had immigrated to Boston around the turn of the 20th century to seek a better life for their family. Sixty years later, my grandfather, an engineer for Agusta/Bell Helicopters, moved his entire family (including my young mother) to the outskirts of Milan for 6 years. Then fifty years after he had returned the family to Texas (and after he had already passed away unfortunately) in a strange turn of events, his granddaughter ended up falling in love with an Italian and moving there. How weird is life? As I sat there on the eve of the Epifania, staring at his photos, I couldn’t help but wonder how he would feel about his granddaughter living back in la Patria.

By now, I was starting to catch on to the Befana’s witchy ways… perhaps not all of her gifts can fit into a stocking?

Last year, 2013, was perhaps the best Epifania of them all. My new marito and I were on our honeymoon – on possibly the most amazing trip I have ever been on (and I’ve been on quite a few). The morning of January 6th, we boarded a ferry in Wellington, New Zealand, headed for the South Island. It was sunny and beautiful, and really could not have been any better.

ferry to South Island, NZ - honeymoon 2013

ferry to South Island, NZ – honeymoon 2013

If you had told me in 2009 on my deathbed that this is where I would be 4 years later, I would have coughed in your face. On my honeymoon? In New Zealand? Married? To an Italian?! Stai scherzando?

That brings us to today – January 6th, 2014. For those of you following my Instagram account or the @I_am_Italy Twitter account for which I am the rotational curator this week, you’ve probably seen the slew of gorgeous photos that I snapped today up at Canossa in the Appennino Reggiano. If not, here’s a selection:

To think that I spent all those years bitter about an empty stocking, when in reality every January 6th has come with its own little intangible and unforgettable gift.

(awwww, squish)

Now, I am not a religious or superstitious person at all, but over the course of writing this post I have grown a little fond of this little old lady with the broom stick (who looks remarkably similar to my neighbor, by the way… working on getting a photo for you).

So my revised conclusion about the Befana is that she is not, in fact, a bitch who forgot my stocking every year. She is, instead, a sneaky witch who has gifted me another year of a pretty excellent life here in Bella Italia.

What did you get in your stocking this year?

3 thoughts on “That Befana is one sneaky witch.

  1. Great twist; I like your take on the gifts the Befana brings you. And the photos are gorgeous – what a lovely day!!

  2. Nice one. My boys were stoked with their stockings while I got nothing except the chance to live in Tuscany for a year……I think I’m being looked after too 🙂

  3. Wow, you have had some exciting Epifania days over the years! But, aww, I loved your insight – her gifts to you are actually better than any tangible gifts! You are one lucky girl with an ugly old witch as your fairy godmother:) i bet you’re looking forward to next Jan 6th!

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