The Story of La Befana, the Christmas Witch
Two thousand and another hundred years ago, three eastern kings followed a star above a manger in Bethlehem. They were to honour a new born child, a child that was believed to restore joy and peace all over the world. Their journey was hard and not without dangers. They walked in solitude, humble as pilgrims, without court, without soldiers. They spent the nights out in the open to become one with the land; but when the weather was harsh and bad, they took refuge in villages. It was during one of those days, it was cold and snow kept on falling, that they met a woman who would later become known as "La Befana."
The streets in the mountain village were deserted. One lonely woman however was still outdoors, engaged in a self-imposed task. She swept the snow from the streets and squares. The three kings watched her admiringly from a distance. Lady Befana, as she was known by locally, was just finishing the last tiles. It was still snowing. She would have to start all over again in the morning, but at least for today her task was accomplished. Slightly bent with her broom over her shoulder she walked to the cemetery, a daily ritual she always remained faithful to. She kneeled down at a small grave, carefully rearranging the flowers on a bed of stones. Lovingly she wiped the snow from the characters constituting the name of the child she once beared. She sighed and stared up at the strange new star that was shining so brightly; the nights were less dark than they had been before. One of its rays illuminated the grave. She bowed and thanked the star. She noticed other rays enlightening the village center. She followed its sparks. The beams of light ended at the feet of three strangers. She paused for a while, thinking. They couldn't be evil people, they shared the flames of the same star that had blessed her child’s resting place.
"Good evening gentle folk. I don't know where you are from, but as the star seems to welcome you in our town, so do I. It's cold out here and you must be hungry. Unfortunately we do not have an inn in our village, but I would be happy to invite you in my home.”
“A good evening to you, fair lady, we are much obliged. Indeed we are tired of traveling. We are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.” Pronouncing the last name, he pointed to his chest.
"We left our homes faraway in the orient; we follow the path of the star towards the Christmas child," said Caspar.
“An angel foretold me this in my dreams,” La Befana replied, her eyes were wide open and she crossed herself. “Of a child who would bring hope and peace, who would fend grief with joy. I wish I could see him myself; I would love to welcome him into our world; but alas, I cannot leave my village. I cannot forsake my resting child and I am bound by duties, even though they may seem humble to some.”
“We will go on your behalf then, and we will convey your prayers,” Melchior said.
La Befana nodded gratefully. “Please merry gentlemen, follow me, it is getting colder by the minute. Let's go inside."
La Befana treated her guests like royals, even though she thought they were just poor wanderers. With the few ingredients she had in store she managed to prepare a grand dinner; she let the fire blaze high into the chimney, although she didn't have much spare wood in her shed; and she gave Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar blankets she would otherwise have used herself to endure the long cold winter nights.
The next morning, just before they were to continue their journey, La Befana gathered the cloaks of her guests. A necklace with a royal emblem fell on the ground. She knelt down, trembling.
"But I didn't know you were of high birth and I had so little to offer."
“Do not bow for us, fair lady, it is us who ought to kneel, for one who shares what little she has with strangers. Working in the streets, day and night in the cold midwinter, for nothing and yet for everyone. Rise Befana. We are three eastern kings and we are not without powers. Hand over your broom. We will bless it with gold, frankincense and myrrh. These will be our immortal gifts to you: frankincense for inspiration, gold for noble character and myrrh for healing power. Here is your renewed broom, inbreathed with magic. You can continue your noble work until the end of time, make the world a little more beautiful every day. You have lost your only child in spite of your caring heart. Then let all the children of the world be children of your own, show those who deserve it your eternal maternal love.”
The three kings knelt before La Befana and gave her the now consecrated broom. She stared in disbelief as they continued their star lit path.
She gazed at the instrument that was so dear to her and felt its new forces flowing over. She was in high spirits now and felt a strong urge to clean out the streets again. This time however she worked like a whirlwind, dizzyingly fast. It took her seconds only to tidy the whole village. Never before it shined so brightly. The grounds she had touched with her broom were renewed with an enchanting glow.
The next year on Three Kings’ Day and all years ever after, to remember her noble visitors of yore, she left food and presents near the fireplaces of every household good of heart.
Thus she brought joy to many families and thus she found blissfulness herself.