Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE EPIPHANY
Something of the terrible, as well as the beneficent, belongs to
the " Befana," the Epiphany visitor who to Italian children is the great gift-bringer of the year, the Santa Klaus of the South. " Delightful," say Countess Martinengo, " as arc the treasures she puts in their shoes when satisfied with their behaviour, she is credited with an unpleasantly sharp eye for youthful trans­gressions." 23 Mothers will sometimes warn their children that if they are naughty the Befana will fetch and eat them. To Italian youngsters she is a very real being, and her coming on Epiphany Eve is looked forward to with the greatest anxiety. Though she puts playthings and sweets in the stockings of good children, she has nothing but a birch and coal for those who misbehave themselves.24
Formerly at Florence images of the Befana were put up in the windows of houses, and there were processions through tin-streets, guys being borne about, with a great blowing of trumpets.2S Toy trumpets are still the delight of little lx>vs at the Epiphany in Italy.
The Befana's name is obviously derived trom Epiphania. In Naples the little old woman who fills children's stockings is called "Pasqua Epiphania,"* the northern contraction not having been acclimatized there.26
In Spain as well as Italy the Epiphany is associated with presents for children, but the gift-bringers for little Spaniards arc the Three Holy Kings themselves. There is an old Spanish tradition that the Magi go every year to Bethlehem to adore the infant Jesus, and on their way visit children, leaving sweets and toys for them if they have behaved well. On Epiphany Eve the youngsters go early to bed, put out their shoes on the window-sill or balcony to be filled with presents by the Wise Men, and provide a little straw for their horses.27
It is, or was, a custom in Madrid to look out for the Kings <>n Epiphany Eve. Companies of men go out with bells and pots and pans, and make a great noise. There is loud shouting, and torches cast a fantastic light upon the scene. One of the men carries a large ladder, and mounts it to see if the Ivin-s are
* Pasqua is there used for great festivals in general, not only t
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