Tonight, the 5th of January, is when La Befana delivers gifts to children. It is the eve of the Christian feast of the Epiphany. Many believe that the word befana is derived from the “Epifania” and the following is one of the legends behind the event. On their way to see the Christ child, the Three Wise Men ask for directions. La Befana, a little witch-like old lady, didn’t know the way but instead invited them in to her home. She was an excellent housekeeper and gave them shelter for the night. In return, the Magi invited her to travel with them, but she declined, saying she was too busy with her housework. Later, she had a change of heart and decided to search for them. To this day, she is still hunting for the little baby. But on the night of 5th January, she leaves good children “caramelle” (sweeties) and gifts, whilst bad children receive a lump of coal, onion or garlic.
I picture the excitement of little Italian children tonight – just like our own grandchildren here in England and elsewhere who put out a carrot for Rudolph and a mince pie, following the tradition of Father Christmas arriving during the night of the 24th December. And I wonder about fantasy. Why do we need it? Why do we watch films? Why do we read? Maybe we need fantasy in our lives to survive reality. Before television took over as the focal point in so many homes, family and neighbours would take it in turns to gather in each other’s homes in Italy and share evenings together, where the focal point was the fireplace. (The Latin for hearth is focus). News and stories would be exchanged at these “veglie” and as well as real stories, proverbs, guessing games and gossip, there would be space for the imagination to run riot and thrill the listeners with fantastic tales of princes and castles, witches and phantoms. Picture the scene: silence reigning, save for the narrator’s voice and the crackle of flames which would cast a kind of cinematic glow on the faces of the listeners. Fantasy helped ease the hardships of the day’s toil.
“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables us to laugh at life’s realities.” Dr Seuss.
There is another lesson to be drawn from the fantasy of La Befana. I think we should do what we have to do before it is too late. We shouldn’t put off things but get on with those projects we’ve thought about for ages. Call that person we’ve been meaning to for some time. Write our bucket list and start to tick off some of our longed-for adventures.
Whatever your goals for 2018, I hope you do the best you can in whatever you want to do. I have two books I want to write. So, I’d better get on with them.
Felice anno nuovo