91 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2001
My husband is Italian, so Befana (who brings gifts to Italian children on Epiphany) is as much a part of our Christmas traditions as Santa Claus. To be honest, I prefer the story of Befana and find it a lot closer to the spirit of Christmas.
Befana is a somewhat grumpy and fussy old woman. One day Three Kings show up at her door, following a star, and looking for a miraculous baby. They urge Befana to come with them, but Befana is so busy with her household tasks she thinks she doesn't have time.
Little by little though, the idea of a baby who "comes for the poor" (like her) and yet attracts kings as well begins to move her and she decides to follow. She gathers up some goodies she has just baked and a few toys to bring as gifts for the new baby. But she has waited too long, and although she keeps following the star, she never finds the infant.
The lovely aspect of this story is that she begins leaving her gifts for other children, because she recognizes in them the spirit of that miraculous child that the Three Kings sought. I love the idea that children receive presents at Christmas because Jesus' spirit is in them.
This is an essential book for Italian-American families. I think it would also be a good book for teachers or parents of somewhat older children (past Santa Claus believing age) who are interested in Christmas traditions of different cultures. In Russia, the story of Babushka is very similar to the story of Befana (and there are several good picture books about her). And in Mexico, the Three Kings themselves bring presents (and Tomie dePaola has done a wonderful book about the story of the Three Kings that makes a perfect companion to this one).
Overall, a terrific Christmas book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2010
Written 30 years ago, this Christmas legend presents the story of an old grandma who meticulously takes care of her home and surroundings, as if that was all life had to offer her. Living in a small village in Italy, she kept to herself and seemed unfriendly. The children called her cranky; they remarked that she was always sweeping, starting with her house, her front step, the walkway to the street, and down to the road. Those who passed her house would notice sounds of a woman singing lullabies, and they would sense a delicious smell of freshly baked things, like bread and cookies, and cakes. Every day, the routine was the same, ending up with locking the door and shuttering the windows, climbing into bed, blowing out the lamp and falling asleep.
One night, she awakened to a bright light, right in the middle of the night. When she went to look out the window, she saw a brilliant star growing before her eyes. She mumbled, "How will I ever get my sleep when the dark has turned into day?" Without sleep, she remained in bed; the next morning, she was up, sweeping, just as she always had done. Now, as she swept the path down to the road, she heard bells ringing, birds singing, and she saw a glorious procession of animals and people walking down the road. Three men wearing crowns were dressed in beautiful robes, and when they approached her asking for the way to Bethlehem, she said she never heard of it. They told her they were searching for the Child. She told them that there were many children [in town], and she continued sweeping.
They told her this Child is a King, and would be guided by a bright star. All she could say was that that star kept her up all night, and that she had to get back to her work. When they invited her to come with them, she kept on sweeping for a while, and then went back into the house and began baking, and thinking about what had happened. Later that night, she filled the basket with cakes and cookies and candles she had made, adding a few hot coals to keep the cookies warm. As she began to leave, she decided to take along her broom so she could sweep the room clean for the Baby's mother. She got side-tracked with that old broom, and put aside her basket, and began her usual routine of sweeping her house, and the path to the road.
By the time she was finished, the procession that was to take her with was gone, and the sky was filled with light; the angels were singing, that "The new King is born. Tonight is the Night of Miracles." All of a sudden, as she started running, asking the angels for help in finding the New Born King, she was lifted into the sky, carrying her basket and her broom. Now, she was running in the sky, on this night of Miracles. Well, she never did catch up with the kings and the procession, and she never found the Child in Bethlehem. It is said, that every January 6th, she runs across the sky, visiting all the children while they sleep, leaving them gifts from her basket, and, yes, sweeping their rooms, clean. She says that she never knows which child might be the Baby King of Bethlehem.
As you read this legend, what do you learn from Befana's obsession with her work; she didn't see or notice what was right there before her very eyes. Yet, even though she missed seeing the Baby, she spent the rest of her life looking for Him. Be aware of surprises from God, wherever and whenever He gives them to you. Maybe someone will walk into your life as a gift from God. Be watchful; expect surprises. Don't wait to put down your broom or whatever else is keeping you busy.
on October 10, 2014
This book scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Seriously, it was so odd and scary that I used to hide it in my closet in hopes that my parents wouldn't read it to me. I don't think it's supposed to be scary, but the thought of an old witch flying around during Christmas time (instead of Santa, who I was more familiar with) was just too much for me to handle.
Having said that, I bought this book as a gift for my best friend's little girl... I figure, I turned out okay despite the Befana traumatizing of my youth, so perhaps she will, too.
They are an Italian family, so they appreciated it!