I just heard an interesting Italian legend about La Befana. She was a woman (or a witch in some accounts) who was approached by the Three Magi on their journey to see the baby Jesus. She gave them shelter and food as she was known for being a great hostess. When the three magi invited her to join them in their travel, she declined saying that she had too much housework to complete. Later, once she understood the shortsightedness of turning down such an offer, she ran out in search of Jesus; leaving gifts at every house on her way in hope that the Holy Family was in one of them. And so, on every Feast of the Epiphany, she leaves treats at each house as she still is looking for the baby Jesus.
La Befana was so consumed trying to be the perfect hostess that she lost sight of what was really important. Instead of taking the opportunity to praise Jesus, she worried that the floors were swept, the fire was warm, and there was food for her visitors. Ironically, her desire to provide that perfect, welcoming environment ended up excluding her from joining the real celebration in a small, dirty stable in Bethlehem.
Are we like La Befana during Christmas? Are we so consumed with the physical and commercial aspects of this season that we forget that it’s about glorifying Jesus? We should remember that all those physical things — having the right outfit, baking the Christmas cookies, buying the perfect gifts, and having matching napkins for all our guests, are not what make for a great Christmas anyway. It’s about friends, family, and most importantly, our faith. The real party is not what takes place on the 24th and 25th. Instead, use Christmas to reflect that God, through Jesus and His Church, calls all of us to one day join the infinitely larger celebration in His Kingdom of Heaven.
The legend of La Befana echos the story of Martha from the Gospel of Luke 10:38-42:
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
I don’t think I need to go into too much commentary here as the parallels between Luke’s Gospel and La Befana should be clear. Again we see Martha so concerned with providing a perfect hosting environment that she misses the opportunity to embrace and rejoice in Jesus’ presence.
I wrote about the “trappings” of Christmas in my article on the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Nativity. La Befana trapped herself by her desire for housework and making the perfect home. We often trap ourselves by thinking of all the physical and social aspects of Christmas while glossing over the spiritual aspects. I think the word “trap” is appropriate in this case. All those gifts and ornamental dressings can ensnare and prevent us from receiving a much better Christmas gift — God’s grace.
Challenge yourself this Christmas to fully embrace Christmas Mass and not just think of it as something you have to endure for an hour before the fun begins. Remember, the best gift you receive for Christmas is the Eucharist during Mass. That is Jesus, His love, His grace, and His promise for eternal happiness right there in front of you which no physical gift or scrumptious feast can even compare. As I said in the Fifth Luminous Mystery, don’t receive Jesus so casually when you receive the Eucharist. Truly embrace the Lord and listen to Him in prayer on how He calls you to live. Don’t be La Befana and ignore Jesus’ invitation to live for His Kingdom of Heaven. Don’t regret that you missed an opportunity to fully enjoy the grace God deeply desires for you. May you have a Merry Christmas by remembering and rejoicing in the gift God gave the world through Mary through the person of Jesus.
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- International Santas: La Befana, The Christmas Witch (rosettastone.com)
- Happy Holidays and Interesting Traditions (sandmanhotelgroup.wordpress.com)
- Bizarre Christmas Celebrations (maizebread.wordpress.com)
- Christmas and Epiphany Market at Piazza Navona (romeinfo.wordpress.com)
- Six Christmas Traditions From Around the World (travel.nytimes.com)
- My Italian Christmas! (againstherbetterjudgement.wordpress.com)