Children in Italy love to celebrate Christmas, but their gifts do not arrive on Santa's sleigh. To the contrary, "La Befana", a kind but ugly witch, brings good children their presents. Also, children wait until Epiphany, January 6, for their gifts. According to tradition, La Befana, was told by the three kings that the baby Jesus was born, but she got busy and was delayed in visiting the baby. The tale tells that when she did leave, on her broomstick, she got lost. She has been flying around ever since, leaving presents at every house with children in case Jesus is there. She fills stockings and shoes with good things for good children and it is also said that she leaves coal for children who are not so good. This legend is not only different from Santa Claus, it is also entertaining! Be sure to discuss with your child what they think of this tale, and what they think it would be like to live in Italy and get gifts from a friendly witch. Some children, if they are not frightened by La Befana might want to draw a picture of what they think this witch looks like. Check out the websites listed at the end of this article for a color picture you can view or print of a typical La Befana in Italy.
Arts and Crafts- Have your homeschooler color the black and white picture of La Befana (link at end of page) and compare it to the colored version from the site. A fun and easy craft is a "mini broom". Give each crafter a mini broom, about 2-3 inches long, which you can find at a craft store. Decorate the broom with red, white and green ribbon, about 6 inches long. Tie small bells
and other trinkets to the broom too. Create a ribbon loop to make an ornament if desired. Other decorations include glitter, red, white and green sequins, and spray snow. Enjoy being creative with your homeschoolers!
Reading- The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie dePaola is a classic story children of any age will enjoy. Another book retelling this famous tale is "La Befana: An Italian Night After Christmas" by Sunday Frey-Blanchard. Other wonderful books on Italy, geared for children include "CIAO BAMBINO!: A Child's Tour of Italy" by Danna Troncatty Leahy, "Italy" (True Books: Geography: Countries) by
Christine Petersen, and "Italy ABCs: A Book About the People and Places of Italy" by Katz Cooper. Use the "KWL" teaching tool for this study if you'd like. Ask your child what they already know (K) about Italy. Write what they know on a whiteboard or if your child is older have them write it in a journal. Next ask your homeschooler what they want (W) to learn about Christmas in Italy. Record these thoughts as well. Finally, after reading, ask them what they learned (L). This is a good method to be sure of comprehension as well as interest from your child.
History/Geography-The Christmas season in Italy begins 8 days before Christmas, which is known as the Novena. During this period, children go from house to house reciting Christmas poems and singing. Some children also play musical instruments. Christmas Eve brings a celebration meal, in which a feast is served. Fish, vegetables, pasta, rich cookies and cakes, like Pizelles are all enjoyed. No meat is served on Christmas Eve, however. Known for some as the "Feast of Fishes", seven types of fish are usually served. Candles are lit around the family creche, or Nativity display, and prayers are said. At noon on Christmas Day the Pope gives his blessing to crowds gathered in the huge Vatican square.This is a highlight for everyone! Research the location of Italy, as well as the Vatican. Locate famous landmarks in Italy on a map. National Geographic makes a great wall map of Italy.
Cooking- Many people find it had to resist these delicate cookies called "Pizelles". You will need a Pizelle Iron to make this recipe from scratch.
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon flavoring
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Add sugar, vanilla, lemon flavoring, eggs, flour, and baking powder to butter and mix thoroughly. Put one spoonful of mixture onto each side of the pizzelle iron, let cook and then cool. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and serve.
Number of Servings: 24
Whether you choose to study Italy's Christmas tradition by eating, mapping, reading or discussing, remember to behave. La Befana is watching!