Why the Befana brings coal: the story of the sock

Between legend and reality, let’s retrace the tradition and find out why the Befana carries coal and even sweets in children’s stockings.

January 6 is upon us, even if many would like it not to arrive. In fact, a very common saying states that “Epiphany takes all the holidays away”. Saying goodbye to a finished year and welcoming a completely new one, remains the last holiday to face, before returning to the usual routine. Regarding this anniversary, we want to try to resolve an important question: why does the Befana bring coal? Traditionally, a stocking is prepared for the little ones, which the good Befana must fill with sweets. According to custom, this happens for the best children, because for the bad ones there is the dreaded coal.

Because the Befana brings coal
Because the Befana brings coal

Why does the Befana bring coal and sweets?

We try to explain why coal is given away. The origin of this tradition is very ancient and there is no certain justification. It is probably related to an old propitiatory rite which, in many Italian regions, involves burning a rag puppet, to greet the year that is going away. Coal, in fact, is a symbol of what remains of this bonfire.

However, children’s coal is a far cry from real coal. Easy to make at home, it is a mixture made with egg whites and sugar. Its incredible sweet taste together with the spiced added sugar make it a kind of large candy, presented in pieces. Reassure the little ones, because its dark color is determined only by the presence of food coloring.

What does the Befana bring to the bad guys? Precisely coal, understood as something negative. Today, however, it can be considered a full-fledged sweet, with which to enrich the stocking. Despite this, the little ones continue to prefer the usual sweets that, every year, they expect to find in their bags on the morning of January 6th.

The story of the Epiphany stocking

Epiphany must not only be associated with the figure of the Befana, but also with that of the gods re Magi. They too are among the protagonists of the story linked to the custom of the sock. According to an ancient legend, on the night of January 5-6 they were on their way to find the manger. Unable to find the Child Jesus, the Magi stopped to ask an old lady for information.

At first, the woman did not want to accompany the travelers to their destination. Then, she regretted her decision and, to make up for it, she walked towards Bethlehem, to try to reach them. During the journey, she began to stop and knock on every house, giving gifts to every child, in the hope of finding little Jesus. From that moment, according to tradition, an old lady would travel around the world, flying on a broom (to be more fast), leaving sweet gifts for the little ones, just like on that famous night.

Find out how to make soft coal for Epiphany.

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