cover of book

The Befana Is Returning: The Story of a Tuscan Festival
by Steve Siporin
University of Wisconsin Press, 2022
eISBN: 978-0-299-33733-9 | Cloth: 978-0-299-33730-8
Library of Congress Classification GT4852.P58S57 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 394.2694557

On the night of January 5, in certain areas of southern Tuscany, a costumed, singing troupe of characters visits residents’ homes, expecting to be fed and feted in a folk custom that has recurred in the region for centuries. This is the Befanata, a mumming tradition centered in Tuscany, whose main character—the Befana—is a kindly old woman or grandmotherly witch who delivers toys, candies, and gifts. Part of the Christmas season, the Befana is familiar in some form in much of Italy, but very little has been written about her, despite sustained interest in European mumming traditions in general.
The Pigitliano Befanata is distinct in its emphasis on song and strong in its richly symbolic use of food, which is not only consumed at each home but is also carried away as a gift. The characters who make up the squad are unique to the Italian practice. They always include the Befana and her husband, the Befano, but other members of the befanotti vary from place to place over time. Siporin combines fieldwork and archival evidence to introduce the Befanata and its historical and social contexts: what it is, what it means, and how it feels. The Befana Is Returning is a deeply researched, deftly insightful presentation of this living tradition that adds a large missing piece to the array of contemporary ethnographic scholarship on mumming.

See other books on: Epiphany | Folk festivals | Folklore & Mythology | Mumming | Story
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