Feast of the Epiphany

In America dovremmo considerare di ridare vita alla festività della Befana, una tradizione italiana che celebra la visita dei Magi ed è una gioia per i bambini. Joan Frissora Pompeo ricorda le Epifanie del suo passato a Introdacqua, in Abruzzo, così diverse da quelle di oggi.

In last month's issue of La Gazzetta Italiana, there was an article about La Befana, the old woman who visits the children on the Feast of the Three Wise Men and puts candy or coal in their stockings, depending on their behavior. I decided to turn the clock back 70 years and question the memory of Joan Frissora Pompeo, who experienced this tradition as a young girl in Introdacqua (L'Aquila, Abruzzo).

In 1940, the times were difficult in Italy as the country was at war. Joan stated that the gifts the children received were very basic: a pencil, or perhaps a few castagne, a rare piece of chocolate or a tangerine from Sicily. A child was very lucky indeed if she or he received a small toy. Because of the war, families in America could not send money or gifts to their relatives, and many Italian men who lived in the United States were serving in the Armed Forces and were fighting against fellow Italians in North Africa and participated in the Allied Invasion of Italy -- not a great way to celebrate the light of the Epiphany.

Joan recalls that one such American soldier was her brother, Jerry Frissora, who was born in Pittsburgh, raised in Italy and returned to America as a young man. He was drafted and was a member of the US Army. One month after the Feast of the Epiphany, on February 6, 1945, he had the blessing of visiting his hometown in the Abruzzo region. There in Introdacqua he saw his mother and four sisters for the first time in ten years. They were all very thin and the town had no electricity or water, but a mother's Epiphany prayer had been answered. The light had come to Introdacqua -- La Befana sent them their gift!

At that time, Christmas was strictly a religious holiday and reserved for church and family. Epiphany was the only day on which the children received gifts. The Feast of the Epiphany was the formal end of the Christmas season and signaled the return to work.

As American Italians once, twice or even three times removed from the country of our heritage, we should consider reviving some of our "old country" customs by stressing the holiness of the visit of the Magi and the joy of passing on the story of La Befana to our children.