- Names: Befana la Strega, Befana the Witch, Befana la Vecchia, Befana the Crone, Befania
- Attributes: Distaff, spindle, sack of gifts
- Home: Befana lives within chimneys
Befana is a benevolent Italian witch who brings gifts to children on Epiphany Eve (Jan 5). She fills children’s stockings with gifts just like Santa Claus does elsewhere.
Befana may pre-date Christianity and may originally be a goddess of ancestral spirits, forests, and the passage of time. Some identify this wandering nocturnal crone with Hekate.
Other legends describe her as an elderly woman in either ancient Judea or Italy who was too busy cleaning to heed the Magi when they invited her to join them in paying homage to the newborn Christ Child. Befana soon regretted her decision and has spent the past two thousand years trying to catch up with the Magi, leaving gifts for good children along the way.
Befana manifests as an old lady who flies through the air on a broom or goat. She carries a heavy sack on her back filled with gifts or is a hunchback.
Befana is most active on the night of Jan 5th, the eave of the Feast of the Epiphany and the Day of the Magi. However, she may be contacted for assistance at other times as well. Befana is invoked in many Italian spells, especially those for good fortune.
Befana travels the world leaving gifts on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5th). As an old lady can get tired from all that flying around; leave her some gifts to replenish her spirits: espresso, Strega liquore, cookies, Italian pastry.
From: The Encyclopedia of Spirits
Ded Moroz or Father Frost, the Slavic version of Santa Claus, long ago became the symbol of Russian winter, New Year’s and presents. He is usually accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka riding with an evergreen tree in a traditional Russian troika, a sleigh drawn by three horses abreast.
Ded Moroz is a Slavic fictional character similar to that of Father Christmas. The literal translation is “Old Man Frost”, often translated as “Grandfather Frost”. Ded Moroz brings presents to children and often delivers them in person on New Year’s Eve.
Ded Moroz is accompanied by Snegurochka the “Snow Maiden”, his granddaughter and helper, who wears long silver-blue robes and a furry cap or a snowflake-like crown. She is a unique attribute of Ded Moroz, since similar characters in other cultures don’t have a female companion.
The original Russian gift-giver was Saint Nicholas, the country’s Patron Saint, whose Feast Day is celebrated on December 6th. The image of Saint Nicholas originates from the image of another hero – the ancient Morozko. In Russian folklore Morozko is a powerful hero and smith who chains water with his “iron” frosts. Morozko was not hostile to people – he helped them and presented them with awesome presents.
In fairy tales Morozko is at times kind and at times evil. To be precise, he is kind towards the hard working and the good-hearted, but extremely severe with the mean and the lazy. And it is not about justice only. It is rather about two personalities living in one magical person.
Read more about Morozko here: Morozko
Ded Moroz and the Communists
In 1917, with the Bolshevik Revolution, Ded Moroz was banished into exile. He was considered a kind of a kids’ god, which was impermissible during Soviet times when Russian leaders were flatly against any manifestations of religiousness. But only 20 years later Ded Moroz returned to the country and New Year’s celebrations became public. Since then Ded Moroz and Snegurochka appear on New Year’s Eve, putting presents under the fir tree for the kids to find in the morning.
Visiting him at home
Those wishing to make acquaintance with Ded Moroz in his domestic surroundings can board trains and travel to the picturesque town of Veliky Ustyug in the Vologodsky Region of Northern Russia (approximately 500 miles northeast of Moscow) where, situated in the dense taiga forest at the confluence of three rivers, sits the log cabin of Ded Moroz.
There, in Veliky Ustyug, Ded Moroz waits through the summer reading letters that kids from all over the country have written to him regarding the presents they wish to find under the New Year’s Tree the next January 1st.
Ded Moroz has a number of distinguishing features. His shirt and trousers are made of flax and are usually decorated with white geometrical ornamental patterns. His fir coat is ankle long and is embroidered with silvery stars and crosses. His a semi-round fur hat is often red and embroidered with pearls. He has a long white beard.
Ded Moroz wears mittens and a wide white belt. His footwear is luxurious – high boots with silver ornamentation, but on an exceptionally chilly day Ded Moroz can opt for valenki!
And finally he never appears without his pikestaff – made either of silver or crystal, it possesses a twisted gripe. It helps the not-so-young Ded Moroz make his way through the deep dark forest during long winter nights.