Our Lady of Perpetual Help celebrates La Befana to close out Christmas season

Our Lady of Perpetual Health Italian Club presented their annual La Befana Celebration, an Italian tradition celebrating Christmas and the feast of the epiphany and the Italian Santa Claus. Cory Rubin/The Signal

In a celebration of the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, the Italian Catholic Club of Santa Clarita Valley and members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Newhall signaled the traditional end of the 12 days of Christmas with a goodbye to the holiday season with their fifth La Befana on Sunday.

Anna Riggs, president of the Italian Catholic Club of SCV, said that the La Befana tradition originated and most heavily celebrated in Italy but is also observed in parts of Europe like France, Poland and Russia. According to Riggs, the legend of La Befana says that she was a woman who housed the three kings on their way to see Jesus, but declined to follow them on their journey to meet the new king. The woman later regretted her decision and ventured out to find the kings and meet Jesus. Failing to find them, La Befana returned home and vowed to give presents to children each year.

Riggs, who grew up in Italy, brought the tradition with her to the United States and has helped spread it to the different Italian and church organizations she is involved with.

“Where I grew up in Italy, we didn’t have Santa Claus, only La Befana,” she said. “She’s very similar to Santa Claus in that she give gifts to the good children and leaves coal for those who do not behave well. I brought this celebration to OLPH and it’s especially popular with the children because as long as they have behaved they get presents.”

The OLPH La Befana celebration began with a meal of Italian food, marionette puppet show, toy raffle, gift distribution, games and music. At least $1,000 of the ticket money will go towards a new building for the church.

Riggs’ great grandson Collin Scheaffer said that he’s enjoyed learning about the tradition and culture.

“The puppet show and the presents are my favorite part,” Scheaffer. “The more I come to this event, the more I learn and I really enjoy it.”

Riggs said that she hopes that the celebration will help revitalize some of the religious appreciation in the community and teach younger Italian Americans more about their culture.

“This celebration will hopefully bring back some religion to the community because I feel like as a country we have lost some of it,” Riggs said. “I also hope this celebration shows how multicultural Santa Clarita is. Every culture has customs and if not for us older people keeping them alive, there wouldn’t be any. I hope these traditions don’t die with me.”


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