La Befana, Sa Filonzàna 0 Comments

La Befana, Sa Filonzàna

The Befana comes at night... and arrives right on Epiphany night, which recalls the "Manifestation" of the Child Jesus who reveals himself to the world, honoured by the three Wise Men of the three Kings, with their gifts.

In Sardinia today the Befana, "Sa female eccia" or "Sa baccucca eccia", has the face of a good-natured witch who flies astride a broom and brings gifts to good children on Epiphany night, as in all of Italy. But in the past, she has a fascinating history.

Eleanor of Arborea had already considered Epiphany in her “Carta de Logu” (People's Chart) “the greatest legislative monument of mediaeval Sardinia'', where we read: “Sa pasca de sa epiphania si clamat pasca nuntza”. The festivity of the Epiphany is called the Three Kings’ festivity, revealing the influence of the Catalan holiday "de Els Tres Reis" which in Sardinia also became "sa Pasca de is Tres Reis", the Three Kings.

And what about the Befana? In reality she was Sa Filonzàna "She who cuts the thread of existence". A Parca, in short, or a Fatae who manages the fate of men. Contrary to today's old woman with the face of a mocking and joyful witch, the Befana in antiquity was the emblem of Death who presented herself at Carnivals to indicate the death of the past year. 

Here she is, Sa Filonzàna, the Jana-Fanes "the Jana of the thread", that is the Parca who cuts the existence thread of the old Year, and is not accidentally dressed as the Befana. But the Sardinian Befana doesn't bring gifts! In fact, legend has it that "Sa Filonzàna" was used in the past to ensure that the quest was successful and to those who did not open the doors of the house, the old woman was ready to bestow all sorts of bad luck.

We will also find Sa Filonzàna at the Carnival procession, holding the thread rolled up in the spindle as required by the ancient art of spinning wool, which lamely follows the multitude of oxen and peasants. reminding that she rules everyone's life as she may interrupt it with a simple cut of the spindle thread.

But the Sardinian Epiphany tradition definitely passes also through the kitchen and the oven. There is the fortune cake, the one prepared on January 6 by mixing a fava bean, a chickpea and a bean in the sweet dough. Once cooked and served on the table, finding one of the three legumes in your slice of cake ensures you good luck for the whole year. But whoever finds it will have to buy a slice of cake to everyone! They also call it the "The Three Kings cake" very similar to the Catalan sweet "Roscon de Reyes" and the French "Gallette des Rois",  where the three legumes symbolise the three kings. Furthermore, on January 6, the sartàinas are prepared and fried in large quantities in huge pans called the tzìppulas, the sweet pancakes that are sold everywhere, are prepared in every home, and distributed free away.

And finally, there were the two oranges with cuts made on the rind. The children knocked at all the doors of the village houses and showing the engravings on the oranges they asked: "Nem' estrèna?" (No gift?) and the most generous answered by inserting in the engravings a coin as a gift.


“There is a thread of wool that in Sardinia unravels through the millennia to weave the hearts of special women. The spindle turns in the hands of Filonzàna, the thread of destiny breaks and re-knots following an unpredictable dance that can't be stopped.” (Vanessa Roggeri)


Written by Daniela Toti

Photo by Matteo Carta

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