“The Three Kings were clever: they followed a star. All the splendor of Herod’s palace did not deceive them: “This is not the place!”. I hope your life will be always accompanied by these two signs, which are a gift from God: let the star and the humility of rediscovering Jesus in the little ones, the poor, the humble, and in those rejected by society and even by their own life”. While consumerist society focuses its efforts on gadgets, gifts and sweets for the Twelfth night, Pope Francis reminds us what is the very essence of the Twelfth night, i.e. the moment of the arrival of the Three Kings.
In the Italian tradition, the Twelfth Night has been de-Christianized over time and replaced by the more popular old, ugly, but good, who brings sweets in gift for children instead of the ancient Three Kings. The term “Befana”, which is the Italian name for the Twelfth night, is a lexical corruption from Epiphany (from the Greek epifáneia, which means ‘‘manifestation’’), passing through bifanìa and befanìa. The origin of this character is probably connected to pagan agricultural traditions related to the past year and to the rebirth of the new year, between the end of the solar year (winter solstice) and the beginning of the lunar year. In ancient times, in fact, on the twelfth night after the winter solstice was celebrated the death and rebirth of nature through the pagan figure of Mother Nature.
Romans believed that during these twelve nights, female characters flew over the recently sown fields to propitiate future harvest. The Church condemned with extreme rigor such beliefs, defining them as the result of satanic influences. These overlays gave rise to many personifications that resulted in the Middle Ages in the character Befana, whose looks, although benevolent, show obvious connections with the personification of a witch. It is the advent of the modern era, however, that gave impetus to the development of the custom of the “sock hung over the fireplace” thanks to the work of the many confectionery and toys industries interested in easy profit. A slap in the face of Christianity.
Epiphany, on the other hand, is the Christian festivity celebrated twelve days after Christmas, namely on 6 January in the Churches of West and the Churches of the East which follow the Gregorian calendar. In the Oriental Churches which follow the Julian calendar, it I celebrated on 19 January. In the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, it is one of the greatest celebrated solemnities, along with Easter, Christmas, Pentecost and the Ascension. It was chosen, therefore, as the feast of precept; in countries where it is not a civil holiday, the Twelfth night is moved to the Sunday between 2 January and 8 January.
It is the celebration of “movement”, which makes us understand how Christ goes towards the world and the world towards Him. He does so through symbols: the Three Kings, men with restless hearts, driven by the quest for God, the largest reality; Herod, a man of power who sees a rival to fight in a child; the star, one of God’s “signs”, which could be defined as His “signature” in the Created.
To conclude, it is easy to see how Christmas and Epiphany, Christian feasts par excellence, are attacked on many fronts by an unprejudiced mass consumerism, motivated by profit at any cost, but also by a deceitful attempt to remove and erase the image of Christ from the hearts and from the memory of people all around the world. As a cancer that devours from the inside, with the passing of the years, holidays turn into “sanctification” of capitalism, unnecessary purchases, a shopping race even at times of crisis such as the present, leaving a void and spiritual poverty which cannot be filled by embellishments, dinners, and socks full of sweets or gifts.