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World Music Celebrations: Epiphany

Italian "Befane"

Each week on World Music (Saturday nights from 8-10 on KSTX 89.1 FM), I take a look at celebrations happening around the world. This weekend marks the official end of the Christmas season for many cultures.

The Epiphany is celebrated around the world in many different ways. This day marks the manifestation of the Son of God as a human being in Jesus Christ. It’s also the day marked by the visitation of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus.

In Greece, the Epiphany is celebrated by a Greek Orthodox Priest throwing a Crucifix into the icy, cold winter waters at a port in Athens. Young men, and sometimes young women, plunge into the murky grey water to retrieve the cross. Whoever is successful can expect good luck for the coming year.

The origins of this event are as murky as the waters themselves. Christians argue that they re-enact the baptism of Jesus, whilst others view the event as offering gifts to the sea, to appease the spirits. The ceremony concludes by a blessing of all the sea going vessels. Whatever its origins, this is a traditional Greek event and not a tourist attraction.

The Italians celebrate the Epiphany with a character who rivals Santa Claus in popularity. Her name is Befana, and she’s a witch. Her specialty involves visiting children at this time of year by descending down a chimney on January 5, just like her counterpart at Christmas.

This lady enjoys a glass of wine and some cookies when she visits, and in return, she sweeps the kitchen before leaving candy and presents for good children and lumps of coal for bad ones. Incidentally, all Italian children anticipate receiving at least one piece of coal. It’s impossible to be that good all year!

Befana may be related to the Christian feast of the Epiphany, hence her name. It is more likely that she can also trace her origins back to pagan Rome, and a Goddess called Strenia.

You can hear more about these and other celebrations happening around the world this and every Saturday on World Music with Deirdre Saravia, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on KSTX 89.1 FM.

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Deirdre as born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and her first paid work was at the age of 10 with the BBC as an actress on "Children's Hour." She continued to perform regularly on radio and stage for the next eight years, at which point she was informed by her parents that theater was not an option and she needed "real" work.