“The Christmas Witch” A Truly Enchanting Holiday Story

Apr 12, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Very cute story, nice illustrations, level three reader, perfect for Christmas!


The Bottom Line: Come read the story of Befana and her quest to find ‘the Christ Child’.

I am a real sucker for books that revolve around the holidays; even more so when they are part of a series or geared for younger kids. There’s something refreshing about being able to sit down and whip through a book in five or ten minutes but come away from it with some little tidbit of knowledge. A few years ago I was talking to some people at Starbucks about biscotti and someone asked me if I knew the story of Befana and her Christmas cookies. A small crowd gathered as a man started to tell the story and when he was finished everyone sort of sat back, reflected on it and smiled. The actual story of ‘the Christmas witch’ has a lot of different variations to it depending on whom you talk to but most of them have the same basic plot. It’s the little differences that people add to the story that give it a little bit of spice but that holds true for just about everything. When I saw the title “The Christmas Witch: An Italian Legend” at the bookstore I started flipping through it and knew when I hit the middle of the book that I’d be taking it home.

The Christmas Witch: An Italian Legend

The story of “The Christmas Witch” is one that I found completely enchanting. Befana lives in a small town in Italy; most people feared her because she would sing while she cooked and cleaned and she didn’t have the best voice. She had no family or friends so she spent her time cooking and sweeping; to pass the time while she worked she would sing which would inevitably lead to everyone slamming their shudders closed. The smell of her cookies made the children creep up to her doorway even though everyone told them to stay away and that she was crazy. Since she always wore black and carried a broom they labeled her a witch. From the illustrations in the book she does look like a witch but then again most Italian women over the age of 60 dress in all black and have a fond attachment to their cleaning supplies.

One night, while she was sweeping and singing, she saw the brightest star in the sky. She couldn’t help but stare at it and wonder why it was so bright. When she turned in for the night she tossed and turned but she couldn’t fall asleep. She opened the shudders on her window and looked out at the bright star and wondered what it meant. She started cooking and cleaning and then heard the sound of jingle bells; when she opened the door there was no one there but a few minutes later the sound grew louder and closer. When she opened the door again she saw “an amazing procession of travelers”. When it stopped in front of her tiny little house she wasn’t sure what to make of it. Three men approached her and asked her if she knew the way to Bethlehem.

Befana had never heard of this town and when they told her why they were going there, she was invited to join them on their journey. “I am just a poor old woman, I have no gifts to bring the Child” she answered. This is where things get a little tender; the first king tells her that it doesn’t matter that she has no offerings for him; he is simply here to make the world a better place. All three kings ask her to join them on their way but she takes too long to make up her mind. She decides that she will make him a doll and bake him some cookies, then she will set out and follow the star to the place called Bethlehem. She followed the path that she saw the kings start down when they left her village but she couldn’t find the way. Befana ran so fast that she set off flying on her broom.

As the legend goes, she flew all night trying to find the journeymen and the Christ Child but had no luck. When she returned to her little home she vowed that she would never give up trying to find him and every year she stops her cooking and cleaning, flies around Italy looking for the Child and leaves toys and treats for all the children. She never gives up hope that one day she will meet the Child that was born under that bright star. The book closes out with this line, “And every year, in every far corner of Italy, children still watch and wait for Befana, the good Christmas Witch”.

My Take

Even if you aren’t someone who follows the Catholic religion or believes in one god, this is a very cute book that makes for a great read for younger kids. There are a lot of little tings in it that kids pick up on, things that go right over the heads of adults that read it. When my youngest saw this he thought that it has something to do with a crossover of Halloween and Christmas and after he read it he commented something to the effect of “that’s what happens when you judge people by the way they dress or look”. How true, how very, very true. This is a level three reader that’s geared towards kids who have been reading for a while but want to branch out and read on their own. There aren’t a lot of complicated words in the book but they will be exposed to larger ones like ‘delicious’, ‘dazzling’, ‘procession’, ‘shimmering’ and ‘glittering’.

The Bottom Line

To me this was an extremely cute story that explores a little bit of Italian folklore, offers another insight into why gifts are given at Christmas and inevitably leads kids to ask two questions, “What would have happened if she did go with them?” and “Would she still bring the kids toys and cookies every year?” The illustrations are basic but effective at getting the point across and the images of the angels singing and the procession are some of my favorites. If you are interested in learning more about Befana and her Christmas quest this is a cute read for kids of all ages as well as adults. The whole series of readers from Bank Street are great to use as educational tools but I’ve yet to see an adult walk past this book when it was on my coffee table and not pick it up and read it. There are a lot of different legends about Befana but the version that is in the book is one of the cutest.

As always, thanks for the read!

~^V^~ Freak ~^V^~

© 2005 Freak369

Other Christmas books …

Dragon’s Merry Christmas
Rookie Read-About Holidays: Christmas
Christmas Ornaments Kids Can Make
Christmas Presents Kids Can Make

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