January 6th marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas 2016, complete with lots of good slow-living evenings by the fire, wonderful meals, family time and long winter naps. It’s also the beginning of Epiphany, a period of several weeks in the Christian liturgical year between Christmas and Lent that commemorates the coming of the Three Wise Men seeking the birthplace of the Messiah.
So it’s time to take down the tree (which means lots of sweeping) and move on into the New Year (seeking our dreams!) reminding me of an old Epiphany story that I love, an Italian folktale that’s about a woman named Old Befana,
Old Befana lived by herself in a small cottage in a village. She worked all the time to keep her little place as neat and clean as could be. Everyone knew that she was the best housekeeper around and she took great pride in that. One day as she was out sweeping her front walk, a most unusual party of visitors arrived. There were three men, dressed in colorful robes, elaborate head coverings and exquisite jewelry. They explained to her that they had been on a long journey, following a bright star they believed was leading them to the Christ Child, newly born in a manger. They asked, would she like to accompany them?
Old Befana laughed and said no, she couldn’t possibly go with them. There was too much to be done keeping her home neat and clean! And so the three strangers went on their way as Old Befana continued her sweeping.
She swept and swept most of the day, and as she was sweeping, she was thinking about the travelers and the Christ Child they were going to see. She began to feel sorry that she hadn’t stopped what she was doing and joined them. After a while she decided that yes, she would like to go with them after all. With her broom in her hand she started out, only to find that she had just missed them everywhere she went. So she kept walking and walking, looking for the Christ Child, stopping in every house in every village in case that was where he was.
Old Befana never catches up with the three Wise Men, and never gets to the manger, but on the eve of Epiphany she can be seen sweeping across the sky on her broom as she visits all children everywhere, always leaving treats and goodies for them because Christ is found in the heart of every child.
This sounds all too familiar. How often do the tasks that fill my every day keep me from recognizing the miraculous and sacred that shows up at my very door? And when I am called to leave the ordinary behind and seek out the divine, how often do I convince myself that I simply don’t have time, denying myself the light of that bright star that changes everything?
Like Old Befana, we’ll all be our human selves and get caught up in the sweeping, but if we can open our eyes and hearts to the journey, the seeking that inevitably follows will show us the bright light in all of it.
May you be blessed by the gifts of Old Befana tonight and all year through. Happy New Year!
*This post is edited and updated from January 6, 2012