Saturday, October 22, 2011

old woman autumn, la befana and a needle felted doll

A while back I made a needle felted Mother doll for our Nature Table.  Later I fashioned her a little family (daughter and farmer husband) and, as the seasons changed, a Lady Spring joined the clan.  For Autumn I wanted to introduce an older relation.  There was a story I remember hearing of an elderly woman (symbolic of the fading of the year) sweeping away the falling leaves and shushing all the little critters into the warm underground earth.  I thought I'd add both doll and that tale to our growing collection of afternoon puppet shows.  Alas, I couldn't find the story but went ahead and made the doll anyhow.  I figured I'd think up some yarn of my own and use this figure as grandmother in any number of other narratives as well.

Here she is from the back with green shawl and silver braids wrapped round the crown of her head.  Naiya saw her sitting on the mantle but really I wanted to introduce her in action...

When I asked my friend Yvonne if she knew of the story I had been unable to find (I mentioned it had an old woman and a broom), she gave me a copy of the beautiful Italian folktale "La Befana and the Royal Child of Light" as told by Carolyn McVickar Edwards.  It isn't the one I recalled but what a gem it is!  It's actually an Advent/Epiphany story very similar to that of St. Nicholas.

The legend tells of La Befana in her roll as a solitary baker and perpetual house cleaner and sweeper.   One day when a procession passes her home on its way to offer gifts to the Royal Child of Light, La Befana declines to join it but later has a change of heart.  She spends all day baking many delicious offerings, but when she finally finishes, the procession and the child are gone.  With broom in hand, she runs in search of them, is lifted into the air and flies off into the night with her basket of goodies tucked under her arm.  She never catches them, "but she flies each year across the sky, stopping at every house below.  She is looking for the Child who will light up the world.  La Befana is never sure what the Child may look like.  So she leaves her gifts at every home in case the girl or the boy within is the Royal Child of Light."

So while in Germany (and in our home) St. Nicholas sneaks in and leaves small gifts in children's boots on December 6th,  on January 6th in Italy, La Befana flies on her broom and leaves them sweets.

I liked the idea of telling this story now, as the lantern season and Hallowe'en approach.  The Child of Light has yet to enter our tales but the theme of bringing light into the darkness has already come and the imagery of a kindly woman flying on a broom to deliver sweets offers a nice correlation to all the witch lore and depictions we can't help but encounter during the season of goblins and ghouls.

If anyone knows of the sweeping Autumn woman story however, I'm still searching!  We can always use another seasonal narrative and with all the wonderful story-tellers and home-schoolers out there, surely someone must know the one I once heard...  Won't you please leave your Autumn stories and ideas in the comments?


  1. Do you mean a story where three girls go to help an old lady with her chores, and one of them gets covered in gold and the other two in tar? It's the only story I can think of that involves a sweeping woman!

  2. Thank you ladies. Miri, that doesn't quite sound like it. I don't think the woman was the main character. It seems like it was some Elsa Beskow or Sybelle von Olfers book or something from that genre where the old sweeping woman just makes an appearance in a story about Autumn that isn't actually about her. Thanks for the suggestion though :)

  3. I don't know of any, just wanted to say she is really beautiful!

  4. That sounds similar to the Babushka story we tell (and song we sing).

    There is a child's book *I think* called Babushka in our school library (in the Christmas section). ;)

    Love the needlefelting and THANK YOU for the e-mail... I really know NOTHING about computers!!

  5. Thanks for the link Nicole. That posting trick is about the extent of what I know aside from typing, dragging and clicking. Glad to share it :) I'll look for the book in the library.

  6. I found it! My friend Nicole of Frontier Dreams reminded me that the character I was thinking of was Mrs. Thaw from Ollie's Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow. Thanks Nicole! :)


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