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The Woman Who Was Too Busy for Christmas

The Italians have a legend about a woman named Befana who lived along the dusty road that led to Bethlehem. She was her village’s best housekeeper. Meticulous. Which was no small task with all that dust. Late one night there was a knock at the door and she opened it to find three kings in search of the baby born to be King of the Jews, the Prince of Peace. Frankly, what she also saw was all the dust that blew in and the dirt on their boots and clothes.

They asked to rest awhile and invited her to join them on their journey. And she said she’d love to do that but she had to get the house back in order after they left, and there was a load of laundry to be done. “Let me finish up,” she said, “then I’ll be right behind you.” And they told her all she had to do was follow the star.

She worked all night and finally, near dawn, she put on her heavy cloak. She took a little straw doll she wanted to give to the baby, and left her house—spic and span. But the sky had clouded over and she couldn’t see the star. It began to rain and her little doll was ruined. Finally, she gave up and went home. “I’m a foolish old woman,” she said to herself. “I missed my chance to worship the newborn Prince of Peace. Perhaps I will find him someday.”

So the legend is that each year she sets out with a bag of toys, leaving some at every house where there is a child, in hopes one of them might be the Child she missed.

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