From Tomie dePaola, the maker of Strega Nona, one of the better depictions of older women, comes this shallow and unpleasant tragedy of an older woman navigating a disability without support, doomed to spend eternity searching for baby Jesus.
Silly old lady, she can’t tell that it’s been thousands of years and she’s looking for baby Jesus in vain!
This story just wouldn’t have the same charm (re: marketability) if a young person made this mistake. It’d be kind of sad, really.
I get that it’s based on an Italian legend. But we don’t talk about Santa Claus as if his generosity is a mistake. We talk about him like he’s a hale and healthy hero! Because he’s a man who ages well (we’ll get to that chestnut in a later article.)
The original tales of Befana are sometimes tragic, sometimes a moral lesson – but all of them include some complexity and depth to the woman. She’s not just batty and tragic for no good reason.
In this depiction, she’s wrestling with a compulsive disorder which makes her a harmless, but useless, person in the community and a bit of a village fool.
Sanism and ableism, always good for a laugh to make readers feel better about themselves. Unless we’ve got these conditions, in which case, the JOKE IS ON US. But it’s okay, because we’re not valuable humans due to our silly compulsions. Right? Why fight for equality, for folks to stop abusing and killing us, and for accommodations when we could just have a sense of humor about it. (/Bitter.)