La Befana • 1973 • Fantasy short story by Gene Wolfe

★★★

Meta: isfdb. This fantasy short story by Gene Wolfe first appeared in Galaxy in 1973. I read it as part of the collection The Best of Gene Wolfe.

Synopsis

A subtle story of Christmas on another world.

Review

Gene Wolfe features Christmas in a couple of stories, e.g. „War Beneath the Tree“, „No Planets Strike“, or „Christmas Inn“ – it seems to be his favourite holiday. This story is another one, but you have to look up the tradition of La Befana:

La Befana is a figure from Italian folklore who goes on Epiphany from home to home in search of the Christ child. Legend tells that she was approached by the Three Wise Men asking for direction. She followed them later on, could not find them, and now she has to search the Christ child to this day, filling stockings of children. But maybe her name was only a mispronunciation of „epiphaneia“. 

I found the copy of Mary in the next room giving birth a bit heavy handed. But the power of this straighforward story lies in the sentimental concluding line

The bent old woman said, ‘Not forever dearest.  Only until tomorrow night.’

The story brings up an interesting theological question: If Jesus was born on Earth to save it, wouldn’t each indigenious life on a different world need another incarnation? Or was once enough for the whole creation?

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