I have always have always loved hearing about the different legends and traditions from around the world connected to Christmas. One legend that interested me the most is a witch in Italy that delivers presents to children a lot like Santa Claus.
Legend says that a witch named Befana goes around not menacing children but delivering presents on the Eve of the Epiphany. So unlike the more popular tradition of Santa Claus delivering presents on the night of the 24th of December Befana delivers the presents on the night of the 5th of January. More in line with the Santa Claus tradition is the gifts as Befana is said to fill stockings up with candy and give presents to the children that have been good, but if you have been a naughty child you will find coal or blackened candy in your socks. In some parts the bad children are said to receive a stick instead of coal if they have been naughty and another variation we found is Befana is said to sweep the floor as she leaves the house which is said to symbolise sweeping away negative aspects of the year. Befana does like a little something left out for her troubles which usually takes the form of a glass of wine and a plate with a bit of food on it.
Legend has it that Befana has taken to this role after an encounter with the 3 wise men during their search for the little baby Jesus. When the 3 wise men came across Befana they asked her for any information on the where bouts of the infant child, not knowing anything of the whereabouts Befana could not help them but been a good housekeeper she offered to take them in for the night. The next day the 3 wise men asked Befana if she wanted to join in on the search for Jesus but she declined. After a while Befana had a change of heart so she headed on out in search for the 3 wise men or for the baby Jesus. To this day is she still in search or has she vowed to hand out presents to all the children that shine the light of Jesus, who knows maybe no one will ever know.
So if you’re in Italy on the night of the 5th of January and your extremely lucky you may just see a tatty looking old witch covered in soot, but be aware she doesn’t like to be seen and some have said she will strike you with her broom.