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Befana delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). She is an ugly old lady who rides a broomstick in the sky, wearing a black shawl and covered in soot because she enters the houses through the chimney. Befana fills socks with candy and presents if children are good or with a lump of coal or dark rock-candy if they are bad.

On January 6, the Biblical Magi (Three Wise Men) visit Baby Jesus and bring gold, incense and myrrh, that is probably how the tradition of Befana started. But there is evidence to suggest that it could descend from a celebration dedicated to the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina, goddess of the new year, purification, and wellbeing.

The evening of the fifth of January preceeds Twelfth Day, the last day of the Christmas festivities and is observed as a time of merrymaking.

Here is a nursery rhyme all Italians used to know:

La Befana vien di notte

Con le scarpe tutte rotte

Col vestito alla romana

Viva, Viva La Befana!


The Befana comes by night

With her shoes all tattered and torn

She comes dressed in the Roman way

Long life to the Befana!