Befana is the figure originating in Italian traditions and considered a gift-giver to children on the Eve of Epiphany. She is usually described as an old woman dressed in dark clothes, with a handkerchief or a brimmed hat on her head and worn shoes on her feet. Traditionally, Befana is associated with a kind of witch, often having a broom with her that she uses to fly to the houses in the night between January 5 and 6, leaving in the prepared socks either some presents for the good children, or some coal, onions or garlic for the mischievous ones. Children avoid seeing her because, according to a popular belief, Befana would thump the curious ones with her broomstick.
Origins of Befana. In the Christian tradition this figure is associated with the popular legend about Befana and the Magi, and her name is believed to derive from the Greek word for “Epiphany”. However, there are versions referring this tradition to the much earlier periods, recalling the ancient celebrations of seeing off the winter and welcoming the coming spring. One theory connects Befana to the ancient Roman festivity dedicated to Strenia, goddess of the new year, purification and wellbeing, when it was usual among people to exchange symbolical gifts like copper, silver or gold, candles and sweets.
According to the Christian legend, the Magi invited Befana to join them in their travel of adoration of Jesus, but she was too long in making order in her house so that didn’t manage to see the Infant. From then on, she wanders in the world searching for the Holy Child, and on Epiphany brings gifts to all the good children in her hope to meet Christ.