According to the Italian legend, La Befana, a witch-like woman riding on a broom, refused to join the Wise Men on their journey to see the baby Jesus. When she regrets her decision, she sets out to bring gifts to the Child but never finds him. Instead, she leaves gifts for other children. Italian children leave out their shoes or put up stockings for the Befana to fill on January 5th, Epiphany Eve.
And the legend continues that every Epiphany Eve, the old, tattered and soot-covered Befana flies around the world on a broomstick and comes down chimneys to deliver candy and presents to children who have been good during the year. For those who have fallen a bit short of model behavior, la Befana will leave lumps of coal. Knowing that all kids can’t be perfect year-round, some shops in Italy sell carbone or black rock candy that actually looks like pieces of coal…so even those not quite perfect can still enjoy a sweet treat.
Unlike Santa Claus, La Befana has been an Italian tradition since the XIII century and comes from Christian legend rather than pop culture.
The arrival of la Befana is celebrated with traditional Italian foods such as panettone and marks the end of the long and festive holiday season in Italy. In honor of the Three Wise Men, Italians go to church and enjoy spending the day with family. [...]