According to tradition, La Befana is an old woman who delivers presents throughout Italy on the night of January 5. She is often compared to Santa Claus due to her gift-giving.
One theory of her origin is she is a descendant of Strenia, a Roman goddess of the Romans. Befana only spread to other parts of the country during the 20th century.
If children have been well-behaved, the Befana will bring them sweets. If they’ve been naughty, they get a lump of coal. Much like Santa Claus, family leave food and a glass of wine for the old lady.
Riding a broomstick, she is very like a good witch. The broom is also put into good use sweeping the floor as she leaves a house. The belief is she sweeps away all the problems of the year.
The Befana Legend
There are a number of Christian legends around the Befana. Some believe the Three Wise Men approached her asking for directions as they followed his star. Unaware of the location of Jesus, the Befana offered the wise men shelter for the night. Once she had finished her chores, she set off after the wise men, but she didn’t find them or Jesus. This explains why she travels around the world giving gifts to children.
Another version has the Befana who had lost her child. When Jesus was born, she went to see him, believing he was her son. She took gifts to Jesus to make him happy, and as a result, Christ made her the mother of all Italian children.