6 January 2016


A good witch who traditionally sweeps away problems

Children in Italy will be waking up on this day hoping to find that Befana has left them some presents while they have been sleeping.

A puppet depicting Befana
Photo: Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Although Christmas is almost over, the eve of 6 January is when a kind witch is supposed to visit the good children in Italy and leave them presents.

Traditionally, children who have been naughty are supposed to receive only a lump of coal and those who have been stupid are supposed to receive only a carrot.

But in reality, many children throughout Italy will expect good presents from Befana today.

Befana is also sometimes referred to as La Vecchia (the old woman) and La Strega (the witch). But she is supposed to be a similar character to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus.

It is believed her name derives from La Festa dell’Epifania (the feast of the Epiphany).

Befana is usually portrayed in illustrations as an old lady riding a broomstick, wearing a black shawl and covered in soot because she enters the children’s homes through the chimney.

Another tradition is that Befana sweeps the floor of the house before she leaves, symbolising the sweeping away of the problems of the previous year.

Many households will leave out a small glass of wine and a plate with small portions of the regional or local specialties for Befana.

Some lucky children in Italy will have already received presents from Santa Claus on 25 December and will wake up today to find another delivery from Befana.

The famous Christmas market in Rome's Piazza
Navona. Photo: Mitravabanerjee (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Piazza Navona in Rome is the site of a Christmas market, which lasts till Epiphany, where toys, sweets and craft items are on sale. Many people go down to the market on the night of 6 January as there is a legend that Befana will appear at a window overlooking the square. Everyone jokes about it while enjoying the festive atmosphere and buying the goods on sale.

Travel tip:

The home of Befana is traditionally supposed to be Urbania, a small town south west of Urbino in Le Marche. A national Befana festival is held there every year between 2 and 6 January and a special post box is set up to receive mail for Befana. Urbania has medieval walls and a Ducal Palace and is well known in Italy as a centre for majolica and ceramics production.


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