While many children in Britain grew up believing it was Father Christmas who watched their every move and decided who was naughty or nice each year, in Italy it has long been told to young children that this is what La Befana does. Her name is believed to be derived from the Latin word for the Epiphany, Epifania, which has Greek origins and means ‘manifestation’. 

On the eve of the 6th of January, what many Christians understand to be the Epiphany, millions of Italian children will be waiting in their beds with anticipation, much as they do for Father Christmas. However, they will not be waiting for an old man in red with a white beard, but an old witch with a broom who gives candy to the children who were good in the last year, and coal, or even straw from her broom to the children who were not quite so good.  

To ensure that the children do not try to stay up to see the ‘witch,’ some parents tell their children that La Befana will hit any child still awake on the head with her broom. To ensure they avoid this fate, many children will go to bed extra early on the night of the 5th of January, and most will wake up to find a stocking filled with delicious sweet treats.  

While La Befana is simply a tale to frighten young children into behaving well, it is widely celebrated and appreciated on the day of the Epiphany, with the day being a national public holiday in Italy. Schools and most businesses will be closed for the majorly Catholic population to commemorate the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus and the giving of the gifts, with different cities having their own ways and traditions to commemorate this.