The Befana is a friendly witch, Source: Pixabay

In Italy, a witch brings the children gifts on Epiphany

In Italy, a witch brings the children gifts on Epiphany

La Befana is a beloved character for people who have grown up in this Mediterranean country

In the Catholic parts of Europe, celebrating the Feast of Epiphany on 6 January is a big deal, especially if you are a kid. In fact, for a long time, it was that day which children were accustomed to looking forward to as it meant the receiving of gifts. But move away Santa Claus or Three Wise Men, for Italy has its own unique character who is in charge of present deliveries – the Befana, a friendly witch.

Befana is the name of an old woman, or a witch, whose origins are somewhat murky and folk-inspired. The tradition has been celebrated in Italy in one form or another for centuries, possibly growing out of ancient pagan rituals or descended from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Bestrina. Others say that her name is a mispronunciation of Epiphany.

Ending the holiday season

Although somewhat overshadowed by the modern tradition of Santa Claus and globalization, Befana remains adored by Italian children, who hang up their stockings in anticipation of gifts on the night between 5 and 6 January.

The stockings are placed by windows or over fireplaces, with a glass of wine or some Christmas treats such as panettone or pandoro often left out as refreshments for La Befana. Children who have been good normally receive sweets while those who have misbehaved will get lumps of coal - which these days can be black rock candy.

The story goes that it was the Three Wise Men who invited the old woman to accompany them on their way to baby Jesus. She, however, got lost along the way and that’s why you don’t see her in the Biblical story. The popular wisdom says that instead she went and gave gifts to other children.

The Epiphany is a national holiday across Italy, with public offices closed, and marks the official end of the Christmas season.



Growing City


Smart City


Green City


Social City


New European Bauhaus




ECP 2021 Winner TheMayorEU