Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, a national holiday here in Italy (the third in three weeks). Today we celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem, where they humbly adored the newborn King.
Italian children are also celebrating Epiphany, but for an additional reason. Today marked the arrival of la Befana, the kindly old hag who brings good children even more gifts to add to their Christmas collection.
The tradition of the Befana goes way back, and involves a suspiciously Halloween-ish crone wearing a pointed hat and riding a broomstick. But the similarities end there, as the Befana is a positive figure, who supposedly will even use that broom to tidy up your floor before she ends her visit!
Italian children have their socks readily available for the Befana to fill with candy–and in exchange, they normally leave a glass of wine and a plate of cookies or other goodies for her to enjoy. The Befana enters your house via the chimney (sound familiar?), which is why she is often portrayed as dark and dirty, covered with soot.
Make no mistake, kids in Italy already got plenty of toys and other material goods on December 25. But Italians can never have enough holidays, so enter la Befana for a sort of Christmas 2.0.