Dobra čarovnica Befana na pročelju mestne hiše v italijanskem mestu Urbania. Foto: Diego Baglieri/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0
Dobra čarovnica Befana na pročelju mestne hiše v italijanskem mestu Urbania. Foto: Diego Baglieri/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Italian witch La Befana gives children gifts

School children in Italy end their Christmas holiday on January 6th when the old woman, La Befana, brings them presents. 

The arrival of this popular witch is associated with Epiphany, the Christian feast day also known as Three Kings Day.

The tradition of La Befana bringing gifts is still one of the most popular celebrations in Italy today.

Christians celebrate this holiday every year on January 6th in memory of the Three Kings who followed the Star of Bethlehem to find baby Jesus. The holiday is connected with a record in the Bible.

For Italians this day is as important as Christmas. It is a public holiday in Italy, so they have a day off. The children really look forward to it! 

The Italian legend says that La Befana is a witch. Like any witch, she has a hooked nose and flies on a broom.

Epiphanies.  Photo: Eleonora Gianinetto/Wikimedia Commons/WiCC BY 2.0
La Befana witches. Photo: Eleonora Gianinetto/Wikimedia Commons/WiCC BY 2.0

When the Three Kings invited her to join them on a journey to see the newborn, she turned them down, saying she had too much housework.

Later she changed her mind. She took gifts for Jesus with her on her journey, but found neither the Three Kings nor the baby.

She flew all night on a broomstick, leaving gifts in every house where she looked for a child.

On the night before the holiday, Italian children hang stockings in their homes. Some put out a shoe. On the night of January 6th, La Befana fills them with gifts. Legend has it that she leaves a lump of coal for naughty children. 

This popular gray-haired old woman is a good witch. She is considered very charitable, and also has her own festival.

In the city of Urbania in the Italian region of Le Marche, you can meet hundreds of La Befana witches. The festival is very popular.

Slovenia and other parts of Europe have a different custom during Three Kings Day. It’s called caroling. 

Three Kings caroling is an important cultural custom in Slovenia. 

The carolers symbolically invite people to make donations to charity. 

For reflection

  1. How many gift bearers brought you something in December?
  2. Is gift giving a form of consumerism?
  3. Is the culture of giving gifts in December a way to connect with others and show support for each other?


The original version of this article was published on January 6th.

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Svetina is an English translator, EFL educator, and graphic designer. She is an American who has lived in Slovenia since 2008. She loves hiking and traveling with her family.

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