Wrinkled skin, warts, black shawl, flying broomstick... sounds scary, right? Such a witch on a flying broom would strike fear in the hearts of most children, but not in Italy, and not on January 6th, the Epiphany (Epifania in Italian) .
This witch--la Befana--comes down chimneys and leaves gifts for children. And if they've been bad, she'll leave a lump of black coal... but she's usualy compelled to leave a black sugar lump rather than real coal. She's that good!
Since the 13th century, La Befana has been leaving her presents in children's stockings, but her story goes back much further than that. La Befana was stopped by the Three Wise Men and asked her to lead them to the manger and stable where baby Jesus was born. La Befana was so nasty and shoved them away without helping. But seeing the Christmas Star in the sky, she was drawn to find the reason for their quest and brought her own gifts for the Baby Jesus. Although she followed the Star, she wandered without finding Him. To this day, she flies around the world in search of that special child, and just in case she misses him, she leaves gifts for each and every child to make up for her past indiscretion.
In just about every town in Italy there will be celebrations, feasts, parades, marching bands, flying witches, floating witches, puppet witches and witches brooms and black cats everywhere...
On January 6, children will find their stockings filled with presents... and also discover that all too suddenly (at least to an Italian child), the Christmas season comes to a close. Some slices of sweet panettone, a cup of cioccolata calda, and playing a few rounds of tombola with the famiglia after playing with their new toys, and this magical Natale season tucks gently into their lifelong memories...
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