Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 3: Italy La Befana

It’s Day 3 of our Advent Calendar and the first advent Sunday! Today we are travelling to Rome to meet a figure we would be more likely to associate with Halloween rather than Christmas… La Befana! Did you miss our first two posts? Check them out here and here.

la befana vien di notte by Zia deda, on Flickr
la befana vien di notte” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Zia deda


La Befana is the Italian Christmas witch who brings presents to all the good Italian children and lumps of coal to the naughty ones. La Befana is said to ride a broomstick through the air on the eve of the Epiphany, entering houses through the chimney and leaving her presents in the socks left out by the children. Though depicted as dressed in rags and covered in soot, la Befana is actually an excellent housekeeper and if the family leaves her a little token, usually a glass of wine and a local treat, she will even sweep the house with her broomstick.

While la Befana is celebrated throughout Italy, the Christmas witch has a special place in Rome. On Piazza Navona there is a popular market every year, selling candy, toys and sugar charcoal. It is even said that la Befana will appear on the market at the midnight of January 6th, though beware, the legend also says that whoever sees la Befana will get a thwack from her broomstick!


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