La Befana

Food & Wine Countryside

Epiphany Celebration in Italy

On the 6th of January Italy celebrates an ancient tradition that has its origins traced back to the 13th century: The "Befana". Deriving from the word Epiphany (Greek term meaning "manifestation" or "appearing"), "Befana" is an old witch lady with a big red nose, dressed in a jacket of colorful patches. On Epiphany Eve, she flies around the world on a broomstick and comes down chimneys to deliver candies and presents to children who have been good during the year.


Legend tells that on January 5th, the 3 Wise Men, on their search for the baby Jesus, asked "La Befana" to join them in their quest. She initially declined, stating she had too much housework to do. She later changed her mind and went looking for the 3 Wise Men and the baby Jesus, but was unable to find them. Therefore, every year, on the night of January 5th, "La Befana", will travel on her magic broom, to every house in Italy in search of the baby Jesus bringing gifts.

Climbing down the chimneys, she brings candies and chocolate to the children that were good and black sweet coal, "carbone", to the children that were naughty. The children will leave out their stockings hoping to awake on the morning of January 6th to some "caramelle". Similar to the Santa Claus tradition, many of the children will write notes to "La Befana" and even leave out food and wine for her. It is a tradition that is still strong in Italy with many stores selling stockings for the children to leave out for "La Befana".  

"La Befana" marks the conclusion of the Christmas celebrations; with the Epiphany, the holiday comes to an end. 

Here is an Italian rhyme that the children will sing for "La Befana":  

La Befana vien di notte

con le scarpe tutte rotte

col cappello alla romana

viva viva la Befana!  


The Befana comes at night

wearing old broken shoes


dressed in Roman (hat) style

long live la Befana!