On Epiphany Eve, the night before the arrival of the three Wise Men, an old lady called Befana flies the skies of all of Italy to deliver presents and sweeties, or caramelle as we call them, to children who have behaved well during the year and leaves pieces of sugar coal if they were bad.
The Befana is an old lady who travels on a broomstick. She wears a black shawl and her face is often covered in soot because tradition narrates that she gets into houses through the chimney. She always carries on her shoulder a sack full of sweeties.
When Italians describe her to foreigners, they get a little bit scared because it sounds like Befana looks like a witch but not at all. She is as much loved by Italians as Santa Claus, and her arrival symbolises the arrival of the three Wise Men with presents for the little Jesus.
Children hang their socks or stockings to the chimney or bed which will be full the morning after.
It’s very common to hear children singing the famous Befana’s song (with all the regional versions) around the festivity:
La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito a trullalà,
La Befana eccola quà!
It translates in English:
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all broken
With her dress at trullalà (non-sense word)
The Befana here she comes
On the 6th of January, in many squares around the country there are shows or folkloric representations to celebrate the day. In some cities, like Naples, there are also street stalls selling toys and sweets during all night of the 5th of January and parents have fun in the street while grandparents look after the children while they sleep. To get a bit into the atmosphere and see the enthusiasm of children for this arrival, watch this video: