Growing up, we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany with a special meal and treats. While my brothers and I attached more significance to Christmas Day, my mother considered January 6th to be the Italian Christmas. She would regale us with tales of la Befana, the friendly witch who delivered gifts to good children and lumps of coal to the bad ones.
While I’ve heard many variations of this tale, I prefer my mother’s version.
The Magi stopped at la Befana’s house on their way to visit Baby Jesus. The gracious hostess treated them to a meal and offered them shelter for the night. She also gave them directions. Touched by her hospitality, the three kings invited her to accompany them on their journey, but she declined. She had too much housework. After they left, she changed her mind and decided to join them. She packed up some toys for the newborn child and set off on the journey. She never caught up to them. Disappointed but practical, she decided to share her bounty of toys. To this day, she delivers her gifts to Italian children on the night before the Epiphany.