While most Americans will probably recognize the above image as a witch, a possibly evil character associated with Halloween in the U.S., many Italians would see a motherly figure who keeps a clean house (hence the broom) and gives candy or coal to children. The character’s name is Befana. Thanks to Katrin for drawing my attention to her.
Italians celebrate the end of the Christmas season today, January 5th. Tonight is the night before the Feast of the Epiphany (celebrating the understanding that Jesus was God in human form) (source). According to Italian mythology, Befana will visit children’s homes, filling their shoes with candy (if they’ve been good) or coal (if they’ve been bad) (source).
Epiphany Eve is celebrated throughout Italy.
For more examples of variation in the culture of Christmas, see our posts on Krampus: Santa’s Evil Side Kick, The ChristKind, Snegurochka: Santa’s Granddaughter, and Black Pete (trigger warning for blackface).Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.