The arrival of La Befana is on the eve of the Epiphany - January 5th to be exact. Legend has it that if a child was good throughout the year, the good witch will swoop down the chimney and leave a small gift. If the child was a real rascal during the preceding 12 months, the kid got a piece of coal.
...there was a time - and it wasn’t that long ago - that Italian children really did get all giddy with the thought of this kindly old witch coming into their homes bearing gifts. La Befana was someone who had more in common with Italy’s all-too-common poverty. Especially in the South.
The origin of La Befana varies. I heard different tales. My grandmother - Bless her – would tell me in her best broken English that “her mother” told her that Befana was an old lady sweeping the floors, and mopping and generally doing the things a cleaning lady does, when the three Wise Men stopped by en route to Bethlehem to ask for directions, and asked her to accompany them see the Baby Jesus. She replied she couldn’t because she was too busy. When she finished her chores, she decided to catch up to the tree Wise Men, but they were gone. So, to this day, La Befana goes out on January 5th in search of the baby Jesus, stopping at every house in hopes that in one of them is the One. In the process, she leaves a gift for the Chosen One in each household along the way. At some point this evolved into a lump of coal for naughty children.
Photo found here