New Year witch, Italy

New Year Witch, Italy © Sean O'Neill

While some lucky kids can expect Santa at Christmas, others will have to make do with an old hag.

La Befana traditionally visits children across Italy on the night before January 6th, leaving candy for good children and coal for bad. Her face is sooty because she enters via the chimney, and she leaves on a broomstick.

One myth suggests she was asked to join the three wise men on the way to Bethlehem. She politely declined but, realising her error, has been searching for the baby Jesus ever since.

The town of Urbania celebrates the myth with more grandeur than anywhere else. An annual Befana festival in early January sees up to 50,000 visitors being amused by around 100 witches ‘flying’ between towers, juggling in the streets and terrifying children.

Written by - Photo by Sean O'Neill

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