Years ago I was in Venice just after Christmas and noticed with surprise that all the shop windows were decorated with witches on broomsticks. I assumed that they were too lazy to remove their Hallowe’een decorations.
Then I heard about La Befana, the witch who flies about the skies on Epiphany Eve dropping down chimneys and putting sweets in the socks of good children and lumps of coal in the socks of bad ones.
Women dress up as witches for Epiphany (January 6th, a national holiday) – you can buy plastic specs attached to a warty hooked nose in every shop – and for Italians, the traditional Christmas celebration is then, rather than on December 25th.
Of course it makes perfect sense to receive presents on the same day as the three wise men gave their gifts to Jesus, but why introduce a witch? I still haven’t got to the bottom of it despite asking friends and neighbours in Italy. Any explanation gratefully received.