According to Italian legend, La Befana was a witch living at the time of the birth of Jesus. The three wise men were on their way to Bethlehem, when they invited La Befana to come along. She was busy with her housework and declined. Later, once she had finished her cleaning, she set off on her broomstick with toys for the Baby Jesus. However, she could not find the Three Kings and soon lost her way. Italian children believe that La Befana is still looking for Baby Jesus, and on the eve of the Epiphany (January 6th), she flies down the chimney of each house, and leaves gifts in the children’s stockings by the fireplace and looking for the Baby Jesus. But those Italians live the good life: instead of cookies and milk, families leave wine and fruit for La Befana.
There are festivals featuring La Befana, with with main one in the small medieval town of Urbania in central Italy. About 40,000 people flock to Urbania in the 2 weeks after Christmas to have their kids sit on the lap of a woman dressed up as an ugly old witch, while over 100 other women dressed as witches gather in the main square, handing out candy, juggling, stilt-walking, and otherwise dancing in the streets.
If this wasn't enough to encourage you to make the trip, note that Urbania also is home to Chiesa dei Morti, the Church of the Dead, where 18 mummies are on display.