BEFANA (Ital., corrupted from Epifania, Epiphany), the Italian female counterpart of Santa Claus, the Christmas benefactor (St Nicholas). On Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, she plays the fairy godmother to the children, filling their stockings with presents. Tradition relates that she was too busy with house duties to come to the window to see the Three Wise Men of the East pass on their journey to pay adoration to the Saviour, excusing herself on the ground that she could see them on their return. They went back another way, and Befana is alleged to have been punished by being obliged to look for them for ever. Her legends seem to be rather mixed, for in spite of her Santa Claus character, her name is used by Italian mothers as a bogey to frighten the babies. It was the custom to carry her effigy through Italian towns on the eve of the Epiphany.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)