Babbo Natale, La Befana & Other Italian Christmas Legends

A Christmas without good stories by the fireside is incomplete! Italy is rich in interesting stories. These are the best Christmas stories from Italy, including good Christmas witches and dynamic fire processions.

La Befana

La Befana is Italy’s most fascinating Christmas character. La Befana is known as the “good witch of Christmas” and presides over the Epiphany feast on January 6. Her name actually comes from the Italian word for Epiphany, ‘epifania’. She rides on a broom, climbs down chimneys, and delivers presents to children as she makes her way. Children who behave well will find colorful candies in their stockings. However, the children who are not so good will find coal. But don’t worry, candy coal is edible and sweet! The story of La Befana dates back to pagan times and is closely linked with the Nativity story. The three Magi (wise-men), who were on their way to the baby Jesus, stopped at the house of the old woman in search of shelter from the cold night. She offered shelter and food, as a gracious host. They chatted and asked her to accompany them on their journey. However, she declined because she had too much housework. Soon after they left, she realized her error. She filled a basket full of gifts and raced to follow the star but was never able to find the baby Jesus. She continues her search for the child in houses, leaving behind gifts. Tradition dictates that children or their parents leave food for the spirit, along with wine (preferably red), to aid her in her search.

You can read our entire post on La Befana or see our video below to see how she is celebrated through an Italian child’s eyes!


Badalisc is another figure associated with an epiphany. This mythical creature hails from the Southern Central Alps and has wild glowing eyes, horns, and a large mouth that has sharp teeth. A festival is held every year in the Andrista village to celebrate the creature. The community members dress up as the creature and are ‘captured’ by the police and taken to the town. The Badalisc gives a humorous (often rhyming!) speech in which he exposes all the sins and misdeeds of members of the community, from theft to alleged flirtations. A huge festival of dancing and singing follows, which serves as a ritual purge for the community. The Badalisc is released into the mountains, where it will roam until its capture in the next year.

Babbo Natale

Santa Claus, St. Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle – whatever you call him, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without this jolly old benefactor distributing presents to children all over the globe. Babbo Natale, or Daddy Christmas in Italy, is Italy’s answer. Although each country has its own traditions and versions of old Saint Nick, Italy is unique in that it has some interesting connections to the patron saint for children and secret gift-giving. The Basilica San Nicola is believed to contain the original Saint Nicholas, who is also the patron saint of Bari. It is also believed that the relics found with him possess supernatural healing powers.

Ndocciata festival

The highlight of Christmas in Agnone is the Ndocciata festival, which is held every year from December 8th through 24th. The Samnite tribe, who lived in Italy before Roman times, is the originator of this ancient fire procession. To create a procession, large ‘ndocce (or torches made from branches of fir or pine) are carried through the town with dry tinder. These torches can be up to 4 meters high and are carried in a fan-like frame by black-robed men. The procession ends with a bonfire in the town made from the stumps of the torches. This is followed by a nativity scene. It is believed that the festival was passed to farmers in the 9th century to help lighten the roads to the church for Christmas services. It was also part of an old courting tradition, where young men competed to make the best ‘ndocce to impress the women of the village. Some would bring the children under the glass of their chosen flame at the end of the festival. If she glanced out, it could mean that she was interested. However, they could also be welcomed to a bucket with water, extinguishing their torch and dreaming of their suitor.

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