During Christmastime, Piazza Navona in downtown Rome is transformed into a Christmas carnival with a carousel, amusement park games, street performers, crafts for sale, the most candy and tacky toys you've ever seen in your life, and little witches hanging on the corner of all the booths. When I first saw this, I was certainly perplexed. What was up with all of these witches? The witch's name is Befana, and she brings Italian Children presents on January 6th. How, in such a Catholic country, is there a tradition that a witch brings presents?
Well, of course, there's a story behind it - and it does link back to Christmas (kind of). Here's the version I heard. There are variations, and I'm not sure which is the "right" one.
The three kings were on their way to visit the baby Jesus by way of Italy, and they needed a place to stay. The witch, being a witch, refused to let them stay in her home when they asked, so they went on and kept looking. Afterwards, the witch felt really bad for being so mean, so ever since then she has given children presents on the day the kings arrived to visit Jesus to try to make up for her mean behavior. Interesting, isn't it?