January 6th marks the celebration of the Epiphany, the end of the Christmas festivities, when the three kings arrived bringing gifts for the infant Jesus.  In Italy this day is associated with La Befana, an ugly old woman, dressed in rags, who flies in on a broom on the night between the 5th and the 6th.  La Befana enters each house through the chimney leaving gifts of sweets and candy for good children and lumps of coal for those who have been bad.  She often sweeps and cleans up the hearth.  The figure of the benevolent witch bearing gifts is similar to that of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas.  Her origins are a mix:  in pre-Christian times an old woman bearing gifts and tidying was associated with rituals marking the end of one season and the beginning of another.  Over the passage of time these stories blended with Christian traditions; in one story La Befana is the old woman the Magi meet on their way to Bethlehem and of whom they ask directions.  Nowadays, along with Santa (a more recent introduction in Italy), she is another beloved figure who brings gifts at Christmas time.