Father Christmas hasn’t got the monopoly on presents left in stockings, you know? Neither is delivering gifts via the chimney.

In fact Italian tradition sees a willowy older lady on a broomstick leaving gifts just for children overnight on January 5 to coincide with the Christian celebration of Epiphany.

She is portrayed as wearing a sooty shawl and is often covered in dark ash – thanks to the fact that she often delivers her gifts via the chimney. However, unlike Santa Claus – she literally covers her tracks – and uses her multi-purpose broom to sweep away the soot, and the family problems that may have lay ahead before jumping on it to get to the next casa.

In fact the occasion has its own festival – the Festa Dell’Epifiana when celebrations are held around Italy and beyond. Here you can find dark candy and toys – and interestingly charcoal on sale. Natural charcoal is involved because it was thought to be substituted for a sweet, edible present if a child had not been best behaved during the year.

Markets and a hefty Festival of Light procession, which see participants dress as Befana as they hold bright candles aloft, culminate in a musical ceremony when the traditional sweets are given to the children amidst an accordion-based musical cackle or chiocciare.

After another heavy day of feasting and socialising, it’s back home for a traditional Italian tea. Sumptuous gorgonzola and mozzarella atop crunchy Doria biscuits are the call of the day – and a pudding made from Doria Amaretti biscuits like this delicious Amaretti Tiffin (please click here for the recipe)

Festa felice!

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