Epiphany in short the day we (Christians though it varies by region and denomination) remember the Magi who brought gifts to Jesus after his birth. It turns out that traditionally speaking this is the day Italians used to give and receive gifts. According to Italian tradition the Magi stopped at the home of an old witch Befana on their way to find the Christ Child hoping to get directions. They invited Befana a very ugly but very kind witch to join them on their quest to visit the Christ Child, but Befana was so intent on keeping her house clean that she turned them down. They went on their way. Later the shepherds came by and invited her to go with them to see the new baby, but still Befana chose to stay. Later Befana regretted her decision to stay home and clean house so she gathered toys that used to belong to her child who had died and she set out on her own to give gifts to the baby Jesus. Befana searched and searched but never found Jesus. So now every January the 5th Italian children hang stockings and Befana flies on her broom to each home bestowing gifts and candy to all the good children hoping to someday find Jesus. She also sweeps up the houses she visits, as she has her broom handy and loves a clean house. On January 6th Epiphany Italian children wake hoping to find goodies and not coal in their stockings. Now since the arrival of Papa Natale (Santa) in Italy the Italians get the joy of gifts on Christmas December 25th and then again on Epiphany January 6th, which marks the end of their winter holiday season.
Some say that the tradition of Befana actually stemmed out of an old Roman pagan tradition of going to visit an old woman to have your signs read during the festival of Saturnalia . As the Catholic Church altered many previously pagan celebrations it is thought that Befana took the place of the old woman.