Before Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas, there was La Befana. The name means "giver of gifts" and is based on legendary tales of an old woman who gave sweet breads and treats to children. La Befana visits children during the Festival of the Three Kings. This is known as the twelve days of Christmas and extends from December 25 to January 6. January 6th is the Epiphany. In the country of Italy, the children leave their shoes outside their door. If they were good, La Befana will leave cakes in their shoes. In the country of Mexico, La Befana hides one last present. The children must search for their gifts. In the country of America, La Befana is unknown.
There are many versions of the story of La Befana. In these stories, she follows the three kings who follow the star over Bethlehem. The story ends with her search for the three kings. But there is one additional story. It is a story of how La Befana prevented Roman soldiers from following King Herod's command to murder male children under the age of two. It is a story of bravery and trickery; it is a story of faith and compassion. La Befana used her talents of cleaning and cooking to allow families and their children to leave Bethlehem in safety.