In the Italian folklore, "Befana" is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to Santa Claus.
The old lady character should then represent the old year just passed, ready to be burned in order to give place to the new one.
The Befana is celebrated throughout all of Italy, and has become a national icon.
On the 6th of January, in Prato della Valle in Padua, my city, the sparks of the fire went east. So this year 2013 should be a good one! Fingers crossed!
There are poems about Befana, which are known in slightly different versions throughout Italy. Here is one of the versions:
La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!
The English translation is:
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!