An Extract, translated into English by Susan Rhoads and Bill Thayer, from Le Magasin Pittoresque, Published under the Direction of M. Édouard Charton, Volume VIII, Paris: Aux Bureaux d’Abonnement et de Vente, 1840; p. 24.
In France, gifts are given on New Year’s Day; in Rome, on Christmas. The main toy and candy shops, says the author of Un an à Rome, are decorated with garlands and tinsel. In the middle of the goods of every kind that are displayed for sale, an old woman is shown (now and then a man plays this role), in black clothing, with her face daubed with soot; this is the befana (hag, ghost,) who comes down the chimney at the hour when Jesus was born, in order to carry sweets to good children, and to punish bad little ones with a long switch. The letter that the befana is holding is supposed to have been written to her by a child, who had asked for the natale (Christmas) gift. Inside many Italian houses, the befana is seated under the mantel of the chimney.