In Italy, Santa Claus (i.e. “Babbo Natale”, literally ‘Father Christmas’) is not the only Christmas gift-giver: in many Italian towns, kids have their presents and goodies delivered by other legendary beings, who visit different areas of Italy on different occasions.
In the area of Mantua (and in Brescia, Bergamo, Verona, Parma and Modena as well) nice kids are awarded with gifts by Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy).
According to the tradition, in the days before her Feast, the Saint descends from heaven and, escorted by a faithful donkey, Lucia goes around every house, observing the behaviour of kids. But children have to be very careful, as it is forbidden to see the Saint! So Lucia warns everybody about her arrival, ringing a small bell during her visits.
Children that break the ban and watch the Saint are punished: Lucia throws ash in their eyes, making them blind.
Finally, during the night between 12th and 13th December, on the eve of her Feast, Santa Lucia pays her last yearly visit to earth, entering in every house. Here she finds a little breakfast, prepared for her by the kids, and a bowl of hay for her donkey. In return, Lucia leaves gifts and goodies for the nice children (and ash and coal for the naughty ones).
So, if you are planning your visit to Mantua in mid-December, you better watch out – I’m telling you why: Santa Lucia is coming to town.