The Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated January 6 with a national holiday in Italy, and the tradition of la Befana are a big part of Italian Christmas celebrations. Epiphany commemorates the 12th day of Christmas when the three Kings arrived with gifts for Baby Jesus.
Traditionally Christmas holiday season ends in Italy with Epiphany.
This celebration includes a story where a witch known as La Befana, who arrives on her broomstick during the night of January 5 and fills the stockings with toys and sweets for the good children and coal (sweet!) for the bad ones.
The origins of La Befana go back to the Roman’s pagan festival of Saturnalia, a one or two week festival starting just before the winter solstice. At the end of Saturnalia, Romans would go to the Temple of Juno on the Capitoline Hill to have their augers read by an old crone. Many pagan traditions were incorporated into Christmas celebrations when Christianity became the main religion.
How is Epiphany Celebrated in Italy?
Almost everywhere in Italy you can find celebrations for la Befana on Jan 6.
Many towns and villages in Italy have processions ending with a living nativity scene, presepe vivente, where costumed people act out the parts of the nativity. There are also a lot of men and women dressed as la Befana, going around the streets, giving candies to the kids.
The town of Urbania, in Le Marche region, holds a 4-day festival for La Befana from January 2-6, one of the biggest celebrations around the Country.
La Regata delle Bafane is held in Venice on January 6. Men dressed as La Befana race in boats on the Grand Canal.
In Rome the historical Christmas Market of Piazza Navona is a must-do experience on Jan 6: well-known for its artisan Christmas decorations and located in the oval-shaped Piazza Navona, on Epiphany day kids gather to get candies, chocolates and gifts from la Befana .
The Pope says a morning mass in St Peter’s Basilica to commemorate the visit of the Kings bearing gifts for Jesus.
Milan holds an Epiphany Parade of the Three Kings from the Duomo to the church of Sant’Eustorgio.
Learn more about Italian traditions with Fantastica Italia!