The Befana: Italy’s Epiphany Celebration

The Befana: Italy’s Epiphany Celebration

Hang up your stockings on January 6th, as Rome celebrates the beloved tradition of the Befana.

January 6th holds significance in various cultures as the Epiphany, a religious celebration commemorating the arrival of the Three Magi to Jesus. In Italy, this day is a national holiday, signifying the end of the Christmas season.

However, on January 6th, Italy embraces another cherished folklore tradition: the Befana.

Who is the Befana?

The Befana is an elderly woman, a good and kind witch. Similarly to Santa Claus, on the night between the 5th and 6th of January she visits children and fills their stockings with candychocolate, and toys. If kids have been naughty, they might get a piece of coal instead.

The Befana flies on a broom in the night sky, carrying a bag full of goodies. She wears old clothes, as an Italian rhyme says: “la Befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte” (the Befana comes at night, with her shoes all tattered and torn).

In anticipation of her arrival, Italian children leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for the Befana.

The Befana: Italy’s Epiphany Celebration

History of the Befana 

The name Befana is believed by some to have originated from the word Epiphany (Italian: Epifania). According to one tale, the Three Magi, or Three Wise Men, invited an old woman to accompany them on their journey to present gifts to baby Jesus. Though she initially declined, she later tried to follow them on her broom. Unable to find Jesus, she instead gave her toys to other children.

Another theory suggests that the Befana has roots in Roman folklore, particularly tied to a Roman holiday dedicated to Giano and Strenia, where gifts were exchanged.

Regardless of its true origins, the Befana is a timeless figure in Italian folklore. Until the 1960s, the day of the Befana was when Italian children received their Christmas gifts!

The Befana: Italy’s Epiphany Celebration

How to Celebrate Befana in Rome

While the celebration of the Befana is observed throughout Italy, it holds particular significance in Rome and central Italy.

On Epiphany Day in Rome, head to Piazza Navona for the famous Christmas market. You’ll find stalls with candy, toys, and crafts for both adults and children. The Befana herself will be there, with gifts and treats for all the kids, making it a joyful family moment, with performances and music.

Keep in mind that January 6th is a public holiday in Italy, meaning offices will be closed. However, most shops in the city center will remain open.

Don’t forget to join the celebrations by hanging up your stocking!

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