On the 6th of January, Italy celebrates the Befana, also known as the Epiphany. The feast of the Epiphany is an important post-Christmas celebration that commemorates the moment when the Three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing gifts for baby Jesus.
When folk legends and religion come together
t's not unusual for urban legends mix with religious traditions, giving life to a whole new custom of a city or even an entire country. According to Italian folklore, while the Three Wise Men were on their way to Bethlehem, they stopped at the house of an old woman to ask directions. The three kings invited the old lady to join them on their journey, but she refused, saying she was too busy. Later that night, the woman saw a bright light in the sky. As soon as she understood what it was, she decided to follow the three wise men but got lost and never found the manger.
Now la Befana flies around on her broomstick each year, looking for Baby Jesus and leaving gifts for kids on the night before the Epiphany, hoping to find the newborn king. Italian children hang their stockings on the night of the 5th of January, hoping to get presents and sweets from the flying Befana. Those who have been good during the year receive lots of presents and candy, while those who fell a bit short of a model behaviour will find lumps of coal in their stockings.
What to do in Rome when the Befana is in town
If you’re in Rome, you’ll find the Befana HQ right in city centre, in Piazza Navona. What is one of the most beautiful piazzas in the city, is filled with Christmas markets during the holiday season. Here you’ll also find an authentic Roman Befana, going around the Piazza with her broom and taking pictures with kids.
On January 6th, Rome celebrates the Epiphany with a unique parade. The 35th edition of the Viva La Befana will take place on Via della Conciliazione just before the Angelus with Pope Francis the same day.
If you're in town and have time, I recommend you try and catch it: you’ll see a wave of people dress up like Ancient Romans, medieval soldiers, but also like the Befana itself, in the intent of combining the Christian values of the Feast with the folkloristic side of it.
Saldi season and shopping
Even if the Befana is a feast thought for children especially, even grownups can have some fun on the 6th of Januray. Once you’ve had enough of taking pictures of Befanas with broomsticks, and shaking hands with wisemen, take advantage of the winter Saldi (city wide sales). Take a stroll through Via del Corso and Via Condotti; you’ll see that almost every store in Rome offers unbelievable deals to make room for the spring and summer collections.
Let me know if you had the chance to meet the Befana and receive a special something!