Befana in Rome

Religious feast forms backdrop to day of cultural festivities and shopping in Rome.

Italians celebrate the religious feast of the Epiphany, or the more popular one of La Befana, on Friday 6 January. It is a public holiday across Italy and marks the official end of the Christmas season.

The city is holding the Viva la Befana event along Via della Conciliazione, leading up to St Peter's, at 10.00 on 6 January. Comprising 1,300 costumed figures, the parade is designed to combine Christian values with the folklore that the day evokes in Italy.

In the Bible tradition the feast of the Epiphany is when the three magi arrive in Bethlehem to visit the Christ child, an event celebrated by Pope Francis with a Mass in the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore at 17.00.

In the popular fairytale version the story goes that the wise men invited a witch, or strega, to join them on their journey to bring gifts to the Christ child. She initially refused, but then tried to follow them. Unable to find Jesus she gave the toys to other children. In Rome children hang stockings by windows or fireplaces in anticipation of her visit to receive sweets if they’ve been good or coal if they have misbehaved.

While public offices and schools are closed, it is traditionally a busy day for the capital’s retail sector. The post-Christmas sales season in Rome and the Lazio region begins on 5 January and will continue over the subsequent six weeks.

All of Rome’s civic museums are open on 6 January, for full details see Musei in Comune website.