La Befana in Rome

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

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

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 St Peter's Basilica at 10.00.

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. For almost a century the story has been reenacted each year in Piazza Navona, which hosts a series of cultural events — mainly aimed at children — throughout the day.

While public offices and schools are closed, it is traditionally a busy day for the capital's retail sector, with the post-Christmas sales season in full swing. This year sales began in Rome and the Lazio region on 3 January and continue over the subsequent six weeks.

All of Rome's civic museums are open on 6 January as well as a number of other cultural institutions; for full details see city website. Via dei Fori Imperiali, the street between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, remains closed to traffic until 7 January. For full transport details on 6 January see the Muoversi a Roma website.