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Italy celebrates La Befana tradition in Rome

Italy marks 6 January with a public holiday.

Rome's festive season comes to an end on Saturday 6 January, a national public holiday in Italy, with the arrival of La Befana in Piazza Navona in the city's historic centre.

The event, which begins at 10.30, will see the witch-like character "fly" into the piazza from the belltower of the church of S. Agnese in Agone, against the backdrop of live music performed by the Italian fire brigade band.

A firefighter dressed as La Befana will glide through the sky on a broomstick, dishing out sweets to children on arrival in the piazza below.

The family-friendly event marks the end of the festive season in Rome and comes on the last day of the Christmas market in Piazza Navona.

Each year on 6 January, Italy celebrates the religious feast of the Epiphany, or the more popular folklore version of La Befana.

In the Bible tradition the Epiphany is when the Three Wise Men arrive in Bethlehem bearing gifts for Baby Jesus on the 12th day of Christmas.

The fairytale version however tells that the wise men invited a witch-like woman, or strega, to join them on their journey to bring gifts to the Christ child.

She refused initially, being too busy with housework, but then tried to follow them. Unable to find Jesus, the kind-hearted Befana gave the toys to other children.

Despite the modern tradition of Santa Claus, La Befana remains adored by Italian children who hang up their stockings in anticipation of presents on the night between 5 and 6 January.

For details of Befana-related events in Rome this weekend see the city website.

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