Marymount - International School Rome
Marymount - International School Rome
Marymount - International School Rome
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La Befana: an Epiphany tradition in Italy

La Befana, which coincides with the feast of the Epiphany on 6 January, is a public holiday in Italy.

Italians celebrate the religious feast of the Epiphany, or the more popular folklore version of La Befana, on 6 January which falls on a Saturday in 2024.

The Epiphany is a national holiday across Italy, with public offices closed, and marks the official end of the Christmas season.

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

Who is La Befana?

However in the popular fairytale version the story goes 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 initially refused, due to 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.

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

Befana dolls for sale in Christmas market. Photo credit: Only Fabrizio / Shutterstock.com.

The stockings are placed by windows or over fireplaces, with a glass of wine or some Christmas treats such as panettone or pandoro often left out as refreshments for La Befana.

Children who have been good normally receive sweets while those who have misbehaved will get lumps of coal - which these days can be black rock candy.

After depositing her gifts, the soot-covered old hag is known for sweeping up the house before hopping on her broomstick again.

What are the origins of La Befana?

The folklore tradition has been celebrated in Italy in one form or another for centuries, possibly growing out of ancient pagan rituals or descended from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strenia.

La Befana is most associated with central Italy and Rome - where the Christmas market in Piazza Navona is known by her name - but the custom spread to the rest of the country during the 20th century.

The Viva la Befana event returns to Rome in 2024, taking place from Via della Conciliazione to St Peter's Square at 10.00 on 6 January, before the Angelus with Pope Francis at midday.

Comprising costumed figures, camels and horses, the parade is designed to combine Christian values with the folklore that the day evokes in Italy.

La Befana 2024

As a national holiday and a holy day, public offices will be closed across Italy on Saturday 6 January 2024, with most schools reopening the following Monday. 

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