Italians celebrate the religious feast of the Epiphany, or the more popular one of La Befana, on Sunday 6 January 2019. It is a public holiday across Italy and marks the official end of the Christmas season.
The 34rd edition of the Viva la Befana event takes place on Via della Conciliazione, leading up to St Peter's, at 10.00 on 6 January. Comprising costumed figures, camels and horses, 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 St Peter's 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, according to tradition, 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.
As a national holiday, public offices will closed but as the feast day falls on a Sunday this year it won't make much difference. The post-Christmas sales season in Rome and the Lazio region begins the day before, on 5 January, and continues over the subsequent six weeks.
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