Italian Celebrations: The Holiday You Might Not Know About
The blur of the holiday season may seem to be fading into the background, but the Italian celebrations continue for one more day- La Epifania.
The Epiphany takes place on 6 January (the 12th day of Christmas), and is a national holiday in Italy. While Babbo Natale has the 25th of December covered, the real star of the season is La Befana, who visits on the night of January 5th.
Legend has it that La Befana helped the Three Wise Men with directions. On their way to visit the manger in Bethlehem, the Three Wise Men came upon La Befana while she was sweeping and cleaning her house and asked her to guide them. She sent them in the right direction, but declined their invitation to join their pilgrimage because she had too many chores to attend to.
After they left, La Befana regretted staying home to clean. She gathered up some gifts for the new baby, and took off hoping to catch up with the group. She never did find the Three Wise Men, but she still sets out every 5th of January to deliver gifts to boys and girls in Italy and beyond.
In Italy, Children leave out their shoes and stockings on the night of the 5th, in hopes that La Befana will fill them with treats. However, naughty children live in fear of finding coal instead of candy.
At first glance, La Befana looks more set for Halloween than for the Epiphany. She wears a hat, broken down old shoes, has a crooked nose and rides a broom! However, La Befana is no witch, and she is widely celebrated rather than feared. She only rides a broom because she is taking a break from cleaning.
If you are expecting a visit from La Befana tonight, be sure to leave out something to eat and she will even sweep your floor before she leaves. But skip the milk and cookies—La Befana prefers wine with her biscotti!
Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.