Celebrated on January 6, Epiphany is an important holiday in Italy, a nation of deep Christian roots.
Epiphany is traditionally held as the day that the Three Kings or Wise Men brought gifts to the infant Jesus in the manger. This day is also celebrated with gift giving. In southern Italy and Sicily, children wake up on the morning of January 6 to gifts that have been left for them by the wise men or kings. In other parts of Italy, it is La Befana that has left them their Epiphany morning gifts.
La Befana is similar to Santa Claus in the playfulness of the gift giving and naughty-or-nice traditions of both characters. La Befana leaves toys, sweets and small gifts in a child’s sock, similar to Santa, with lumps of coal left for naughty children. Some traditions say that when she comes to deliver gifts to children, swooping down chimneys on her broom, that she also sweeps the floor, brushing away last year’s problems with any chimney soot she may have left while filling socks.
Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, bringing one of Christianity’s most important holiday seasons to a close. There are many public celebrations, including one at the Vatican. It is a beautiful ritual. People wear clothing in Middle Age styles and formally present gifts honoring those of the Magi, the three Wise Men, to the Pope. There are Epiphany parades and street fairs to celebrate the day, as well as boat races in the Great Canal of Venice. The racers dress up as La Befana.