Italy’s January 6 Holiday: The Epiphany and La Befana

The Christmas season doesn’t really end until Italy’s January 6 holiday – L’epifania, or the Epiphany.

But more colloquially, Italy’s January 6 holiday is known as La Befana.

The Epiphany is a religious holiday which has become a national holiday in Italy. That means that businesses, schools and governments offices will all close to observe the day. If January 6th falls on a weekend, this day off is usually observed on the Friday or the Monday closest to the date.

Within the Catholic Church, the Feast of the Epiphany is based on the tale of the three Wise Men (also known as Kings or Magi) brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to baby Jesus. In the Catholic Church, this is the 12th day of Christmas.

The Vatican will mark the day with a special mass and a parade of faithful bearing symbolic gifts for the Pope.

But in all of Italy, January 6 is a holiday spent with family – and the focus is always on the children.

The day is known as “La Befana” here because there is a legend that the three wise men stopped along the route to Jerusalem and invited an old woman (La Befana) to join them in their journey to bring gifts to the manger.

La Befana, however, turned them down and has always regretted not bringing presents to baby Jesus.

In Italy, Befana is as beloved as Santa Claus. Yes, she looks like a Christmas witch, but she flies around on that broom dropping off gifts to all the children of Italy.

La Befana comes on the night of January 5th, and leaves gifts in stockings or shoes.

For Italian kids, La Befana is arguably bigger than Christmas when it comes to gift getting, and the morning of January 6th comes with lots of excitement (and sometimes even a parade through town).

Have you ever celebrated Italy’s January 6th holiday? Do you leave your shoes out for La Befana?

9 thoughts on “Italy’s January 6 Holiday: The Epiphany and La Befana

  1. Natasha says:

    By any chance, is that probably WHY our country hangs Christmas stockings???

    (And for some strange reason, they now get included in OUR Christmas deco??)

  2. N. Mocanu says:

    You forgot to mention the AMAZING sales and discounts leading up to La Befana.

    Also, the wisemen were headed to Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. 😊


    I absolutely love how Italy embraces the feminine aspects of religion. There are statues of Madonna in every town, displayed on the corners of buildings and in parades at Easter. And now this generous witch Bafana, who would’ve been the 4th Wise Person. How marvelous!

  4. Deborah Gilbert says:

    La Befana was a very fun part of our Christmas visit to Rome; an even more (if that’s possible!) exquisite city over the holidays. Thank you so much Natalie for all of your great advice. From midnight mass to Christmas World and more – we did it all! The city-wide crèches are amazing and right now, a Befana Christmas ornament sits on our tree at home as a constant reminder of a very special holiday.

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