Christmas in Italy is definitely a big deal on the calendar, but Epiphany – January 6 – is equally big. This holiday marks the moment when Christians believe Jesus Christ was revealed to be the son of God. As you can imagine, this is an especially important date on the calendar in Vatican City. It’s the final celebration of the Christmas season.
Leading up to the big day, you may be confused by the predominant decor associated with the holiday – a haggard old witch on a broomstick. No, this isn’t some strange Italian religious icon. It’s actually “La Befana,” the witch who flies around the night before Epiphany depositing gifts in the stockings of good Italian girls and boys. (Sound familiar?) Some think that the word “befana” derived from the Italian word for Epiphany, but whatever the origin, La Befana has added a secular element to the holiday.
Specifically in Vatican City, the Pope gives a morning mass on Epiphany in St. Peter’s Basilica, and there’s also parade of people in medieval garb who represent the three wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. Epiphany is a national holiday throughout Italy, with many attractions, shops, and restaurants closing for the day. Be sure to plan ahead – find restaurants that will be open that day so you’ll have a place to eat dinner, or pick up provisions at the market for a hotel-room picnic.