The celebration of Epiphany, or the 12th day of Christmas, falls on January 6 and may have originated in the eastern half of the Roman Empire to commemorate the baptism of Jesus. It was then introduced in Western Christianity where it got religious contents in part different, as the celebration of the wedding feast of Cana and the visit of the magi in the cave of Bethlehem. In the end, this last aspect prevailed, taking the place of previous folkloristic traditions.
In the Eastern world, it was believed that a new star would appear in the sky every time a great king was born. To confirm and legitimate his sovereignty were the magi, great wisemen and high priests who, for their knowledge and ability of interpreting omens and events, they had a great political and religious influence. The light of the comet, never seen before, guided the Magi to the Child and they worshipped him and recognized in him a Man, a King and God.
They offered him three gifts: gold (as a symbol of kingship on earth), frankincense (as a symbol of deity) and myrrh (an embalming oil, used to preserve the human body from corruption). In this way the threefold office of the Messiah was honored and the entire world knew the prodigy of that birth.
The truth is that the only Canonical text we have of them is the second chapter in the Gospel of Matthew: “the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” This celebration determined the birth of the popular figure called “Befana” who delivered gifts and a supplement special to children and lets this celebration end.
Befana is folkloristic character linked to Christmas celebrations, typical of some Italian regions and then spread in the entire peninsula, less known to the rest of the world. The ancient Romans, between the end of December and January 6, thought that the Goddess Diana would fly on farmed fields to make them fecund, bringing to the little ones fruits and sweets.
According to tradition, Befana flew on a broom to visit children in the nihgt between January 5 and 6 and filled the stocking left by the, , hang on the chimney or next to a window ; generally children who were good during the year receive sweets, candies dried fruit and little toys. On the contrary, whose who had been bad are going to find their stockings filled with coal or onion.
What to do in Rome on the twelfth Night? It is now a tradition to get to Piazza Navona. Even though you won’t find the traditional stands of Befana, you won’t be disappointed at all: to the right of the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone are 12 game and entertainment stands and the traditional Carousel.
If you happen to be in that place, if you can, visit “Al Sogno”, the famous toy shop that will astonish you with many “little Befane” hung around making you breath the same Christmas athmosphere of when you were children.
If you want to intruce the magi to your Children, there is a unmissable rendezvous with the historical procession “Viva La Befana”: 1300 extras in costume, a Roman chariot, horses and fantastic scenic designs will walk along Via della Conciliazione, in Rome, to get to Piazza San Pietro.
Following the Magi, groups of historical remembrance,