You’ll want to wake up early on January 6th for the Italian holiday La Befana to see what she’s left you.
The fairytale of La Befana tells of the 3 wise men who invited a witch to join them to bring gifts to the baby Jesus, but she refused. After changing her mind, she was unable to find Jesus and instead gave all of her gifts to the other children.
La Befana is the original Italian Santa Clause. But far from the jolly old man that surprises you through your chimney, La Befana is an old, wrinkly woman that travels around on her broom visiting the homes of sleeping children the night of January 5th. In the morning all Italian children wake up early to check out the stockings they left by the window or the fireplace to see what she’s left for them. Good little boys and girls are rewarded with gifts and candy, but bad little boys and girls instead receive – you guessed it – black coal.
La Befana is a national holiday that celebrates the Roman Catholic Feast of the Epiphany – the day the wise men arrived in Bethlehem. It’s the final feast day of the widely celebrated Italian winter holiday season, which means the city will bustle with a bit more activity than a normal Friday. Many shops and restaurants will be closed to observe the holiday as well as some of the smaller museums. Check the official Musei in Comune Website for holiday hours for the main museums.
What to do in Rome for La Befana in Rome
After your morning cappuccino and cornetto, take a short walk to nearby Piazza Navona or St. Peter’s Square.
The La Befana holiday is host to several large public celebrations starting as early as 10am, including large parades, live music and festival stalls in Piazza Navona and St. Peter’s Square. Parades feature the 3 wise men and the old, witch herself. Meanwhile the festivals feature local craftsmen, warm drinks, and street fare. It doesn’t hurt that it all takes place in some of the most beautiful public spaces in the world.
Once you’ve had enough fun shaking hands with the wise men and La Befana, hit some of the best shopping streets in Rome to take advantage of the annual winter saldi, or city-wide sales. For 10 days, from February 5-15, nearly every store in Rome offers deals to make room for summer stock. Near Piazza Navona, it’s just a short walk to the shopping streets of Piazza di Spagna, like Via del Corso, Via dei Condotti, Via Babuino, and Via di Ripetta. Near the Vatican, meander over to the very chic and elegant Via Cola di Rienzo, a lovely high-end, tree-lined shopping street.
Following your holiday retail therapy session, a quick stop back at your vacation apartment to drop off your purchases, and then head to attend or catch a glimpse of the festive 5pm holiday Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore with Pope Francis. The Basilica is located just a few minutes walking from Termini train station, easily accessible from Piazza Navona by the bus (the 40 and 64 run along Via del Corso), or just a few stops from the Ottaviano metro stop near the Vatican.
A walk around the Santa Maria Maggiore area makes for a lovely sunset activity, with it’s characteristic narrow streets. Check out the neighborhood and even stop for an aperitivo or dinner (check out a few of our suggestions from our favorite places for an aperitivo in Monti or favorite restaurants in the Monti neighborhood). End the evening with a nighttime stroll around the Colosseum and Via dei Fori Imperiali before heading back to your cosy vacation apartment.
Did you spend La Befana in Rome? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!