The Befana tradition in Rome
The traditional figure of the Befana is represented as an old benevolent witch who flies at night on a broom, dispensing toys, sweets and charcoal to the children, breaking into houses by the chimneys. Linked to the Christian feast of the Epiphany, the “Befana” is a very popular tradition in Rome. Until the 1960s the Epiphany party was very popular among children who were the principal beneficiaries of the ritual to leave gifts within a sock. From the 1970s the figure of Santa Claus was introduced: over the years it has obscured the old Befana in the collective imagination.
The story of the “Befana”
The Befana, unlike Santa Klaus, is profoundly linked to myths that date back to the paganism of ancient Rome, when propitiatory rites for agriculture were celebrated, identifying the moment of winter awakening in the winter solstice. At that time it was believed that a female divinity, perhaps Diana the huntress, flew over the fields making them fertile. These pagan rites were condemned by Christianity, which he saw in the Epiphany, a festival exclusively linked to the figure of the Christ who appears to the world, symbolized by the visit of the Magi.
Meanwhile, the figure of the Goddess was replaced with that of an old Witch flying at night on a broom. Since the nineteenth century, the feast of the Befana became very popular in Rome, young and old went to Piazza Sant’Eustachio, where they celebrated loudly among shops full of sweets, toys and witch’s puppets.
The sock of the Befana
A final curiosity concerns the custom of hanging the socks to the fireplace, to find it full of sweets. According to the popular narrative in their journey to Bethlehem, the Magi asked for directions to an old woman who refused to help them, not believing in the birth of Jesus.
However, after a few days she repented and to be forgiven she began to run from house to house offering sweets and gifts to the children in the hope that one of them was Jesus. The old woman was very poor: the patched clothes and the worn-out shoes with the long wanderings. So the locals decided to hang up shoes and socks to pay off so much effort.
Celebrate the Befana in Rome
On Epiphany day it is traditional to go to Piazza Navona, where there is the most famous Christmas market in Rome: stalls for adults and children, full of sweets, games and handicrafts, will colour the most beautiful Baroque square in Rome.
Parade “viva la Befana”
On Epiphany Day, the traditional “Viva la Befana” show will be held in via della Conciliazione starting at 10.00: colorful sets and costumes are designed by different cities each year to represent the universality of Epiphany, which at the same time contains religious and folkloristic aspects. This year the cities that organize the parade are part of the Monti Prenestini community: the Magi, together with the mayors of the cities, will bring special gifts to children who have come to visit, recalling the tradition and culture of their land.
Before the procession will take place the traditional bicycle ride following the Befane, who for the occasion will be transported on three luxurious historic cars.
Befana at the Mercato Centrale
For the sweet lovers appointment at the Mercato Centrale, the new large space dedicated to food inside Termini Station: only on the occasion of the Epiphany party special shop completely dedicated to Epiphany specialties will open: children will find socks and sweets of all kinds. Via Giovanni Giolitti 36, from 10.00.
Befana at the Castle
In the marvelous Odescalchi Castle of Bracciano the feast of Epiphany will be celebrated in a special way, with a didactic path between history and legend, animated by actors and puppets. An exciting journey into a fantasy world made up of images, sounds, music and words dedicated to children.
Contact us to organize a visit or a fun experience during the holidays in Rome!