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6th January 2017,

Throughout Italy the 6th of January is traditionally a gift giving holiday though in the rest of the world it is a bit of a quiet day. Decorations come down (or bad luck will fall), leaving rooms looking a bit sparse and bare. It’s back to work and for kids, it’s countless weeks of school until Easter. But in Italy, Epiphany is a cause for celebration and is celebrated all over the country. It’s a day that marks the 12th day of Christmas when Jesus received his gifts from the Three Wise Men. One of the most commonly known aspects of Epiphany is the old woman, La Befana, who comes bearing gifts of good for the well behaved kids and lumps of coal for the not so well behaved youngsters (although, to sweeten the mood, the coal tends to be a lump of coal-shaped candy), there is no Santa Claus in Italian tradition. Many areas put on special celebrations for the legend of the old woman who encountered the Wise Men on their route to the manger. She too wanted to offer a gift for the Christ Child and this is how she became in folkloric legend the one who bears gifts to children on Epiphany. Christmas Day remains a religious holiday, though a minor one in Roman Catholic tradition compared to Easter which is the most important religious holiday on the calendar.

A conventional take on the La Befana celebration is in Urbania, which really goes to town with a four-day spectacular during which kids can meet the lady herself in La Casa della Befana. Another familiar element of Epiphany is the Nativity, and a good number of regions act out the scene, following the living nativities of the Christmas period. One of the best known of the nativities is the one in Rivisondoli, which relives the moment in which the Wise Men arrived – and it does so on a large scale with lots of extras in costume and a genuine atmosphere.