The Epiphany and the Start of the New Year

Con la festa dell’Epifania, comunemente nota anche come la Befana, in Italia si celebra la conclusione del periodo natalizio. Nell’immaginario collettivo, la Befana è una vecchia brutta e gobba, con il naso adunco e il mento aguzzo che vola a cavallo della sua scopa, vestita di stracci e coperta di fuliggine perché entra nelle case attraverso la cappa del camino la notte tra il 5 e il 6 gennaio (quando i Re Magi fecero visita a Gesù per offrirgli oro, incenso e mirra), per elargire dolcetti e caramelle ai bambini buoni e lasciare pezzi di carbone a quelli cattivi. Le origini della festa sono dal ricollegarsi alla parola greca Epifaneia, cioè “manifestazione” e si riferisce al primo manifestarsi dell’umanità e divinità di Gesù Cristo ai Re Magi.

Every year on January 6, the Epiphany is celebrated by Christian people in Western areas. The Epiphany marks the day of the Magi’s visit to baby Jesus. This day is also celebrated in many different cultures throughout the world on different dates. The holiday can also be called Three Kings’ Day or the Baptism of Jesus.

Different areas celebrate this holiday in a variety of ways. In Eastern Christian communities, this day only honors the Baptism of Jesus, while Western Christian communities use this day to honor both the Magi and Jesus’ Baptism. The Wedding at Cana is honored as well. The Wedding of Cana is a story about how Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine while attending a wedding with his mother and his disciples.

A large feast often takes place on this day and some individuals view the day as only one of many used to celebrate. The Epiphany occurs on the 12th day after Christmas and, similarly to a typical Christmas, gifts are exchanged. Singing, blessing one’s home, eating special desserts and cakes, and chalking one’s own door are some widely celebrated customs that take place. A “king cake” or “Three Kings Cake” is a traditional cake that some eat during this celebration in honor of the Magi.

In Italy, this day holds national importance. Schools and shops are closed and people come home to celebrate. The day also relates to an average Italian Christmas. Children often enjoy the gift-giving and food-eating aspect of the winter holidays. They may be more preoccupied with Befana the good Christmas witch, who gifts presents to well-behaved children at this time. Adults alike focus more on the religious standpoint and they celebrate more traditional and mature concepts.

People often parade the streets in Italy during this time. Large celebrations occur in Vatican City, including an important morning mass to show admiration to the Three Kings and their gifts to the baby Jesus. Parades occur with decorations, horses, music, and costumes. Festivals for both the Three Kings and Befana occur throughout this time. Some celebrations may even last for more than one day. Parades, boat races, concerts, and more occur during these festivals all across Italy to honor this national holiday.

A typical nativity scene located at a public or private area may be altered on this day as well. As per an old Italian tradition, some families may replace their images or figurines of shepherds within their Nativity Scene with the Magi, each holding their gift. The three gifts that were presented are famously known as frankincense, gold and myrrh.

The end of December does not quite mark the end of the Italian winter celebrations. More festivities are to be had and the end of the year does not signify the end of the long list of Italian winter festivals. With the Epiphany taking place at the beginning of the new year, there is much more to celebrate and honor as the days move on. Happy New Year!