La Befana is a witch-like character who arrives in Italy – much like our Santa Claus – on the night of 5th/6th January to give presents to children (or coal to those who’ve been a bit naughtier – although sweetie coal was much in evidence!), Her name may be a corruption of Epiphany: she is associated with the three Kings (pictured above) who arrived on that day to see the baby Jesus. Tradition holds that those kings asked her to go with them, but she was too busy, and has been making up for that ever since by continuing to look for the Nativity scene, and giving presents to children. Her broomstick is a sign of her domestic skills – so quite a different way to look at a witch than I was used to growing up!
For the last few decades, La Befana (and Epiphany) has been celebrated with a parade along the Via della Concilazione from Castel Sant’Angelo to St Peter’s Basilica. Different towns take it in turns to lead the parade – this year it was the turn of Leonessa – north west of Rome, in the province of Rieti.
The parade ends at St Peter’s – where at 8.30 the queues to get in to see the service following the parade were already in place, and people were admiring the life size Nativity scene.
The parade itself kicked off just after 10.30, and lasted for around an hour. Led by current dignitaries and uniformed services, there’s a real spread of Roman history represented, with everything from emperors to Roman soldiers, Vestal virgins and more.
We were even treated to a bit of a display by Roman soldiers (complete with dog and small child!)
Leonessa’s part of the parade was all colour-coordinated with their banners and gorgeous Renaissance costumes, as well as celebrations of modern businesses..Here;s a few flavours of that…
Here’s a few more sounds from the day captured in Vines..
La Befana, as well as leading in the three Kings, also found some more different ways to travel – including via a Bentley from where she dispensed sweets to children in the crowd..