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James Tissot – The Magi Journeying (Les Rois Mages en Voyage) 1894

Learning the Unique Italian Way of Celebrating the Epiphany

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Christmas Day ushers in the twelve days of celebration, ending on January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day. It commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Infant Jesus. The Three Kings or Three Wise Men, are mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. They are described as distinguished gentlemen who visited Jesus after his birth, bringing Our Savior the well-known gifts of goldfrankincense and myrrh. They were of noble birth, educated, wealthy and influential. They have been described as philosophers, counselors of rulers and learned in the wisdom of the ancient East.

The Church celebrates the solemnity of the Epiphany as a religious feast that brings a perfect fulfillment to the birth of Christ. In Italy, it is customary to replace the images of the shepherds at the crib with the Three Kings and their gifts. Throughout the country there are celebrations, not only of La Befana, but of the Procession of the Magi. In Rome there is a historical parade with over 100 participants dressed in ancient costumes and 20 decorated horses accompanied by a musical band that passes through Via della Conciliazione, following the Three Kings.

Florence hosts the Calvacata dei Magi. This procession usually starts at the Pitti Palace in the early afternoon and crosses the river to the Duomo. Horns and drums fill the street. The Three Magi march in line, followed by the Holy Family and flag throwers perform in Piazza della Signoria.

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Further north in the region of Lombardy, Milan holds an Epiphany parade of the Three Kings from the Duomo to the Church of Sant’Eustorgio. While to the south in Abruzzo, Rivisondoli celebrates the Epiphany with a re-enactment of the arrival of the Three Kings. Hundreds of participants wear costumes and parade to recreate the historic day.

In the far south, the Epiphany is celebrated with presepi viventi (live Nativity scenes) in many places throughout Sicily. You will find towns such as Custonaci, near Trapani and Balata di Baida, near Castellammare del Golfo, hosting processions of the Three Kings, as well as celebrations in Ispica, Noto, Caltagirone and Piana degli Albanesi, to name just a few.

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