In Italy, the Epiphany on January 6th is also known as “Little Christmas” and is a public holiday. Schools and most businesses are closed, but historically, stores are in full swing with after Christmas sales. Tradition holds that the night before Little Christmas, children hang stockings by their windows and fireplaces in the hopes that they will be filled with gifts in the morning. These gifts are not given by Santa Claus, but by an old soot-covered woman named La Befana.
This year, due to the pandemic, many of the major events have been postponed, but normally in Vatican City, the Epiphany includes a procession of hundreds of people in medieval costumes walking along the wide avenue that leads up to the Vatican, each carrying a symbolic gift for the Pope, who celebrates morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to commemorate the visit to Jesus by the Wise Men.
Florence’s Epiphany procession is called, Calvacata dei Magi, Cavalcade of the Magi and begins at the Pitti Palace in the early afternoon and proceeds across the river to the Duomo and flag throwers perform in the Piazza della Signoria. In Milan, an Epiphany Parade of the Three Kings takes place from the Duomo to the Church of Sant’Eustorgio, while in Abruzzo, Rivisondoli, a reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings is held on January 5th with hundreds of costumed participants. Many towns and villages in Italy have similar processions, although not as elaborate, ending with a living nativity scene, presepe vivente, where costumed people act out the parts of the nativity.