On January 5th, the Piazza Navona opens up to a fair of toys, sweets, and other presents among the beautiful Bernini fountains. Nearly two weeks after Christmas, celebrations are still in full swing as the Piazza becomes a huge open air market for stocking fillers for La Befana (the Italian equivalent of ‘Santa Claus’) when she visits on the night of the 5th January.
Specialties include toffee apples, traditional giant doughnuts, candy canes, sweet ‘carbon lumps’, and virtually every other type of sweet imaginable. Chidren can play on the giant Carousel, traditionally placed in the centre of the Piazza. On the night of the 5th, La Befana herself pays the children a visit before flying off on her broomstick to visit all the children of Italy while they sleep, leaving each one gifts and sweets.
The story of La Befana has religious ties, and describes an old woman who was known for spending her days cooking and cleaning her small home, who on the verly first Christmas, was visited by the three wise men was had stopped by her house to ask for directions to Bethlehem. The old woman took pity on the men who were tired and still had a long journey ahead of them, so asked them to stay the night.
During dinner, they told her that they were going to visit the Christ child and asked her if she would like to join them. She declined, as she still had dishes to wash, floors to sweep and chores to do. The next moring, after the men said their goodbyes and went on their way, the old woman suddenly regretted her decision to stay behind and so ever since, on the 5th January- the eve of the Epiphany- she has gone to visit every home with children to leave behind a small gift, hoping that one of them is the Christ child.
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