Epiphany: a lesser known tradition

Caitlyn Feay, Staff Writer, Editor

On Jan. 6, the holiday Epiphany begins. It is also known as The Feast of the Epiphany, or Little Christmas. In my family, we call it Little Christmas. This is specifically a public Italian holiday, but it can be celebrated by anyone. Most people who don’t celebrate this holiday believe Christmas ends after Dec. 25, but Italians, like me, will disagree since we know that in 12 more days, Little Christmas will be celebrated. 

To recall Epiphany, it’s a story where the Three Wise Men travel to Jesus. They brought three specific gifts to him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are meant to symbolize different things, with gold showing he’s the king of all kings, frankincense representing his purity, and myrrh to remove evil spirits. 

We celebrate this holiday on Jan. 6 because it took 12 days for the Wise Men to travel. Celebrators of the holiday receive gifts in their stockings and traditionally get nuts, oranges, candy, toys, and coins. For my family, we also receive torrone candy (Italian nougat), specifically in orange, vanilla, and lemon. 

The tradition for us and others is not filling our Christmas stockings until the evening of Jan. 5, and opening them the following day. My family will go through the stockings first thing in the morning to make time for our other tasks. We also may have multiple stockings for each other and our pets. These stockings for all Italians are filled by La Befana, a good Italian lady witch. She is like an Italian Santa Claus.  

The Legend of La Befana is that she was sweeping her cottage during the time of the Wise Men traveling. “She was paid a visit by the Three Kings… They asked Befana for directions.” She ended up hosting them at her home, since the men had been traveling awhile. They asked if she wanted to join, but she declined. The next day after the Wise Men left, she realized she wanted to go and grabbed a broom and gifts for the child, but couldn’t catch up with them in time.

Italians say she is still trying to find the child, but bears gifts for nice children. Like Santa, she will also drop off things for naughty children like coal, garlic, onions, or even straw from her broom. She is also known to put some items in different shoes. Befana will wear a shawl covered with chimney soot, since that is her main entry point, and will sweep the house as an ode to “clearing out the old just as the new year is dawning.” 

Epiphany becomes more popular as the years go on, as in the new “The Santa Clauses” (Nov. 16, 2022) series streaming on Disney+, where the Italian witch (performed by Laura San Giacomo) appears in three of the six episodes. This was really exciting for my family to see, as Italians have received more representation for this holiday. 

As this soon-to-be celebrated holiday approaches, hopefully more will get to celebrate this historical holiday, and enjoy what it has to offer. Merry Little Christmas.