Visiting Tuscany in December – Don’t miss the Befana Festival! (Updated 2022)
From December 16th to January 5th, Tuscany slips into its most festive colours and welcomes visitors with many different features such as parades, festivals, performances, and customs such as eating Panettone bread dipped in chocolate and drinking hot cocoa with cinnamon sticks! Oh, yes! There is also a very special and hugely popular holiday tradition – the Befana Festival – that has been celebrated for over 500 years! What is this event all about? Who else? Befana, a witch that is unlike any evil creature we have been narrated in our younger years when knights in shiny armours rushed to the rescue of beautiful princesses! We’ll tell you everything about it in just a moment.
A witch that is far from evil!
The Befana Festival in Siena is, at heart, a celebration of the three kings coming to visit the baby Jesus on the night before Christmas. According to the legend, the Three Wise Men asked directions from an old woman living in a shack to find Baby Jesus’ manger. After receiving guidance from that old lady, they invited her to come along with them. She denied, though, claiming that she was swamped at that time. Later that night, she changed her mind after seeing the bright star in the sky and wanted to join the Kings and gift Baby Jesus with items belonging to her late child. Unfortunately, she got lost and never made it to the manger. From that night onward, the tale says she is flying on her broomstick, bringing presents to children, hoping to find Baby Jesus. All this happens the night before Epiphany (January 5th).
Other narratives place Befana on her broomstick the night of January 5th dressed in a black gown and pointy hat, delivering sweets and toys to good children and coal to naughty ones. This somewhat relates to Santa Claus rewarding well-behaved children on Christmas Eve with gifts while giving no presents to the badly-behaved ones.
Although the tradition of the Befana has been around for centuries and had a strictly religious character, new additions have been added in recent decades, turning it more into a family celebration and including an Olympics-style race between witches. This event includes three different races: one-legged races, sack races, and a traditional race. The winner gets a prize of 100 euros from the townspeople, and everyone celebrates with hot chocolate!
This festive event is not only wildly popular among locals but also visitors who flock to this event from all over the world. Can’t blame them. The festival is full of culture, family fun, and tradition – a superb combination for a heart-pleasing holiday or short visit!
How did it all Begin?
Some people say that the Befana tale evolved from Saturnalia, a two-week Roman pagan festival that took place at the Temple of Juno (Capitoline Hill) before the winter solstice. During this event, the Romans would go to the temple to have an old crone read their fortunes. Over the years, this (somehow) gave birth to the Bafana Festival all Italians (and not only) celebrate with profound joy and anticipation.
Joining the Festival
Two major festivities take place between January 2-6. The first is a 4-day La Befana festival that unfolds at Urbania, a town in the Le Marche region, and is the most glorious one. During the event, children visit La Casa Della Befana and meet the witch, trying to convince her that they deserve a present from her. The second one is a naval festival called Regata delle Befane, where boat owners dressed as La Befana enter the Belfane races on the Grand Canal of Venice on Epiphany Day (January 6th).
Whether you decide to take part in this exciting party or not, visiting Tuscany in December has a lot to give you and a ton of fun hours with your family, friends, or partner! It’s up to you to choose which delicious flair your Tuscany visit will have! Choose your luxury and stylish villa close to Siena or elsewhere in Tuscany and spoil yourself with the plethora of charms this blessed land offers so generously.