The Epiphany: The Night When Animals Speak

The Epiphany is a cherished holiday in Italy that is rich with traditions, legends, and other strange events. It is the closing chapter of the Italian Christmas season and is usually the time when families take down their Christmas trees and pack up their presepi until next Christmas.


The Epiphany, which takes place on January 6, marks the day the three Wise Men arrived at Jesus’ manger. This important religious event is also tied to the legend of La Befana, a much celebrated character in Italian folklore who is presented as an ugly old witch with a crooked nose. On the eve before the Epiphany, La Befana takes to the sky on her broomstick and visits the homes of little children who have eagerly left their socks out by the chimney in hopes of finding it full the next day. La Befana is known to bring candy and small gifts to good children and lumps of coal to bad ones.


You may ask, what does La Befana have to do with the Three Wise Men and the baby Jesus? Well, there is an old legend, which we’ve written about in the past and you can read about here. The story and the tradition of La Befana is a huge part of the Christmas holiday season throughout Italy.

La Befana isn’t the only mystical thing about the Epiphany. Did you know that the eve before the Epiphany is believed to be a magical night, a night where the unexpected can happen?

In Calabria, I’ve heard people talk about a rather peculiar superstition where on the eve before the Epiphany, people make sure to give their animals some extra TLC and a special meal or treat because it is said the animals can speak on this magical night and if they are not content they may put a curse on their masters.

There is a story that is heard in the town of Bisignano, located in the Province of Cosenza in Calabria, of a curious and skeptical farmer who wanted to see if this strange occurrence was in fact true. He decided to spend the night before the Epiphany in his barn and fell asleep on a haystack. At midnight, the farmer awoke to voices. He overheard the donkey say to the ox “We have eaten more than usual because tomorrow we have to work. We should send our master to the cemetery”. The farmer, frozen with terror, fled towards his home, but he never quite made it, because as soon as he arrived at the front door of his house, he died. Yikes! I guess now he knows!

So, do you celebrate the Epiphany with your family? Do you know any other traditions or legends tied to this holiday? Share your thoughts on the My Bella Vita Facebook Page.

Image Credits: La Befana, Waiting for the Word