Christmas stories seen through children's eyes Christmas in the countries of Europe - Page 12

December 26, (St. Stephen's Day, in Italian Giorno di Santo Stefano), is also a public holiday in Italy. Festivities extend to the end of the year and then to Epiphany. the On January 6 (Epiphany, in Epifania) Italian decorations are usually taken down, and in some areas female puppets are burned on a pire (called "falò"), to symbolize, along with the end of the Christmas period, the death of the old year and the beginning of a new one. While gifts are now given at Christmas by an American style Santa Claus as well, Italy holds fast to its tradition of native gift-givers. On the eve of the 6th, la Befana, the good Epiphany witch, is thought to ride the night skies on broomstick, bringing good children gifts and sweets, and bad ones charcoal or bags of ashes. In other areas it is the Three Wise Men who bring gifts, especially oranges symbolizing gold, and chocolate symbolizing their kisses to good children. In some municipalities, most famously in Milan, the custom of the "Corteo dei Re Magi" (Three Kings Procession) is elaboratedly celebrated with a parade welcoming the Wise Men, and the passing out of sweets. In other places, such as Treviso the day is celebrated with bonfires, the sparks of which are said to predict the future of the new year.