Known in Italian as L'Immacolata Concezione, this celebration is recognised as a national public holiday in Italy, and is celebrated annually on December 8.

While it's often mistakenly thought to mark Mary’s conception of Jesus, it actually celebrates the conception of Mary herself.

The day commemorates when Mary, the mother of Jesus, was graced by God to lead a life “free of sin”, according to Catholic belief.

The feast’s origins date back thousands of years, but the day was set in the Catholic calendar in 1476 by Pope Sixtus IV.

The doctrine behind it wasn’t officially adopted until December 8, 1854, when in the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin”.

Many Italians commemorate this special occasion by attending mass in honour of Mary, and one of the highlights is a celebration led by the Catholic Pope in Rome, who kneels in prayer and lays a floral wreath on the 12-metre-high statue of the Madonna in Piazza Mignanelli.

Other celebrations include processions, music and entertainment throughout the streets of villages and cities in Italy, while many residents in small towns light huge bonfires to mark the occasion.

According to traditional beliefs, these fires destroy sins and remove negative energy from communities.

If you happen to be in Italy during the festive season and are after an authentic cultural experience, you can’t go past this event.