Feast of the Epiphany & Celebration of La Befana

As the calendar turns to the new year, Italy prepares for the Feast of the Epiphany and celebration of La Befana to mark the end of the holiday season. This day, marked as a public holiday in Italy, holds both religious significance and folklore charm.

Origins & Story of La Befana

Rooted in biblical traditions, the Epiphany commemorates the role of the three wise men and their arrival on the 12th day of Christmas. Folklore suggests that La Befana, a beloved witch-like character, is invited to join the wise men in delivering their gifts. However she gets lost in her attempt to follow them and instead graciously gives the toys to children. 

Rooted in ancient pagan rituals (or possibly descending from the Roman goddess Strenia), the story of La Befana expanded throughout Italy during the 20th century, giving it a unique blend of Christian values and playful folklore. Despite being overshadowed by Santa Claus in modern times, La Befana remains cherished by Italian children everywhere!

Modern Traditions

On the night of January 5th (the eve of the Epiphany), children across Italy hang up their stockings in anticipation of La Befana’s gifts. Placed by windows or over fireplaces, these stockings often accompany a glass of wine or Christmas treats like panettone or pandoro. Legend has it that good children receive sweets, while those who have misbehaved might find lumps of coal.

Sweet Treats

It wouldn’t be a holiday in Italy without an array of sweet and savory treats to go around! If you want to celebrate like an Italian, why not try one of these classics?

  • Panettone and Pandoro: These iconic Italian Christmas cakes continue to grace the tables on the day of La Befana. Panettone, a sweet bread filled with candied fruits, and Pandoro, a golden, star-shaped cake, symbolize the festive spirit.
  • La Befana Cake: A specialty cake named after the beloved character, it often contains surprises or small toys within its sweet layers.
  • Struffoli: Originating from Naples, Struffoli are small, deep-fried dough balls coated in honey and adorned with colorful sprinkles. They are a popular choice for sweet indulgence.
  • Biscuits and Cookies: Various types of biscuits and cookies, intricately shaped and flavored, add a delightful touch to the Epiphany celebrations.
  • Savory Options: In addition to sweet treats, savory dishes are also enjoyed. Regional specialties include fried dough, fritters, and other savory bites.
  • Regional Delicacies: Different regions in Italy have their own unique delicacies for La Befana, reflecting the diverse culinary traditions of the country.

Overall, this is a day filled with food, culture, and joy, as Italians bid farewell to the holiday season. You might even hear “L’Epifania tutte le feste porta via”, or “The Epiphany carries all of the festivities away”!

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