Posted in Kafevend Blog
Last week we began to discover the variety in Christmas celebrations throughout Europe with a look at the Netherlands. This week it's time to find out a little about the customs in Italy. Nowadays, Italian children look forward to a visit from Babbo Natale (Father Christmas), but a far older Italian tradition concerns a character called La Befana, and Italian children continue to receive most of their presents from her on January 6th.
In the UK, January 6th or Twelfth Night is the day we aim to have the Christmas tree down by to avoid 'bad luck' and everyone's back at work or school. In Italy, by contrast, it's a public holiday. Also known as Epiphany, January 6th is the time that the three kings or wise men are traditionally considered to have visited baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It's not the three kings who bring presents for Italian children though, but La Befana, a witch who visits on her broomstick with presents for those who've been good and lumps of coal for the naughty! The legend tells of the magi stopping at La Befana's cottage for directions and inviting her to join them on their visit. She explains that she's far too busy cleaning her house, but has a change of heart once they've gone on their way. Having gathered together gifts of her own she attempts to follow. La Befana still hasn't found baby Jesus, but as she searches she leaves presents behind for other children.
'But what about food?' I hear you cry. Well, one of Italy's most well known Christmas foods is panettone, a Christmas cake that more closely resembles a sweet bread. Wonderfully light in comparison to our own rich Christmas cake, panettone is perfect for when you feel you've overdone it with the festive feasting! It can be eaten as it is or toasted and buttered, enjoyed over a coffee but also goes well with Prosecco and Amaretto. It can be an intensive recipe to follow, lengthy too with time needed for the dough to rise. If you're keen to have a go there are plenty of recipes on the web, but most supermarkets stock perfectly good versions, so in the busy run up to Christmas you could always take the easy way out!