(Photo of Befane from Wikimedia commons, contributed in 2005)
My Italian friends have told me about the “Befana” tradition in Italy that happens on the occasion of the Epifania (Ephiphany). On the occasion of the event this year, my friend Matteo sent me a link to an article that gives us a sketch of what this tradition is all about.
The following is my translation of an excerpt of this article in Italian:
In whatever form she takes, whether it is as an old beggar woman or a sexy young girl, the “Befana” is an important legend in Italy.
The belief comes from ancient times when the death of Mother Nature was celebrated 12 days after Christmas. On the night of January 6, exhausted by the fatigues of the past year, like the phoenix rising from its ashes, the “Befana” rides on a broom, allowing herself a last journey to distribute gifts before being reborn, as a clear symbol of the seeds that will be sprouted in the new year. The gifts of the “Befana” were generally food, and so this figure has spurred a popular gastronomic tradition with related specialties that have been handed down to the present day.
Tuscan “befanini” - butter cookies, slightly alcoholic - star-shaped, animals, and - of course - witches, decorated with sprinkles and chocolate tails.
The Venetian ”Pinza de la Marantega” (“Staple of Marantega”) cake that can be enjoyed while sipping mulled wine. It was cooked in ancient times in the ashes of the fire, wrapped in cabbage leaves. There are many versions of the recipe and each family has passed on their own, but the basic ingredients are white flour and raisins soaked in brandy, butter, sugar, dried figs, fennel seeds and orange peel.
From Cuneo comes the “Focaccia della Befana” (“Focaccia of the Epiphany”) a “burla” (trick) inside a daisy-shaped cake. During the preparation, you hide a white and a black fava bean inside the petals. Whoever gets the white one will have the honor of paying for the cake, while the “lucky” finder of the black bean provides the wine.
We hope to publish additional information related to the Italian traditions of Epifania soon.