La Befana was an old woman who lived in a small village in Italy. She was known throughout the village for her wonderful baking and the cleanliness of her kitchen. She was often seen sweeping the area in front of her home. And many had heard her say that she was so busy baking and cleaning that she rarely had time to do anything else.
One winter day, while La Befana was sweeping in front of her home, three travelers stopped to ask her for a drink of water. They told La Befana that they were astrologers (they were often called the three wise men) who were following a star to the birth place of the Christ child. She kindly gave them water and then invited them to dinner.
After dinner the astrologers prepared to continue their journey and asked her if she would like to come with them to see the Christ child. La Befana shook her head saying that she could not possibly take the time needed for such a journey. She was secretly itching to get back to her cleaning and cooking. She stood at her door and watched them leave.
La Befana went back to her sweeping. But hours later she began to feel that she had made a mistake. Maybe she should have gone with the 3 astrologers to see the Christ child. La Befana decided to follow them.
She quickly grabbed a basket and filled it with baked goods of all kinds. She then put on her shawl and with her basket and broom hurried off into the night practically running to catch up with the wise men.
La Befana traveled through the night but never caught up with the wise men. It is said that she ran and ran until she and her broom were lifted up into the air!
Ever since that night, La Befana is believed to fly through the night or run over the roofs in Italy on Epiphany eve. She stops at the home of every child, leaving them treats in their stockings if they are good and a lump of coal if they are bad.
She hopes that one of the children she visits will be the christ child.
Copyright LLL, Storyteller/Storysinger
The name Befana is said to be a mispronunciation of the Italian word epifania which stands for epiphany. La Befana still visits the children of Italy on the eve of January 6, Epiphany. She fills their stockings with candy or a lump of coal. It is also believed that she sweeps the floor before she leaves. Many households leave her a small glass of wine and a small plate of goodies.
Although you'll find Christmas celebrations all over Italy, With decoration starting on December 8th, we listed some of the most unusual or most popular Christmas celebrations, events, and decorations. Naples
is one of the best cities to visit for Nativity cribs. Naples and southern Italy have other Christmas traditions, including the Christmas Eve dinner of the seven fish dishes, although it doesn't really have to be seven fishes and not everyone serves it. Bagpipe and flute players, zampognari and pifferai, are a part of Christmas celebrations in Rome, Naples, and southern Italy. They often wear traditional colorful costumes with sheepskin vests, long white stockings, and dark cloaks. Many of them travel from the mountains of the Abruzzo region to play outside churches and in popular city squares. Rome is another top city to visit during the Christmas season. There's a large Christmas market, nativity displays, and several huge Christmas trees. Here's what to see in Rome during Christmas season. Saint Peter's Square in Vatican City hosts the popular midnight mass given by the Pope inside Saint Peter's Basilica. Those in the square see it on big screen TV. At noon on Christmas day the Pope gives his Christmas message from the window of his apartment overlooking the square. A large tree and nativity scene are erected in the square before Christmas. Torino, in northern Italy's Piemonte region is one of the best places for lights. Over 20 kilometers of streets and squares are illuminated by some of the best illumination artists in Europe from late November through early January. Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, is decorated with hundreds of lights. An illuminated arch with a huge star points to the Christmas market and in the Roman Arena is a display of nativity scenes. More about Verona Near the top of Monte Ingino, above Gubbio in central Italy's Umbria region, shines a huge Christmas tree, 650 meters tall and made up of more than 700 lights. In 1991 the Guinness Book of Records named it "The World's Tallest Christmas Tree." The tree is topped by a star that can be seen for nearly 50 kilometers. Tree lights are turned on every year on 7 December, the evening before the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Città di Castello, in Umbria, celebrates Christmas Eve in on the Tiber River. Towards evening, a group of canoeists, each dressed as Father Christmas, with their canoes illuminated by lights, make their way along the river to the bridge at Porta San Florido where a crib is suspended over the water. When they get out of their canoes, they give small presents to the children gathered there. Lago Trasimeno, also in Umbria, celebrates with Soul Christmas, Umbria Gospel Festival, December 8 - January 6.
Manarola in Cinque Terre has a unique ecological nativity powered by solar energy. More information In Abbadia di San Salvatore, near Montalcino, the Fiaccole di Natale or Festival of Christmas Torches (Christmas Eve) is celebrated. Carols and torchlight processions in memory of the shepherds from the first Christmas Eve. Cortina d'Ampezzo in the Alps celebrates with a skiers torchlight parade - At midnight on Christmas Eve hundreds of people ski down an Alpine peak carrying torches.
Do you know there is no Halloween celebration in Italy?
Highlights of fall are All Saints Day, music festivals, and food festivals including truffles, chestnuts, mushrooms, grapes (and wine), chocolate, and even torrone. Opera and theater season starts many places in fall, too. National holidays during fall are All Saints Day on November 1 and Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. On these days, many services will be closed. Around December 8, Italy starts decorating for Christmas and there will be small Christmas markets and many towns set up a nativity scene in a piazza or church.
The vendemmia is the fall grape harvest, an exciting time to be in the wine regions of Italy. While it's hard to predict the exact dates the grape harvest will start since it depends on the grapes reaching their peak of ripeness and that can vary by vineyard, is usually late September and early October. Vino Novello translated means "New Wine" and, according to Italian law, producers can release the wine no earlier than November 6th on the year of harvest. In reality the wine is actually bottled a few weeks after harvest. In the past, farmers used to take wine from the barrels at the end of October simply to check the maturation of the wine. However, in 1999 this young wine was authorized by law to enter the market and wine festivals taking place during November are the perfect place to welcome its arrival. This young wine can be compared to the French "Beaujolais Nouveau", which is also released soon after harvest.
It is not simply the fact that the wine is released early that makes it unique; the actual processing technique differs considerably from that of most wines. The processing procedures require manual harvesting. The grapes are then placed, whole, inside stainless steel tanks where they undergo carbonic maceration (oxygen is eliminated from the tanks and replaced by carbon dioxide and the grapes remain sealed in the tank at a controlled temperature for a period varying from about 8 to 10 days), and the juices undergo fermentation without the assistance of adding yeast. The grape is alive and, because of the actions of natural yeasts and a lack of air, begins to transform all the elements of which it is composed, sugars, acids and mineral salts.
The grapes are then pressed; creating a partially sweet juice that will finish fermenting in another tank. This intercellular fermentation occurring within the berry-results in the formation of a significant quantity of primary odors that constitutes the principal characteristic of vino novello. It is a procedure that is well calibrated to obtain the finest and most intense aromas of the grape. This process goes toward creating a wine that is described as "light, lively and fruity", with it being relatively low in tannins. Consequently, it is not a wine to be aged, as it should be appreciated for the youthful qualities that it possesses.
Roasted chestnuts in the oven
Preheat your oven to 425 F (210 C). Take your chestnuts and make a cut across the round side of each to keep them from exploding, and arrange them either on a rack or on a cookie sheet. I also like to rinse mine in water and live them wet.
Roast them until the skins have pulled back from the cuts and the nutmeats have softened (exactly how long will depend upon the chestnuts, but at least 15-20 minutes). Remove the nuts from the oven, make a mound of them in an old towel, wrap them up, squeeze them hard -- they should crackle -- and let them sit for a few minutes.
Open a bottle of vino Novello (or Beaujolais Nouveau), open the towel, pour yourself a glass, peel the skin off the first chestnut, and enjoy.
Whether you are celebrating Easter Sunday for religious or purely festive reasons, there are many Italian Easter dinner ideas that are simple to make and can serve as many people as you have in your home. While Easter traditions in the United States are far more relaxed then in Italy, many of the dinner traditions are the same.
The deep influence of tradition and ritual in Italian culture is reflected in celebrations such as Easter. Known as La Pasqua, Easter celebration in Italy is marked by many rites observed throughout the country that have their roots in ancient pagan rituals. The Holy Week celebrations across Italy reflect regional differences, and are remnants of religion, peasant lore and pagan influences. On Palm Sunday, the churches are bedecked with baskets of palms and olive branches and once they have been blessed by the priest they are given out to the congregations. Thousands of people throng the St. Peters Square on Palm Sunday to receive the palms blessed by the Pope after Mass has ended. On Giovedi Santo or Holy Friday, many churches re-enact the ceremony of the washing of the feet at the altar.
Among the myriad of Easter traditions in Italy, Scoppio del Carro, meaning explosion of the cart, is the most spectacular one. For over 300 years the Easter celebration in Florence has included this ritual, during which an elaborate wagon, a structure built in 1679 and standing two to three stories high, is dragged through Florence behind a fleet of white oxen decorated in garlands. Like in many other countries, in Italy the fasting of Lent is preceded by a carnival with colorful pageants, masquerades, dancing, music and all kinds of merrymaking. The Carnevale begins in January and lasts until Ash Wednesday. The activities and merriment of Carnevale precede the somber overtones of the Lenten season.
The Easter dinner is usually a sumptuous feast arranged with special delicacies. The most important dish is Agnellino, roasted baby lamb. Eggs feature prominently in the day's dishes, in both soups such as Brodetto Pasquale, a broth-based Easter soup thickened with eggs, and various kinds of breads, both sweet and savory. Pannetone and Colomba (dove shaped) breads are also given as gifts. Hollow chocolate eggs that usually contain something surprising inside are also presented to near and dear ones. Gifts exchange in various other forms is also popular in Italy.
As we count down to Easter, I thought I would share the history of an important part of Italian history and tradition. At Easter, chocolate eggs
and Colomba cake
can’t miss on the table. This fragrant, fruit studded, dove shaped cake (colomba means dove in Italian) is an Italian rite of spring. The dove shape symbolizes the sign of peace and renewal. No traditional Italian Easter meal would be without one. There are many versions of how the Colomba came to be, these are an example of three versions.
The first is rooted in a more deep Catholic tradition. According to the Bible the dove represents and symbolizes the hope to return and also peace because it was Noah's ark with an olive branch in its beak after the flood, marking the reconciliation that happened between man and God, and reporting the presence of land. A strong signal so closely tied to the meaning that Easter holds within the culture of Christian countries.
The second version can be traced to medieval times, when the barbarian invasions, specifically those led by King Alboino, came to Italy with his soldiers to conquer the city of Pavia. The siege of the city, as told by the many reports written at the time and in later periods, lasted three decades during which the barbarians were driven from the city. During that time on one occasion King Alboino managed to break through the gates of Pavia and enter it precisely on the eve of Easter in 572. The king, taken by a strong desire for revenge decided to burn the entire city and exterminate the citizens. Before he carried out his revenge he first decided to accept the gifts from the people of the conquered city. Legend has it that while the king reflected on the fate of the inhabitants, a humble craftsman appeared before him who handed him a gift of bread and cakes in the shape of a dove as a tribute and a gesture of peace on Easter Sunday. The cakes turned out so tasty that it influences the king to change his mind and spare the inhabitants of Pavia. Thus the traditional of the Columba was born.
The final version of the origin of the Colomba comes from the Milanese Company "Motta" deciding to make a product similar to the panettone, but with an aspect decidedly connected to Easter. The Colomba was born a dessert cake with a similar composition to the panettone, but that is enriched with the flavor of amaretto.
Whether you believe the folklore or the just the idea of a company looking for a new product, the Easter Colomba, in respects to Italian cuisine represents a production of excellence in pastry making.
Thanks to the Associazione Industrie Dolciaria Italiana