Tag Archives: la Befana

I Befanini

Posted on 05. Jan, 2010 by in Culture, Food

Once upon a time in Italy children used to receive their Christmas presents on the Epifania (Epiphany – the 6th of January), instead of on Christmas day. On the eve of Epifania children would hang a stocking near their bed or next to the fireplace, where the mythical kindly old peasant woman known as la Befana would fill them with biscuits, oranges, dried fruit and a present. You can read more about this tradition in my blog from last year http://blogs.transparent.com/italian/viva-la-befana/

In a little recipe book entitled Torte e ciambelle dolci e frittelle by Elda Carlotti, a collection of traditional cake recipes from the area around Lucca, I found this nice recipe for Befanini, written in the form of a rhyme. Befanini are the traditional biscuits, shaped like angels, stars, and ‘befane’, which are put in the children’s stockings for Epifania.


Buona sera brava gente

Vi ho portato i Befanini

La ricetta abbiate in mente

Per rifarla ai bamborini*.


Dentro un chilo di farina

Burro e zucchero ci vuole (350 gr),

Poi due uova di gallina

E un arancio un* ci sta male.


Di limon una grattatina

Gli dà aroma e molto gusto,

Poi due lieviti in bustina …

Ecco pronto il vostro impasto.


Con formine e mattarello

Date vita ai Befanini

E per far tutto più bello,

Ci van messi anche i chicchini.


È ricetta molto antica

Della nostra Lucchesia

Non vi costano fatica

Se  li fate in allegria.



Good evening gentle folk / I’ve brought you the Befanini / memorize the recipe / so that you can make it for your children.

In a kilo of flour / you need butter and sugar (350 gr), / then two hens’ eggs / and an orange wouldn’t be a bad idea.

A few gratings of lemon / gives it aroma and a lot of flavor, / then two sachets** of baking powder … / that’s your mixture ready.

With pastry cutters and rolling pin / bring the Befanini to life / and to make them more beautiful, / you should also add  hundreds and thousands (the little multicolored sugary grains used to decorate cakes and cookies).

It’s a very old recipe / from our Lucca region / they are no trouble to make / if you do it with cheerfulness.

** Here in Italy baking powder is sold in individual sachets of 16 grams each.

* Bamborini is Tuscan dialect for bambini (children); un is Tuscan for non (not).


Buona Befana a tutti!

Viva la Befana

Posted on 06. Jan, 2009 by in Culture

“Epifania, tutte le feste si porta via” (Epiphany brings an end to all the festivities).

Epifania, a Latin word with Greek origins, means “(festival of) the apparition” or “manifestation (of the divinity)”. In the Catholic church the Epifania celebrates the visit of the Re Magi (the Wise Kings) to Gesu’ Bambino (Baby Jesus) on the 6th of January. In common speech however Epifania has been transformed into the word befana.

The Story of La Befana

Legend has it that on their way to Bethlehem, the Re Magi met an old woman, la Befana, and invited her to go with them to visit Gesu’ Bambino. As it was a very cold night the old woman decided against travelling with the Re Magi but to follow on instead at daylight. The following morning la Befana prepared a basket with some presents to take to Gesu’ Bambino, but when she arrived at the stable she found it empty, the Holy Family having fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. Every year thereafter la Befana, full of remorse, travels far and wide on the night between the 5th and the 6th of January to leave a present for every child in the hope that one of them may be Gesu’ Bambino.


“La Befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte” (the Befana comes in the night with her shoes all broken) and leaves presents in the calza (stocking) that children hang near the fireplace or at the bottom of the bed. La calza della Befana (the Befana’s stocking) usually contains some cioccolatini (chocolates), torrone (nougat), noci (nuts), mandarini (tangerines), and a little present sticking out at the top. But “se il bambino e’ stato cattivo” (if the child has been naughty) then he/she will find il carbone della Befana (the Befana’s charcoal, which is actually a black colored rock sugar) instead of a present. When my older brother was 5 years old he had been very naughty over the Christmas holiday, and my parents decided not to give him a present but, as we lived abroad, they couldn’t get hold of any carbone della Befana, so they got some real carbone instead. On the morning of the 6th of January when my brother looked in his calza he was shocked to find a lump of charcoal. After a few speechless moments he turned towards my father with a big grin and said: “Guarda papa’, la Befana ti ha portato il carbone per la griglia!” (Look dad, the Befana has brought you the charcoal for the barbeque!).

Traditionally Italian children used to get presents only from the Befana at the end of the Christmas holiday and not from Papa’ Natale (Father Christmas) or Gesu’ Bambino. When we were older my mother told us that as a child she used to get very upset about only receiving her presents on the day before going back to school, having spent the whole of the Christmas holidays playing with her old toys. When she grew up and found out about Papa’ Natale, she decided to adopt his tradition so that when she had children they could enjoy their presents for the whole of the holiday. I would imagine that something similar has happened in most Italian families because these days every child gets presents both on Christmas day and for Befana! But despite the arrival of Papa’ Natale and Gesu’ Bambino, la Befana is still a deeply rooted Italian tradition, and when some years ago the Italian government decide to delete this festivity from the school calendar because they believed it was redundant, most Italian families refused to send their children to school on that day. After a couple of years the government had to give in and reintroduce la Festa della Befana.

Viva la Befana!