Oh my great Shiva I made it, I am alive, I survived to another Christmas yeaaaaa.I have always kind of liked Christmas but this year I could not wait for it to be over. I have been at my mum’s home almost permanently since October hence there was not any excitement about “going back home”, my parents did not even bother commenting on my bizarre Christmas dress, my friends did not criticize my attitude towards the consumption of everything made with alcohol and my sister simply gave up scolding me when at the Christmas party she found sitting on some random guys’ lap who was definitely not Santa Claus. In other words it was a bit dull.

But hey there is no point to be sad as the best festivity of the Christmas holidays, the one that really put an end to the Christmas celebration has yet to come; this is the Epiphany a super cool central Italian tradition celebrated on the 6th of January. During the Epiphany fest an old lady called Befana delivers gifts to children throughout Italy. She is usually portrayed as an old and ugly lady riding a broomstick through the air; in popular folklore Befana fill the children’s socks with candy and presents if they have been good or a lump of coal if they have been bad. As the majority of modern celebration the festivity of Befana is also linked to pagan traditions later adapted to the Christian culture. Back in the days the twelfth night after the winter solstice, the 6th of January, the Romans used to celebrate the death and rebirth of mother earth and during this night semi-divine women characters used to fly over the fields to bless the new harvest. This tradition was heavily condemned by the Roman Church and the pagan cult started to be personified as an old, ugly lady who resembles a witch more than a fertility goddess. According to a Christianised version of the story the name Befana derives from the Christian Feast of Epiphany that celebrates the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Magi, the three Wise men or kings that brought gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts for Jesus. The popular tradition tells that the Three Wise Men during their journey got lost and knocked on an old lady’s door who showed them the way to Bethlelem but did not want to join the expedition even though the men asked her repeatedly. A while after they left the old lady felt that she made the wrong decision, went out and look for them without success hence she started knocking on everyone’s door, bringing a small present to every kid hoping that one of them would have been the Jesus Christ.

In my family the day of Befana is a much more important event than Christmas; I have never understood why to be honest but I guess is because my grandmother loves dressing up as Befana, threaten my youngest cousins and being child again. She enjoys it to the point that every year she dresses up as a different character; one year she plays the part of the old, ugly and sick lady and the year after she pretends that the old, ugly and sick lady had to send her young, sluttydaughter, who weirdly resembled Pippi Longstocking, as she was too unwell.


This year she decided that she wanted to dress up as the English governess Mary Poppins and for the last week we have gone crazy trying to assemble the perfect outfit and now it is finally ready to go on stage tonight.In reality the curtains opens at luch when at the dinner table we read the letter that Befana mailed us; this had obviously been previously written by my grandmother and she uses it to comment on the behavior of every member of the family with a special focus on the kids’. Even though we all get told off we also receive present: they range from bathrobes to pajamas to books; I swear I have never been given anything sexier than that. The present are carried inside a big stocking along with sweets, chocolate and fruit; chocolate is really the Befana’s present par excellence and my grandfather every year likes telling that back in his days they did not receive anything but oranges and biscotti, a traditional and very simple kind of cookie that me, my grandmother and my oldest cousins still make every year on the Epiphany day. Well it is time to start preparing my grandmother’s outfit. Happyphania everyone!



Pastarelle of the Epiphany

There is a variety of cakes that are made for the Epiphany fest, nevertheless all around Italy they tend to be biscotti, cookies made with short pastry and baked. In my region, Le Marche, they are called pastarelle and they are the simplest cookies recipe you could ever find. They are also super cheap as they were made by the poor Italian mamas of the last century, poorer than the current ones, and given to kids in place of chocolate, sweets and presents on the Ephiphany day. The recipe involves the use of strutto: pig fat, commonly used in many cuisines as a cooking fat or spread similar to butter; for this recipe you will also use baker’s ammonia, which you could find in any drug-store, which I swear is not an instrument of death but only a culinary mystery. I don’t really know why they used to use ammonia for the leavening instead of baking soda but I know that the main advantage of using it is that the mix can stand unbaked for long hours without losing its leavening power.



  • 2 eggs
  • 300gr of sugar
  • 250ml of milk
  • 100gr of “strutto”
  • 30gr of ammonia
  • grated lemon
  • vanillin flavoring

Before beginning switch the oven on to 180°C and line baking trays with baking paper. Break the eggs and mix the sugar, when is well combined grate the lemon, as much as you like, and add the vanillin flavoring. Then add the milk in which you had previously mixed the ammonia and don’t worry if the mix looks a bit weird.


Finally add the flour and knead until the dough is smooth enough, but remember to not over-beat it otherwise it will become too hard. Once you are done, roll out small pieces, shape and decorate as you wish. Happy sweet Ephiphany.