Christmas Around the World: Italy’s Befana Tradition in Crafts and Treats

We’re winding up our Christmas crafts series from around the world with this endearing tradition from Italy: La Befana! This celebration is so major that it is actually an Italian national holiday. But oddly enough, it falls after Christmas, on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany (or the Three Kings) – and it revolves around a wizened old hag or witch, called La Befana! More to follow on the legend behind all that…but trust the Italians to mark this festivity with treats and sweets and even food-related decorations. All of which you can easily recreate in your own home, thanks to these crafty posts and yummy recipes we’re featuring!

A bit of history: Italian legend has it that the Three Kings happened to ask an old lady where they might find the newly-born Baby Jesus. Not being able to tell them, the old lady (who has since evolved into a “good witch” in Italian lore) decided to follow the star herself and has been visiting little children in their homes on the eve of the Epiphany, January 5th, ever since. Her name “La Befana” is said to be derived from the word epiphany.

She is said to fly around on her broomstick and leave sweets, oranges, and small gifts in the shoes or stockings of good little boys and girls – but also lumps of coal (since evolved into sugary confections) for the naughty ones. So upon waking on January 6th, the children scramble to see what La Befana has stuffed in their stockings!

La Befana’s broom has also come to symbolize the sweeping away of any negative energy from the previous year. So it’s not unusual to see tiny brooms displayed as Italian holiday ornaments.

Italian Christmas Crafts and Sweets You Can Make

In true Italian form, the La Befana holiday tradition involves food in some form or another – from treats that can be stuffed in stockings, to goodies prepared for La Befana’s visit, to decorations crafted from pasta!

Christmas Around the World: Italy’s Befana Tradition in Crafts and Treats

1 – DIY Befana dolls – Whether to use as tabletop decorations, place card holders at a holiday gathering, or party favors, these darling witch figures created by La Classe della Maestra Valentina are sure to be a hit!

2 – Il carbone dolce della Befana (“charcoal of Befana”) – These “lumps of coal” supposedly brought by La Befana are now recreated as treats made of egg white, sugar, and black food coloring. See the recipe via Pour Femme.

3 – How to present the “carbone dolce della befana” – Take a cue from Think Donna for creating a festive vignette featuring the “sugary coal.” Assemble brightly-colored stockings, gaily wrapped gifts, candy canes and other sweets, and arrange them as a holiday centerpiece.

4 – Caramelle gommose per la befana – These gummy candies for the Befana celebration resemble marshmallows. Follow this easy recipe we found via Arte en Cucina (formerly Giallo Zafferano).

5 – La Ciambella della befanaAmy Riolo describes this as a sturdy “housewife style” Italian cake that tastes like a cross between a pound cake, a plain donut, and sweet bread. Perfect enjoyed with cappuccino or espresso!

6 – Orange-Amaretto pizzelle cookies – These traditional Italian waffle cookies have a crisp, light texture and a delicate embossed pattern resembling snowflakes or Christmas lanterns. Make some to delight family and friends, following this recipe from Grab a Plate.

7 – Christmas decorations made using pasta noodles – Get creative with all the different shapes of pasta just as Carl d’Agostino did, and craft whimsical tree ornaments and other decorations with some glue, paint, and twine.

8 – Italian Christmas cookies – Whether for stocking stuffers, to give as presents, or to serve at holiday parties, you can’t go wrong with these pretty treats – courtesy of Betty Crocker. They are delicately flavored with grated lemon peel and ricotta cheese, then decorated with colored sprinkles.

9 – Befana brooms – Symbolizing the sweeping away of all things bad, use this easy-to-follow how-to from School of Scrap to make Befana broom ornaments from old newspapers, gold spray paint, pine cones, berries, and Christmas balls.

10 – Paper bag “Befana stockings” – Modify the kiddie stockings used to hold Befana’s gifts and treats with this cute craft from Piccolini.  Use brown paper sacks and dress them up with labels, stickers, and yarn ties.

It’s been such a joy escorting you to different countries to learn about their traditional Christmas crafts and treats – and to add these to make your holidays extra-special this year. If you have other countries you’d like us to feature next Christmas, do give us a shout out!


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