It’s always amazed me that in a small consortium of nine inns, two of the DINE member inns are owned by innkeepers who’ve come from Italy. You can imagine the meetings when DINE innkeepers get together – lessons in Italian and fine Italian food once in awhile too! I thought it might be fun to explore some Italian Christmas traditions, and Claudio Latanza, co-owner of the Camden Maine Stay Inn, along with his bride Roberta (also an Italian native) responded to my request for info about Italian holiday traditions with the tale of Befana.
While Befana does not bear any physical resemblance to the jolly old soul, her intentions are certainly as noble. She arrives well after Santa has done his rounds, on the eve of the Epiphany (January 5 – just in time to catch plenty of after-Christmas sales!) so children awake on January 6 (celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany) to gifts. Befana assumes the character of a kindly old witch. She enters through the chimney to leave the gifts for the children in the big socks provided for this use. According to Claudio, “the Befana would bring gifts to the GOOD children, while the bad ones got only pieces of coal, which by the way were made of sugar and were not bad at all”. Our question to Claudio is how many times did he get coal rather than candy?
According to Claudio, some of these age-old traditions are changing in Italy. He tells us that Italian families now gather on Christmas Eve to enjoy a family dinner and to exchange gifts, and increasingly, holiday lights and decorations are appearing in Italian neighborhoods, according to Claudio. Yet, I am sure that socks still are hung by Claudio and Roberta’s chimney in hopes that this year Befana will leave sweet gifts.