The day of La Befana, or the Epiphany, January 6, marks the last of the twelve days of Christmas. On Jan. 5th – the eve of the Epiphany – Italy’s children eagerly anticipate a visit from the fabled old witch with a broom.
Unlike the evil fairytale witch, this old woman is kind and generous. Similar to Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, La Befana travels by broom filling stockings with candy and chocolates and other sweets.
On this night, many Italians make a marshmallow like candy shaped like a lump of colorful coal. But for adults, I thought it would be good to celebrate this kind, yet creepy, witch, with a little cocktail in her honor.Jump to Recipe
In the Catholic religion, we know that The Epiphany – which lands on Jan. 6th, twelve days after Christmas – was the day when the three kings/wise men visited the baby Jesus, offering him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. As legend has it, on their way, the men approached an old lady with a broom asking her for directions to the newborn. The old woman didn’t know, but offered the men a place to sleep. In exchange, the men invited the woman to join them to the celebration, but she refused. Later, the woman changed her mind, but it was too late. When she arrived, she couldn’t find the baby Jesus, missing out on the celebration. As a result, every year on the night of Jan. 5th, the old woman flies around Italy on a broom to deliver candy or small toys to all the young children.
Personally, I’d be a little creeped out thinking some strange old woman, filled with regret, is sneaking into my house at night with a broom in hand. But hey, it wouldn’t be a proper children’s fable if it wasn’t creepy, right?
On this night, children leave milk and cookies for La Befana to consume as she fills their stockings with candy. But, similar to Santa Claus, if the children were bad, they would receive lumps of coal or ash. The next morning – the day of the Epiphany – the children would unwrap their gifts then, with their families, attend a special mass at church, enjoy a fantastic feast and maybe attend local events or parades dedicated to the old lady with the broom.
Will you be hanging a stocking for La Befana? You never know… the old woman just may creep into your home that night.
My New Tradition
Mix a special cocktail in honor of the old woman, and toast to her gift giving. Below is a little witchy cocktail I threw together.
- 2 oz. gin
- ½ oz. Strega
- ½ oz. lemon juice
- club soda
- 1 sprig rosemary
- Remove from leaves from half of the rosemary sprig. Keep other half for garnish later.
- Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice.
- Strain into a vintage goblet or martini glass.
- Top with club soda.
- Garnish with a spring of rosemary.
Check out my post on Strega liqueur, including another cocktail recipe: Il Leone Stregato.