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06 Jan Happy Epiphany!


I’ve just finished writing a chapter set in the midst of sixteenth-century Florentine court revels for the Epiphany, also called Twelfth Night. In medieval and Renaissance times, gift-giving was associated with the Epiphany and not with Christmas day. And in Italy, children received gifts (if they were good—they got lumps of coal if they were bad) from la Befana, pictured at right.

La Befana, so the story goes, was an old woman whose greatest joy in life was keeping her cottage spic-and-span. She was in the midst of her sweeping when the Magi knocked on her door and invited her to join them as they searched for the Christ Child. She refused, being determined to finish her housework.

Later she regretted her decision, and with her broom she set out to catch up with the Magi and offer her own gifts to the Christ Child. To this day she is still looking for them, riding on her broom, and on the eve of Epiphany (in Italian “la Epifania” and “la Befana” are related words, and often used interchangeably) she gives her gifts to good children.

And of course since any hint of a cookie recipe always gets my attention, her traditional gifts are cookies called befanini. There are hundreds of different recipes out there, most of which seem to be pretty basic sugar-and-butter cookies spiced with anise and orange peel, occasionally spiked with rum or sambuca, and decorated with colored sprinkles. Here’s an easy one, and here’s a traditional one.

Buona Befana!

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12 Dec Book Shopping, Day Twelve

Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss GlasserI love Fancy Nancy (despite the fact that I am a bit older than four) and follow all her adventures faithfully. Here is a delicious new Fancy Nancy book, just in time for the holidays—and of course it is called Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas. What better opportunity for fancyness, after all, than Christmas?

Here’s the alluring copy from the book jacket: “Presents with elegant wrapping paper, festive decorations, Christmas cookies with sprinkles—and who could forget the tree? After all, there is no such thing as too much tinsel. Ooh la la! This year, Nancy is especially excited about decorating the Christmas tree. She bought a brand-new sparkly tree topper with her own money and has been waiting for Christmas to come. But when things don’t turn out the way Nancy planned, will Christmas still be splendiferous?”

Sprinkles! I have a special affinity for sprinkles myself, and that just makes this book all the more scrumptious to me. The illustration of Nancy and her sister putting sprinkles on the cookies is wonderful. (Well, actually all the illustrations are wonderful.) This book is a splendiferous choice for children four to eight, and I know any number of fanciful adults who would be charmed by it as well.

Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O’Connor with illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser is available at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Amazon, and of course from your favorite independent bookstore.