Today is the feast of Epifania, which is known in Italy simply as “Befana.” In fact, many people in Italy will greet each other on the street today with the words, “Buon Befana.” This salutation refers to La Befana, the Italian Christmas witch. She is still searching for Baby Jesus, whom she learned about from the Three Kings. Throughout her journey every Jan. 6, she offers gifts to other Italian children in the hopes she will one day find Gesu. Or at least that is how one of our story books tells the story. There are a few theories about how she came into this job.
Befana – From Whence She Came
Indeed, she made a stop at our house this morning. When my son awakes, he will be surprised. He went to bed early with visions of the Italian Christmas witch in his mind. Now, Befana is no Santa. She is a poor old lady. Before this gig, Befana was best known for sweeping inside and outside her home everyday. She mostly kept to herself. So, she offers up one or two small gifts to each child. When my father was a kid in Italy in the 1950s, he received tangerines, walnuts, a piece of chocolate, and pencils for school in his socks from Befana. Back then, she was the only gift giver of the season. Times have changed.
Even though Santa has since grown more popular than Befana even in Italy, she still makes her rounds on Jan. 6. This, in fact, marks the end of the holiday season and work and school breaks, which is different from the United States. Many families will gather again today for one more special meal. Children will recite poems for pennies — err euro. And Befana will leave a little something for them. Sometimes, adults even give each other little tokens of their love on Befana’s day. The Epiphany, after all, is about the arrival of the three kings, also known as three wise men. They had brought little gifts to baby Jesus and his family in Bethlehem.
One Last Hurrah
Throughout the holiday season, we keep a Befana doll hanging over our window. Some of our American friends think we’ve forgotten her there since Halloween. But Italians know better. You can read more about Befana in my previous stories:
My Italian family did not set a Thanksgiving table until 1960, when they first discovered America. My father, who was an immigrant in an American elementary school, came home and said all the other kids were talking about eating turkey on Thursday. So, his parents picked up one at the supermarket. When my zia put it in the oven to cook, she did not realize the gizzards were in a plastic bag in the cavity of the turkey. It wasn’t exactly the kind of stuffing you would want to eat. Needless to say, they ditched that first turkey for lasagna. Nowadays, we put both on the Thanksgiving table.
I’m thankful we’ve gotten much better at the celebration since then. Truly, Thanksgiving is the kind of holiday all Italians can get behind. Everyone gathers around the table to break bread, drink wine, laugh, and enjoy. That’s our thing. To distinguish the day from Nonna’s house on any given Sunday, I always set a special table. Discover some of my favorite ideas:
Always have a printed menu.
Mine have included the one above featuring a vintage postcard image I found online. I’ve also written the menu on a large chalkboard that served as background for the buffet table. You could also frame one 8×10 menu and put it near the food or on the table.
Create a beautiful centerpiece.
Usually, I create floral arrangements inside cornucopias, which I have from our wedding day in 2008. (We had a vow renewal in the United States Thanksgiving weekend, one month after our wedding in Italy.) In addition, I’ve made floral arrangements in a basket shaped like a turkey and a bowl in the form of a pumpkin. I try to get the kids involved in making centerpieces now. One year I had them paint acorns in bright glitter paint colors; then, I put electric votive candles inside a clear vase and surrounded the “candle” with the acorns. They are painting pinecones that we’re going to turn into woodland creatures for this year’s table. My hope is to make a little diorama-type scene atop a crystal cake stand.
Let the food be the showstopper.
There are few things in life Italians appreciate as much as food. Because Thanksgiving is all about the food, you should let the dishes shine. Cook up your best recipes. Of course, serve them in beautiful dishes and on your best plates. I recently began using my grandmother’s china, which my grandfather carried all the way back from Italy. I also have a few serving pieces – a copper-colored dish shaped like a maple leaf and individual gravy boats in the shape of a turkey – that often make an appearance.
In addition, you can use the food as decoration or centerpiece. Add artichokes, apples, or pears to a cornucopia, bowl, or floral arrangement. Use breadsticks standing in a glass goblet or antipasto platters featuring salumi to catch the eye at the center of your table.
Put out handmade place cards.
This is good practice whenever you are celebrating with extended family. Place cards can be an exquisite touch. But they also keep Mario from sitting next to his arch enemy cousin Guido. In the photo above, you’ll notice that I made edible place cards. That one is a gingerbread cookie in the shape of a turkey. I featured names on the belly by using cookie stamps. I have the complete alphabet of stamps. You can also attach name tags to a pear, apple, or gourd using a decorate push pin. Using food markers on those items works, too. Or you can be a traditionalist and make place cards out of paper. Personalizing each menu is another option.
Use fabric napkins.
Paper is can be beautiful, too. Don’t get me wrong. But fabric napkins indicate this is a special day. Also, you can more easily fold fabric napkins elaborately or wrap them with a napkin ring. The ambitious among us may try to fold each napkin into a turkey. Now, that’s a Pinterest goal.
Making this Italian onesie was a sort of sweet torture. I had envisioned this onesie from the moment I heard an Italian friend of mine was pregnant. With my Cricut machine on hand, I simply couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. And I wish I had the ability to make it back when my baby was itsy-bitsy. Now, of course, the stars have aligned and I have a swell of work, which was cresting around the weekend of the baby shower. But I could not be stopped. Nothing would get in my way. Waking up at 6 a.m. on the day of the party proved fruitful.
The good news is this project is super easy. I could have slept longer. I kind of wish I had realized this sooner. Also, you don’t have to have a Cricut machine to make it (although that made it much easier). Italians are not the only ones who can make such a onesie. I have also made one for a Greek friend that featured the Greek flag in blue glitter iron-on, which read, “It’s Greek to Me.” I put that flag and saying on the lower backside of the onesie, so it would appear on the baby’s bottom. The point is to use your imagination, and don’t feel limited to this example. Baby will make the onesie adorable.
How to Make the Italian Onesie
What You Need:
A white cotton onesie (I used on in size 0 to 3 months)
Iron on paper in red glitter, green glitter, and black (I used the kind for the Cricut machine but you can also use printable iron-on paper for your computer printer if you don’t have a Cricut)
Cricut machine or scissors (if you are using a printable iron-on paper)
Iron and ironing board
Light cloth or handkerchief
What to Do:
Design the image you want to appear on the onesie. I used Cricut’s Design Space. But you could also use Word and print it on a printable iron-on sheet. Before printing, make sure you are creating a mirror image because it will turn out correctly when you iron it on. If you are working with a Cricut or a printer, you will need to cut out the image with scissors. Be careful to leave significant edges.
Begin to pull away the excess iron-on paper, so you’re left with the image you wish to feature on the onesie and a sticky, transparent backing. Remove the excess iron-on paper, such as the triangle or circle at the center of a block letter. Make sure when you put the image sticky side down on the onesie that you see what you envisioned. Follow the directions that typically come with the the iron-on paper.
I place a light handkerchief over the iron-on transfer and begin to iron. Make sure the iron is not emitting steam and that the steam option is shut off. I usually hold the iron in place over the image and handkerchief for the first 30 seconds or so. Then, I gently move the iron back and forth. Don’t do it in quick motions because you could stretch the image.
Take Your Time
Once you feel the image is completely stuck to the shirt, you should put it aside to cool down for a few moments. Refrain from trying to tear away at the transparent film immediately. If you start pulling too quickly, you risk pulling up the iron-on image, too. And you’ll have to start over. Once it’s cooled down, you can gently pull away the film from the corner and on the diagonal. Be careful not to tear at the image at all.
Halloween is a favorite holiday around here. My family has always celebrated this day with verve, even though it did not exist in Italy. In fact, Italians in Italy have only recently discovered Halloween. But we embraced all American traditions upon arrival. As landscapers (at least many of the original family members in the United States call that their profession) decorating with pumpkins and cabbages and mums became par for the course. In addition, we look for any excuse to gather round a table, eat, drink, and be merry.
Once my cousins began having kids, I began hosting Halloween blowouts. We had disco balls, costumes, and mummy games. We wrecked the house with toilet paper and battled it out with apple pie contests. Somebody’s pie ended up on the floor and there were accusations of cheating. Needless to say, we never did that again. But we always made up and dug into Nonno’s pasta.
When my son and niece and nephew were born, the festivities took on new meaning for me. Now, this was tradition. We had to make them apart of the celebration. Today, we all take pictures in front of our house in the elaborate Halloween display my landscaper father creates each year. There are giant pumpkins, hay chairs for the photo subjects, and scarecrows, ghosts, and goblins hanging around. The neighborhood kids also jump into the scene while trick or treating. Parents proudly snap photos.
These moments are fleeting. Our children are young for but a minute. Then, it’s over. I’m choosing to savor every second. I miss it already.
Halloween party ideas are my responsibility in this family. Ever since I returned home from four years at college in Washington, D.C., I have been hosting a Halloween party for the kids in the family. First, it was for my cousin’s babies. Now, we all gather for my son, niece, and nephew.
What’s beautiful about this tradition is the older kids still participate. In fact, one of them is studying abroad, and he waxed nostalgic in text messages after viewing images from the 2017 shindig he had to miss. Sometimes, I come up with an entire theme. Once it was a Halloween disco, replete with bright lights. Another time it was “Happy Owl-O-Ween.” We’ve painted pumpkins in our worst clothes. And we’ve dressed up in our Halloween finest (all sorts of costumes). Every year is a little different.
Once in a while, I’m at a loss for time. Still, I do my best to make things special and memorable. To be honest, 2017 was one of those busy years. But I still think I pulled off a pretty great fete. You still have time to do the same. So, discover my easy ideas for celebrating Halloween in a pinch:
Spider Web Cake
This party was also a chance for the family to celebrate my son’s birthday. He had already had a Spider-Man themed party with his friends. I used many of the decorations and ideas twice. I made this rainbow cookie cake from scratch, but you could buy a plain chocolate frosted cake from the grocery store or bakery. Then, you get a pre-packaged pastry bag of icing in white. Draw a tiny circle at the center. Then, draw a larger circle around it. Keep drawing circles until you reach close to the edge of the cake. Finally, take a skewer or one tine of a fork and drag it from the edge of the most inner circle to the edge of the most outer. Repeat that step six to eight times to achieve the look of a web. You can add plastic spiders and sprinkles like I did if you so desire.
Normally, I would suggest making a cake from scratch. It’s generally healthier and tastes better. But when time is of the essence, I find no shame in turning to boxed cake mixes. For these cupcakes, I actually divided the batter in half. I added yellow food coloring to one half, and yellow and red food coloring to the other half (to make orange). Then I layered the two batters for a candy corn effect. After the cupcakes baked and cooled, I topped them with homemade white vanilla icing. Finally I stuck into the top plastic skeletons from the dollar store, which I had washed with soap and water and dried beforehand.
Ice Cream Station
One of the reasons all my cousins keep coming to my Halloween party is the homemade ice cream. I make pumpkin ice cream only for this party, and the folks love it. I usually make one other flavor. In 2017, I opted for Halloween Oreos cookies and cream. Both were delicious if I do say so myself. But before I even get to serving the ice cream, I make a station for the relevant goodies. I picked up sugar cones and used my Cricut Explore Air to cut out sleeves for them in black-and-white printed paper. I also include Halloween sprinkles from craft supply stores, such as Michael’s. Sometimes, you can even find them at the grocery store. Little cups, ice cream spoons, and other assorted toppings all make for a nice touch. Don’t forget the ice cream scoops.
Spider Punch Bowl
My punch bowl is constantly getting dressed up. It has been a turkey for Thanksgiving, a Toy Story alien replete with green punch, and a jack-o-lantern. Because my son loves all things Spider-Man, I went for a spider this time around. I took black pipe cleaners, bent them into shape, and taped them to the side of the bowl with a clear packaging tape. Then, I used that same tape to adhere the big google eyes that I always use in these circumstances. Finally, I cut out (free hand) a smiley face from the same black-and-white paper I used for the ice cream cones. When the party is over, I carefully pull the items off and discard the tape. I reuse everything except the paper mouths and beaks. For the drink to give it that dark color, I used strongly brewed iced tea. Really, anything goes.
In the past, I’ve used orange balloons and used a black marker to make jack-o-lantern faces. In 2017, I used white balloons to make ghosts. You can’t see them in the photo, but some were traditional with three dark ovals for two eyes and a “boo” mouth. My son wanted me to get creative, so some of these have lady eyelashes and other details. As always, you are limited only by your imagination. I had balloon holders and sticks (purchased at Oriental Trading’s site). So, I made a bouquet, put it in a clear vase filled with candy corn, and added a scarecrow pick and some spider-web bows.
On this site, I’ve often discussed the Mummy Game, where you split up in teams and use toilet paper to wrap one person like a mummy. Then, the team that completes the task the fastest wins. In our family, no one really ever wins. But we do get lots of awesome photos. At the end, one cousin always starts toilet papering the house and people start jumping in toilet paper as if we’re in our own ticket-tape parade. Another cousin, of course, gripes that we’re wasting perfectly good toilet paper. He has a point that is why I buy the cheap stuff for this game.
In the past, we’ve also broken into teams for a different kind of costume contest. My mom would put together a bag for each team filled with everyday items, such as a mop head or a garbage bag and a wand or headpiece. Then, the team has 20 minutes to dress up one person using only those items and whatever they have on. This game also never really had winners, but made for fantastic photos and greater memories.
For the first time in 2017, I decided to get web-slinging into the game lineup. It served two purposes – my son’s devotion to Spider-Man and the spider web theme of the Halloween party. So, I bought cans of silly string at the dollar store and let the kids web-sling on each other in our backyard. The teenagers were just as involved in this game as the little ones. My son stayed dressed as Spider-Man the entire time.
The bang of fireworks sounded as though they were going off in our bedroom as my son and I bid farewell to Ferragosto 2017. My husband was already off to work at a nightclub in Ischia, Italy. There, tourists and natives alike would keep up the celebration until the wee hours of the morning. Dancing too close. Drinking too much. Celebrating just enough.
A Delicious Start to Ferragosto 2017
But before the holiday could be over, it had to begin. In Italy, the start of every celebration is all about the food. Tourists who visit the island for Ferragosto, Aug. 15, can expect the hotel to go all out. Restaurants are also keen on marking the occasion. My husband works for the 4-star Hotel Continental Mare, so he graciously took photos of the spread and scene for us. This way, you can see just how to launch a holiday that is a mix of secular and religious sentiment with just a touch of indulgence. Just look at that carved squash with sunflowers splashed across it.
Ah Salute! Cheers!
A flower of a watermelon graces the banquet table holding glasses waiting to be filled with refreshing drinks. I can only imagine the wine was flowing. But what strikes me most about the picture is what gets me every time in Ischia. That view of the sea and greenery all around combined with that ocean perfume transports your being. The divine beauty is intoxicating. There is nothing more to say.
One of the most delightful aspects of any Italian meal is antipasto. This precursor to the meal always offers lovely little surprises. Italians often call it “sfizioso.” It literally translates to “delicious,” but it’s more than that. The word refers to the food being more than delectable. It suggests it is addictive. Indeed, often antipasto can be like a drug – at least for me. And I can make an entire meal of it. I’m not a wine drinker, but I live among them. They all love to pair their vino with the littlest bites. Certainly, antipasto is the perfect way to kick off a party.
Ship as centerpiece is a fitting decoration on the island of Ischia. This table brought guests the treasures of the sea. Ischia is famous for its coniglio Ischitano, a rabbit dish that many a native family eats every Sunday. But it is an island, so the seafood is must-eat as well. These are the freshest clams, mussels, octopus, etc. you’ll ever eat. Seriously, I dream about the stuff when I’m not here. That’s not an exaggeration. Aaaah, now you want to sail away to Ischia. You with me?
NOTE FROM EDITOR: My husband works for Hotel Continental Mare, and he was working when he took the photos. I just want readers to know that this is not an objective review or anything close to that. This is merely an opportunity to see the preparation for the Ferragosto celebration and the beauty of the hotel’s view and its offerings. Not bad, eh?
ITALIAN MEMES – POSTCARDS FROM ITALY / LE FESTE – HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS
The Italian holiday Ferragosto couldn’t be celebrated anywhere but Italy. In fact, it’s the only country I know that marks Aug. 15 as still having significance. The festivities date back to 18 BC and the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus for whom the whole month is named. He declared August to be for revelry. The high point in those days was Aug. 13 when women made offerings to the goddess Diana in hopes of having safe labor and delivery.
Italian Holiday Ferragosto – Sun, Sex, and Rock n’ Roll
In general, the celebrations were all about excesses – gorging, orgies, and imbibing. I’ve written about this before for ItaliansRus. Christianity comes around and makes Aug. 15 about the assumption of the Virgin Mary in an attempt to change the rituals. But we’re talking about Italians here. Do you really think you could take away their wine and sex and delicious food and still call it a holiday? C’mon now.
Obviously, the Church needs a reality check. Indeed, my friends and family will be indulging in food and wine and whatever else today. Some of them will say a little prayer or even head to church, too. Right at this moment, most of them are sleeping off the celebrations that began last night as they ushered in Aug. 15.
To be fair, here on the island of Ischia, most of my people were not getting to enjoy the holiday. They were making the holiday for the guests at hotels, bars, and restaurants throughout the island. And they’ll continue to do that today. Making sure others have a good time, after all, is their livelihood.
What will they be doing exactly? Well, carving watermelons into gorgeous flowers is one task. Another is setting tables for multi-course meals full of Italian hallmarks, such as fresh mozzarella, la parmigiana, shellfish fresh from the sea, and pounds of pasta. Chefs will be cooking all that. Someone will be on hand to make sure the wine is ever flowing, never an empty glass. Someone else will cue the music at the discoteca.
Glistening cabana boys will help beachgoers open their umbrellas and snag a drinks on the beach. Of course, there will be natives flirting with the tourists in the hopes of a little something something on Ferragosto. Wink. Wink. I guess you can say Ischia, with its slogan “where you eat, drink, and ‘whistle,'” tries to meet all your needs. Buon Ferragosto to all!
A bunny wreath is a nice addition to your door for Easter, spring, or a woodland creature-themed party. When my niece was turning 7, she wanted to celebrate spring with bunnies and flowers, and I obliged. I wanted something subdued and feminine for the door, but I didn’t want to break the bank. So, I headed to the dollar store and my own treasure trove of craft supplies in search of bunny wreath relevant items. The wreath in the photo is what I came up with.
Materials for Bunny Wreath
A wire wreath frame
Pipe cleaners (2)
Wide ribbon of your choosing
Slim ribbon of your choosing
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
1. Wrap the wire frame with the wide ribbon.
I used ribbon with a wire in it, so it was bendable and had a grip. I imagine traditional ribbon with no wire might shift a lot as you wrap. I tried to wrap the ribbon around the frame so that each turn of the ribbon overlapped slightly with the one before it. When I reached the end, I used a straight pin to hold it in place until I was able to dab some hot glue on the ribbon to adhere it to the frame and other ribbon.
2. Make the bunny ears.
Take one pipe cleaner and form the shape of a bunny ear. Twist together the bottom halves of the pipe cleaner to keep the bunny ear from losing shape. Then, attach the ear to the ribbon-wrapped wreath frame with hot glue. Do the same with the second bunny ear. You might want to wait to hot glue the first ear until both are done, so you can better position them.
3. Add a bow.
You could leave the wreath as is or you can accessorize. I might have made a bow tie had the party been for my son. But for my niece, I made a bow out of tulle ribbon and hot glued a decorative flower (with faux pearls at its center) on the knot. Then, I hot glued the bow to the bottom center portion of the wreath.
4. Include a hook.
To make it hang on my door, I weaved a long, thin ribbon through the wrapped ribbon and tied a knot at the top. Then, I hung it from the hook that already hangs on my door. Voila, a welcoming wreath that requires little effort.
Easter centerpieces are a great way to make holidays as festive and special as possible. Even if you don’t want to go all out (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you can make a simple centerpiece to jazz up the table. If your house is anything like mine, the table is the center of all the action at the holidays anyway. Discover these Easter centerpieces that I’ve made in no time at all:
Bunnies and Flowers Oh My
To make these Easter centerpieces, I turned to stuff I already had lying around the house. The electronic candles were a gift, and I had purchased the bunnies and plastic glittered eggs at the dollar store long ago. I picked up some silk and paper flowers, Spanish moss, and some malted chocolate eggs and created the scene in dollar-store-purchased baking pans. If I could have found one longer rectangular container, I would have combined the two Easter centerpieces to make one dramatic scene setter for the tabletop.
Jazz Up Supermarket Flowers
Egg-cellent Easter Centerpieces
The landscaper’s daughter, I’m a big fan of live flowers and plants. Designing floral bouquets is one of my favorite pastimes. But I don’t like spending a lot of money on the flowers and fillers. So, I often head to the supermarket. Carnations are a true bargain because they come in an array of colors and last a long time as long as you keep changing the water. Their full flower also packs a punch. I could not pass up the is bunch in soft and hot pink with a muted beige carnation and silver-painted baby’s breath. All I did was put cool water in the butterfly-covered vase, trimmed the ends of the carnations, and plopped them into place. Then, I added the egg picks that I had long ago bought at Michael’s in a post-Easter shopping spree.
Pull out your best crystal bowl (or even a transparent plastic one from the dollar store). Then, insert a smaller glass or vase in the center of the bowl. I actually used a cleaned out jar of salsa, and I added double sided tape to keep the jar in place. I added water to the smaller jar. Then, i filled the area between the bowl and the jar with colorful plastic Easter eggs. Finally, I created the look I wanted with the bouquet (again with flowers from the supermarket). I kept the flowers in place with a rubber band. And I placed the bouquet into the jar of water. Of all my centerpieces, this is one probably received the most compliments.
Nothing says Easter quite like bunny ears. And floral bunny ears are whimsical and lovely. They add a certain air of femininity and sophistication that is lacking in those furry dollar store ones. The good news is that this floral version provides a rich look at a cheap price point. Learn how to make your own floral bunny ears for Easter or a bunny- or woodland creatures-themed party.
Headband – You can choose a thicker band if you’d like. I was making this for my 7-year-old niece’s birthday party, and she’s small, so I wanted something more demure. I owned a thin, gold headband. It had a bow on it, but I simply removed it.
Silk or fabric flowers and greens – Many of the floral bunny ears you’ll find on Pinterest use giant flowers. Again, I was making this for a small child, so I chose smaller flowers. It’s up to you to choose the look you prefer. And I picked pink and white because of the color scheme of the rest of her outfit. But any colors would work. Make sure you have a couple of green leaves or buds to include, too.
Pipe cleaners – You can use pipe cleaners in any color. I thought the gold went well with pink and white and matched the headband.
Hot glue gun and glue sticks – To make this headband, you must have a hot glue gun and plenty of glue sticks.
Design Your Floral Bunny Ears
First, take two pipe cleaners and bend them into bunny ears. Then, wrap each around the headband to attach them. Be careful not to make them too bulky when attaching them. Test how they feel on your heard before adhering hot glue to keep them in place. Before using the hot glue gun on the flowers, test different looks to see what you like. I decided I liked each side to mirror the other with the larger flower in the middle. Finally, hot glue those babies as though your life depends on them staying put. I let my headband dry overnight and added second and third dabs of hot glue to ensure durability.