Today is the Epiphany. In the Christian holiday tradition, it’s the day that the three Magi visited the Baby Jesus. In other holiday traditions it’s also referred to as the Twelfth Night, the end of the Christmas season. In Italy, the eve of the Epiphany is the day that La Befana, a wizened old woman, travels throughout Italy rewarding well-behaved children with presents and punishing misbehaved children with lumps of coal.

As a child, I remember being horrified at my father’s stories about La Befana. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be growing up in Canada where we were visited by sweet and harmless Santa Claus. Of course now that I’m older and I understand more of the folklore behind La Befana, I sometimes wish that I could be in Italy to take part in so many of the traditions that continue through the holiday season, beyond Christmas and New Year’s.

As the years go by, I sometimes find myself dissatisfied with how we celebrate the “holiday season” because we tend to focus on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and forget that in actual fact, the holiday season is a time that spans the period between Christmas and the Epiphany. It’s supposed to be a time of light and joy. Being of an Italian background, there are so many customs and traditions, now long abandoned, that mark each day of the holiday season. Sometimes I feel that in the desire to satisfy the commercial aspect of the holidays, we forget that really, we’re supposed to be having fun throughout this entire period.

So I wanted to commemorate the Epiphany and La Befana this year for two reasons.

First of all, as I get older, rather than constantly complain about how much this or that sucks, I’ve decided that I should shut up and actually do something to change what I don’t like. And since I don’t like how we seem to focus on the wrong things during the holidays, I’ve decided to not complain (for a change) and do something about it.

While I didn’t get a visit at all from La Befana (not sure what I would have done with a lump of coal anyway …), I did put out a little La Befana doll ornament that I have and I also ensured that all our Christmas decorations remained up. We have dutifully lit the Christmas tree and will enjoy its lights for one last time before the beginning of the Christmas season next December (never too early to start planning …).

But the other way that I’ve chosen to make a change is by actually baking for this special day. The cookies pictured above are called La Befana’s Stars and they’re from Gina DePalma‘s amazing cookbook: Dolce Italiano. If you’re interested in baking and in Italian sweets, I strongly urge you to make this book yours.

These cookies also give me the opportunity to mention a very good cause associated with this book. In September 2008, Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy, Jenn of The Leftover Queen and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso hosted an event called O Foods for Ovarian Cancer. I heard about the event through a post on the event by the Happy Cook on her blog My Kitchen Treasures.

The event highlighted the important battle against ovarian cancer and also highlighted Gina DePalma’s own battle with the disease. Gina has been bravely documenting her journey on her site.

While I was unable to take part in the event, it was never far from my mind and so I wanted to make these cookies as a way of showing my support for this tremendous effort on the part of food bloggers everywhere.

Epiphany is a word that doesn’t just refer to a religious holiday, it’s also a word that’s used to describe the sense of having a revelation or of discovering something new. It can mean that something finally makes sense or that you finally realize or truly get something.

I hope 2009 is a year of epiphanies for all of us!