Italian traditions For Members

Do Italians really save a piece of Christmas panettone for February?

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Do Italians really save a piece of Christmas panettone for February?
The Milanese have a long and proud history of producing and eating panettone, but does that extend to eating the last surviving remnants in February? (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

You may have heard that in Italy - or at least the Milan area - it’s traditional to keep a slice of panettone from Christmas Day to eat several weeks later. Do people really do this, and why?


Italians are famed as being a pretty superstitious bunch in general and there are plenty of traditions that leave foreign residents and visitors puzzled.

One such custom that you might encounter if you live in Milan, or elsewhere in Lombardy, is that of saving a slice of the Christmas panettone to eat on February 3rd.

READ ALSO: Panettone: Six things you didn't know about Italy's most famous Christmas cake

Panettone is believed to have originated in Milan, so perhaps it’s not too surprising that the city has this curious seasonal tradition. But do people really do this? And if so, why?

February 3rd is the feast day of San Biagio, a doctor and bishop who lived in the third century, and who is said to have saved a young man from choking on a fishbone stuck in his throat by giving him a piece of bread that dislodged it.

San Biagio was later tortured and decapitated for his faith, and the Catholic Church declared him a saint and, thanks to the fishbone story, a protector of the throat. Still today, he is believed to have the power to ward off sore throats and other ailments affecting that part of the body.

How much do you know about the panettone?

Photo by kate rumyantseva on Unsplash

There’s also a more recent legend from Milan about a greedy friar called Desiderio who was asked by a local woman to bless her Christmas panettone. But he forgot to do so, instead absent-mindedly nibbling away at the dessert until there was nothing left. By the time the woman came back, it was February 3rd, and the panettone was long gone. As the friar prepared to show her the empty wrapper and come up with an excuse, he found the panettone had reappeared - twice its original size. The grateful friar attributed this miracle to San Biagio as it was, after all, his feast day.

Local tradition now holds that on February 3rd people should have the last surviving pieces of the Christmas panettone for breakfast, as it will have by then taken on magical properties that offer protection from sore throats - something which will no doubt come in handy at that time of year.


People in Milan today however are far more likely to buy a new panettone for the occasion, according to the city’s Chamber of Commerce - which points out that prices in February are much lower than at Christmas.

READ ALSO: Panettone or pandoro: Which is the best Italian Christmas cake?

In fact, in Milan it’s not at all unusual for people to buy panettone outside of the holiday season, with sales remaining strong throughout winter and a smaller trade continuing throughout the year, Chamber of Commerce data shows.

So rest assured that, while no one really expects you to carefully preserve a dried-up piece of your Christmas dessert, you will have the perfect excuse to visit your favourite Milanese pasticceria again in a few weeks’ time.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also