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February 3: Saint Biagio’s Panettone

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Originally written on February 3 2021, updated 2023

February 3th is the day dedicated to the holy protector of the throath, Saint Biagio (known in English as Saint Blaise).
Saint Biagio worship is widely spread in the Christian world, especially the area of Milan, Varese, Como, various areas of Piedmont but also in Southern Italy, where locals have been devoted to this Saint for centuries.
But why is he a protector of the throat and not, for example, the stomach or other parts or body?

Historically, Saint Biagio was physician and bishop of the Armenian city of Sebaste (now Sivas, eastern Turkey) in 4th century AD during the reigns of the Roman Emperor of the East, Licinio, and his rival from the West, Costantine.
It’s reported that he performed a miracle when a desperate mother brought her dying son due a fishbone stuck in his throat. Thus he gave the child a big bread crumb that once swallowed, pushed the fishbone down, freeing the trachea and preventing him from choking.
Saint Biagio, as a Christian, was persecuted then imprisoned to suffer nine days of unbearable torture only to be then thrown mercilessly into a lake. He survived, but was subsequently beheaded.

An ancient Milanese saying reads: “San Bi às a l ‘ te presèrve the góla da i rèsche de pèss e da töt ol rèst (something like “San Biagio preserve your throat from fishbones and from all the ailments”).
And It’s tradition that on this day, besides the blessing of the throat, Milanese eat the so called “panettone di San Biagio” (Saint Biagio’s Panettone), which should be exactly the one left over during the Christmas holidays.
This custom come from an old popular legend, which tells of a woman who, just before Christmas, went to such a Friar Desiderio to bless the panettone she had prepared for her family.
The very busy friar replied to the woman to leave him the treat for a few days and then collect it: he will bless it as soon as he finds a free second to do it.
After the Christmas period, Desiderio saw again the panettone in the rectory: he forgot to bless him!
Being stale by now, the man thought that the woman had forgotten too and then ate it in the following days, so he wouldn’t risk having to throw it away.
Piece after piece, after a few days only the empty wrapper remained.
It was February 3 when the woman came back to get her blessed panettone back.
Friar Desiderio, knowing the end of her panettone, was very sorry for his lack, but still decided to go to the rectory to take the empty wrapper.
Once he got to the corner where he had placed what was left of the panettone, he discovered to his great surprise that the wrapper was still swollen, filled with a panettone twice as big as the former.
The miracle happened on St. Biagio’s Day!
Since then it is custom to consume a piece of panettone on Saint Biagio day, on February 3.

Be care: according to tradition, in order to prevent a sore throat, you have to follow the following conditions:
– panettone must be advanced by Christmas (and if it is a bit stale better yet);
– a little piece is eaten as first thing on the morning of February 3th (San Biagio) together with your family;
– must be blessed.
Moreover, once in Milan it was the norm for pastry shops, around February 3, selling the so-called San Biagio panettones, panettones at a discounted price.

And you, did you save a piece of panettone?

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