One of my favorite Milanese traditions is eating Panettone on February 3rd. I remember doing so since I was a little kid, as far back as my memory allows. This custom involves savoring a slice of Panettone on Saint Blaise’s feast day, as a protective measure against sore throats. But why? It’s a tale in two parts.
In the 3rd century A.D., Saint Blaise, an Armenian physician, gained renown for performing numerous miracles. Among these was an incident where he saved a young boy from choking on a fish bone. As a result, Saint Blaise was designated as the patron saint of throats.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and the tradition recounts the tale of a peasant woman who visited Friar Desiderio, a Milanese friar, a few days before Christmas. She brought with her a Panettone, seeking his blessing. The friar, caught up in his busy schedule, asked her to leave the cake with him so he could bless it when he found a moment. The days slipped by, and the girl forgot to retrieve her cake. The hungry priest, convinced that the woman wouldn’t return, succumbed to temptation and began devouring the Panettone, gradually consuming the entire thing.
Then came the 3rd of February, Saint Blaise’s feast day. The peasant woman returned to the priest to claim her blessed Panettone. Apologetically, Friar Desiderio informed her that he had eaten the whole thing. However, when he went back to collect the plate where the Panettone used to be, to his astonishment, he found a brand new Panettone – twice the size of the original! And so, every year since, on this day, people of Milan enjoy their Panettone, recalling the miraculous story of Saint Blaise and the oversized cake.
Ever since moving abroad, I’ve attempted to return to Milan almost every Christmas. Each time, whether I was traveling back to the UK or, more recently, to Chicago, I carried a Panettone with me with the intention of saving it – and mostly failing, like the good Friar Desiderio – until February 3rd.