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Winter in Venice: food, history and traditions

In every part of the world winter brings traditions that start from the past, in the surroundings of Venice some of them have roots that go back to a time long before the Romanization of the world, that is when the area where Venice is located was inhabited by the Veneti, an Indo-European population settled in the second millennia BC in the area that today we call Veneto.

The history of Venice has more twists and turns than a plate of spaghetti, it is almost impossible to understand the exact position of every single spaghetti, but all of them eventually twist around the fork. If you know how to do it, though! This is how the intertwining that created Venice is done: that is, all the peoples and cultures of the Mediterranean and of Europe.

This is true for most of the regions that make up old Europe, and Venice is no different.

Thanks to our Venice Kayak guides, however, you can delve into the history of Venice and its territory, and we will tell you how certain traditions have come down to us.


When we think of Venice the last thing that comes to mind is a link to the Celts, but no. Of course, Venice was created well after the definitive defeat of the Celts by Caius Julius Caesar.

Obviously, there are only traces, such as somatic traits or traditions. And one of these is the one we are going to talk about: the festival of Pan e vin, otherwise called: “brusar la vecia”.

But what is indicated with the term pan e vin?

The origin of this festival derives from the propitiatory rites for a good harvest.

Since the pre-Christian period people would burn brushwood trying to please the gods and asking them to free the fields from infestations, the Celts used to burn a puppet, with the appearance of an old woman, representing the past year. The pyre was lit at the Winter Solstice and from the direction of the sparks it was possible to understand how the harvest would go, while the farmers danced singing songs and prayers.

Christianity, seeing the impossibility to cancel this tradition, tried to modify it. Therefore, the meaning of the bonfires, first dedicated to the divinities of the earth and of the livestock, became then the fires that illuminated the path made by the Three Kings to reach the Holy Land.

The ritual has almost remained unchanged even if the traditional pyre (at the top of which is placed a statue of an old woman made of wood and brushwood, and set on fire), is not burned close to the winter solstice, but around Epiphany and the fumes caused by the combustion often cloud the air of Venice.


"Walking through the streets, or going there by kayak, you can breathe the air that smells of the burning of the pyres, but not only, also of Mulled Wine and of the "pina" a typical cake of this holiday and made with poor ingredients."

If you want to try to make it at home follow this recipe, but do not hesitate to make changes because only by modifying what we have we can create a new tradition.

But now to the stove:

Pina traditional recipe from Veneto


  • 200 g of yellow polenta flour
  • 150 g of white wheat flour
  • 100 g of sugar
  • 100 g of butter
  • ½ sachet of yeast
  • 0,7 l of milk
  • 60 g of raisins
  • 20 g of pine nuts
  • 60 g of dried figs
  • fennel seeds
  • grappa
  • salt


In a pot bring the milk to a boil with the addition of 5 l of water and salt. Mix the flours and as soon as the milk and water begin to boil, pour them into the liquid a little at a time, whisking continuously with a whisk to prevent lumps from forming. Then continue cooking the polenta, turning it with a ladle. Remove from the heat after about 30 minutes of cooking. Add the sugar, raisins and dried figs soaked in grappa, pine nuts, fennel seeds, a pinch of cinnamon and the yeast to the polenta. Mix everything together very well. Pour the mixture into a buttered cake tin. Bake for 40 minutes at a moderate temperature (180°) until a golden crust forms on the surface.

Accompany with mulled wine according to the recipe that best suits your taste.

By Giovanni Da Lozzo

Image Credits: VeneziaRadioTv, VeneziaToday, DocVenezia

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