Alas, I successfully cooked a feast for 15 people in Italy for the second time in my life with tricks thrown at me as usual. I passed the test of time management, tastiness, and moist meat-HALLELUJAH I’m representing that Americans can cook foods apart from hamburgers (common joke Italians have against Americans).
I introduced Thanksgiving to my husband’s family last year, and they enjoyed it very much and thought it was quite special. This year they added blooming onions to the menu as an appetizer which I was a little hesitant to add because it’s not exactly an elegant food, but it tells you about their idea that Thanksgiving is just like all other meals. Nevertheless, we had a spectacular Thanksgiving meal with a 35 pound stuffed turkey, 7 southern side dishes, home-made rolls, and four desserts! In all the grandeur I wanted to tell them about the history behind this day, but was too shy to give a speech in Italian and opted out. Oh well, “piano piano” as the Italians say-slowly slowly I will add the story next year. Ironically, without my speech I still wasn’t free-I explained the list of ingredients in all my dishes as Fabio’s aunts were pounding me with questions like usual. Talk about my head spinning hosting a meal with people unfamiliar with American food, one person lactose intolerant asking me what has milk in it, and 5 Italian women talking to me at the same time asking detailed questions (all with wine in my hand might I add, continuously being poured by my father-in-law). There was a lot going on, but I made it through the weeds. In the end I did keep one important tradition that I grew up with which is that the man of the house cuts the turkey. So, my husband had the honor of cutting our turkey, instead of his aunt leaning over his shoulder who tempted him to give it over. Fabio did a great job, only to turn around and do it again two weeks later.
When you host a party in Italy there are often too many people to juggle that you just can’t invite everyone over to the same festa. To fix my juggling problems I decided to throw a Thanksgiving meal for just the family, and a Christmas party with the traditional Christmas food for friends and co-workers. Even though so many people came it wasn’t everybody, which tells me that next year we may have to throw 3 parties in total for the holidays! This leads me into writing this post: The holidays in Italy.
I never really knew how many Christmas traditions we have in America until I left. People say we don’t have a culture because we’re a melting pot, I used to believe that, but now I know that they were wrong. Just speaking of Christmas here, in America we have our Christmas cards, some send family letters; picking out a tree, drinking hot chocolate, Christmas movies, Christmas music all over the place, decorating Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses, caroling, toys for tots or the idea of giving back in general, ugly sweater parties, secret santa games, mistletoe, I could just go on and on. In Italy there are lots of little Christmas traditions as well, but none of them are these.
In Italy each city decorates with lights which is nice, individual houses not so much. They don’t send Christmas cards out or bake for their friends, instead they bring over Italian fruit cake which is called panettone. The grandmas will bake typical Italian cookies with honey called purciduzzi; hot chocolate is literally 100% chocolate in a liquid form-pretty heavy. They aren’t too keen on eggnog, in general they don’t drink creamy beverages. Christmas music is played in the streets where there are shops, but is hard to find on the radio until days before Christmas. There are Italian Christmas movies, but there is no overall tradition of sitting down with your family and watching the same movie every year. There are no Christmas carols because all of those songs are English, but they do have one of the best Christmas singers ever-Mario Biondi. Italians wouldn’t dare show up in an ugly sweater for a party-EVER…maybe they would go, but It would be more like the Best Name Brand Christmas Sweater Party. One thing Italy has for Christmas that America does not is Presepe. Presepe is where each
town decorates the oldest part to look like Nazareth. There are animals, live manger scenes, and sweets at the end for all the people who walk through. This is similar to our Christmas light drive-bys, but spectacular in a down-to-Earth way. Another tradition that Italy has is La Befana on the 6th of January. This is the day where children receive stockings from the Christmas witch (the real reason for the holiday is to celebrate the day that the Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus), anyway adults don’t usually exchange stockings, and the stockings come pre-packaged just like our Easter baskets. Babbo Natale (Santa Clause) comes on Christmas Eve “la vigilia di Natale” and so Italians open gifts on the eve instead of Christmas. For such a catholic country it’s ironic to me that there is no holiday expression with the word Christ in it. Buon Natale, Auguri, Buone Feste…none actually say Felice Crist0 or something of that genre. Perhaps Pope Francesco reminds everyone during his annual Christmas speech.
Take a look at these links to hear Mario, I’m sure you’ve all heard his voice before!
Probably the most special thing about the holidays in Italy is that everyone gets substantial time off. One week is pretty much the standard time off for Christmas, and that does not affect their other days off during the year. The Italian business system has a way of protecting the family atmosphere, this is one major thing I love about Italian business. Not only do Italians get off for Christmas, but they get off a good amount for Easter as well. It’s wonderful that families have the opportunity to spend time with each other without stressing about their jobs. I don’t mind that all the shops are closed on certain days because I’m happy knowing those workers get to be home like everyone else. It’s the way it should be.
I miss my country and my culture the most during the holidays, it’s normal to yearn for what you’ve grown up with even if things are special in other places. Italy is very special during the holidays, even so I’ve tried to bring a little bit of America to Italy-just can’t resist.