We love Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, the whole nine yards. We gorge ourselves to celebrate the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, and surviving the winter with the help of God--and a few Native Americans. They had a feast, and being English they probably boiled the hell out of it.
Today, we all celebrate a golden-glowing Norman Rockwell holiday. Or do we? My guess is that every ethnic group puts a little local spin on it. In our household, we had an Italian American take on the feast.
As you know, Italians in Italy don't celebrate Thanksgiving. They celebrate La Festa del Ringraziamento (Festival of Thanks) which is similar in spirit, and also includes food and drink, but no pilgrims. They also celebrate many autumn harvest festivals, as they have since well before the time of Christ. In this country, Italian Americans celebrate their own Thanksgiving traditions, and the food is very good. Unlike those austere, pinched-mouthed, black-wearing pilgrims, Italians love life--and food is a major part of life. The feast might start with an antipasto, jump into a lasagna for a first course (prima piatta), and get around to the turkey and stuffing as the main course.
Thomas Craughwell, in an article entitled, "If Only the Pilgrims Had Been Italian," had this to say:
"I would be willing to bet serious money that right now in your kitchen you have olive oil, garlic, pasta, Parmesan cheese, and dried basil (maybe even fresh basil!). Nothing exotic there, right? They're ingredients we take for granted. But their appearance in our kitchens is a relatively recent phenomenon. Believe me, those big-flavor items did not come over on the Mayflower. It took generations, even centuries, for Americans to expand their culinary horizons to the point where just about everybody cooks Italian and orders Chinese take-out."
Read the rest of the story here.
On the Sicilian Culture website, an Italian American Thanksgiving is decribed in detail:
"In the fine pilgrim tradition, my ancestors (grandparents) came over here to the New World, America, and they celebrated and gave thanks for their new fortune, freedom and prosperiety. However, they were very reluctant to give up the traditions of their own, that is why they still serve manicotti, lasagna or stuffed shells prior to the turkey. If you are ever invited to a real Italian Thanksgiving Dinner, do not eat beforehand, and bring your appetite, and plan on staying for a while or even sleeping over. You see, they start off with the antipasto: salami, pepperoni, tomatoes, olives, anchovies, sweet roasted peppers, assorted cheeses like mozzarella, provolone, and even the American cheddar, etc. Then comes the salad, next the pasta, and of course nexts comes the turkey, complete with stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, gravy and anything else you might expect. Afterward, you of course have the fine Italian pastries, and that is always the hightlight, the conversation then consists of where you got them, how long you waited on line, and who has the best. This final course includes black coffee done in the double boiler, better known as demitasse or espresso, with the usual cordials, amaretto, sambuca and/or anisette."
This Thanksgiving, try an Italian stuffing with the help of Giada De Laurenteiis
Sounds good to me. In case you get lucky, and get invited to Thanksgiving with Italians, these words may be helpful:
- l'Amerindio—American Indian
- il corteo—parade
- il granturco—Indian corn
- il Nuovo Mondo—New World
- i Padri Pellegrini—Pilgrim Fathers
- il raccolto—harvest
- il tacchino—turkey
- la tradizione—tradition
- la zucca—pumpkin
Comedian Joe DeVito talks about an Italian American Thanksgiving in his stand-up routine. Here he was filmed at Stress Factory, on October 16, 2008