An Italian Thanksgiving
Holiday music everywhere you turn; Christmas movies day and night; decorations hanging; lights blinking; crowds bustling; people screaming. You can't help but be reminded Santa Claus is Coming to Town! Sad thing is it's not even Thanksgiving yet! Thanksgiving: the fourth Thursday in November when families have a special traditional meal and celebrate all the things they are grateful for! With this special day quickly entering into view, I am bombarded with fond memories of my wonderful parents, of my amazing childhood, of the traditional Thanksgivings with my massive, resounding and spirited family - much different than the traditional American Thanksgiving!
My parents were part of the large group of Italians who left the country of their birth to come to the country where they heard the streets were paved with gold! When they arrived they realized that the streets were not paved with gold. As a matter of fact, they were not even paved at all! The saddest part was that they were the ones who were expected to pave them.
My parents and other members of their families and friends made the journey, they assimilated and stayed. They were proud to live in America! The learned the language and they lived together with the Americans. They also celebrated as the Americans did.
Now, I was an only child, but my holidays consisted of my grandmother, "Nonna," and of course my parents. There were the aunts and uncles, adult cousins who were called "aunt" and "uncle," family friends who were also called "aunt" and "uncle" and tons of kids who were all cousins! And then there were the friends who had nowhere else to go. Everyone was on a first name basis. No Mr. or Mrs.! We were all family!!!
For Italians, it was and still is all about the food and the presentation. Paper plates were out of the question! Numerous sets of fine china were used and it did not matter if all the pieces matched! And no one had dishwashers. After dinner, the men would watch TV and take naps and the women would go to the kitchen to wash and dry the dishes and gossip until it was time to eat again. The kids would play and as the girls got older they would dread leaving the fun of playing to join the kitchen labor!
I remember our Thanksgiving Holiday meals so clearly. My mother always made it seem so easy. I try to follow her example today, but it isn't as easy as it seemed!
Once everyone arrived, kissed everyone hello, got settled, and sat at the huge table my father had built, plus all the extra tables needed to fit each guest, the gastronomic experience began!
We started with the antipasto - huge platters of cured meats, olives, peperoncini, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts, various cheeses (such as provolone or mozzarella), vegetables in oil or vinegar, etc. This was followed by lasagna. Everyone loved my mother's lasagna, and I have to say mine is pretty good as well! This was accompanied by meatballs and meat in the gravy. Once this was done, we had to have soup to settle the stomach - homemade chicken broth with thin homemade noodles and beaten eggs with grated cheese.
Now for the meal! My mother would get up while it was still dark to pop a huge turkey into the oven. BUT she would also cook a beautiful roast beef for anyone who didn't like turkey! She would stuff the turkey with chestnut and sausage stuffing. And the side dishes included roasted potatoes, broccoli rabe, roasted red peppers (that she roasted on the oven burner the day before and cooled in a brown paper bag) with olive oil and tons of garlic, salad made with extra virgin olive oil and homemade wine vinegar and lots of bread from the Italian bakery from Little Italy in the Bronx!
Always present on the table were bottles of my father's homemade wine - from the year before. The new batch was in the cellar fermenting. It wouldn't be ready for a while yet. My mom liked the red and my dad liked the white and I would take a sip and spit it out because it was "too strong!" As I got older I learned to like it and now, how I miss it! Coke and 7-UP were always present as well as a vintage seltzer bottle, delivered weekly by the seltzer man. My Nonna never opened the door for anybody, but she always let the seltzer man in!
After about two hours of dish washing and napping, my mother believed that stomachs were starting to rumble again. So out came more bread, prosciutto, mozzarella, homemade sausage, fruit, dried figs, nuts, slices of "finocchio" (to clear to palate), and, of course, what would Thanksgiving be without roasted chestnuts!
Finally, it was time for dessert! Every guest had brought a white box from their favorite Italian bakery filled with Italian cookies and pastries and cakes and pies. All of us kids ran to gather the red and white baker's twine used to wrap the boxes so we could play our traditional holiday game of "cats in the cradle."
The scent of Medaglia D'Oro Espresso filled the house as my dad got the bottles of Sambuca and Anisette, an essential additive to the somewhat bitter tasting original energy drink! Once the coffee was served it was almost like a cue that the day had come to an end, and like clockwork everyone got up to say goodbye (which took at least another hour). I was in charge of getting everyone's coats off my parents' bed and remembering who belonged to what. And after everyone left, I felt so sad. My dad put away all the chairs and extra tables. My mom finished up the dishes, and I fell asleep on the couch (at least until I was old enough to help in the kitchen.)
It was an amazing time being a kid during a real Italian Thanksgiving! Thank you Mommy and Daddy and family and friends for such wonderful and heartfelt memories!
A long time has passed since the days of "An Italian Thanksgiving!" My Nonna and my parents are gone. Many of the Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Family Friends have passed or moved away. Families have grown and have gone on to start their own Holiday traditions. And my amazing husband and I and our two fantastic sons, along with an abundance of loving family and very special friends, have established our own heartwarming traditions as well. So many new! And so many from the past! I can only hope that my boys have the same fond memories that I do and continue some of the same old time traditions that I did! Happy Holidays Everyone! And remember to say " thank you" for at least one thing every day!