Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Italian American Thanksgiving

I will start off by saying, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Thanksgiving a true American holiday and one of those holidays that were never quite 100% the traditional Americana. Growing up in my house as a first generation Italian American child, we definitely struggled with adopting American traditions, because my parents just weren't versed in the traditions as we know them today.

I remember being in elementary school and learning about the true story of the pilgrims and why Americans celebrated with a day off and a big turkey feast. My mother learned from our neighbors that you were supposed to buy a turkey and make all sorts of things like yams, cranberry, stuffing.. all things that are not really Italian. So, to assimilate and take on the American holiday, my mother cooked the turkey, made the stuffing and presented the cranberry. This was really foreign to my parents. Our Italian American Thanksgiving would consist of stuffed mushrooms, lasagna, pasta, olives and more a la Italiana menu.

Make no mistake we are all Americans, celebrating a great tradition but at the same time Thanksgiving became a combined holiday of traditions just so we as Italian Americans could relate to it as well. I would imagine other ethnic cultures have experienced this as well when originating parents or grandparents did not grow up in America; therefore having to learn the traditions of the American holidays. As I write this or sit at the table and prepare for the holiday meals, I often wonder do other Italian Americans feel this way..? Or is harder from a first generation perspective because we literally learn, assimilate and practice as we go? Food for thought? I'd love to hear your opinions and or thoughts.


themendous said...

You hit the nail on the head! my family grew up the same way. A typical Thanksgiving day dinner consisted of many appetizers including stuffed mushrooms, mozzarella salad, calamari, a variety of olives, pickled mushrooms, shrimp cocktails, breaded shrimp, amongst other pre-eats belly filling goodies. Then... soup. Usually Tortellini with a turkey broth and shards of turkey meat. then Pasta: Lasagna, to start. But if you wanted Spaghetti, that was also available, unless you wanted Ziti, that was available as well!. If at that point you didn't get enough, there was the next course: Meats: Steak, veal, and chicken. Oh.. before I forget... The actual TURKEY! That was there as well. Stuffing? My mom never made anything simple. The stuffing was not regular stove top, no. she made a mixture that was something in the line of the stuffing for the mushrooms. Prociutto, mozzarella, and other ingredients that I am now realizing that I need to get the recipe for! Then after everyone was off onto the couch and living room floor for a quick after "dinner" nap, coffee, fruits and home made cakes! WOW! what a Thanksgiving day feast! But then, the only difference between that feast and other festive meals is... the turkey! Gotta love it!

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Michelle @ Italian Mama Chef said...

Great thoughts about asimilating the traditions of America by imigrants. My grandparents did not adopt the customs of America all that well because I only remember Italian food on the menu at every dinner at their house whether it was a holiday or not. I do remember that on Christmas we had the treat of braciole and on Easter they made ravioli. Since they arrived just before the Great Depression started, their food ideas were simple and that probably helped them survive.
Now I am a grandma and I cook a mixture of Italian and American foods at the holidays. One turkey and fixings is enough once a year. Christmas is all Italian foods. I want my kids/grandkids to know the ways of their heritage as their blood gets less and less Italian.

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Anonymous said...

I find all of this really interesting to read, as I am also part of the Italian diaspora, (Italian-British) and we pretty much have the same situation regarding food. Christmas, Easter, a saints day or other dinners with significance are always eight-course sagas! We begin with the antipasti of course; maybe some tomatoes stuffed with garlic and glazed with balsamic, maybe some prosciutto, or artichokes if they are around (surprisingly hard to get in the UK). Pasta, followed by fish, then meat dishes comes next....maybe some light dessert or pastries, some cheese of course, and fruit if you are still alive. I would guess that our American cousins have something similar!

In general, our meals tend to be a combination of Southern and Northern Italian food (where my father and mother are from respectively) most of the time. I am sorry to be so general, it is just that we don't celebrate Thanksgiving in this part of the world.
A typical dinner on a day of no particular occasion would consist of Sicilian sausage with lentils and pulses, or perhaps some pasta dish, nothing special.
Traditional English food is good stuff too though, it gets a bad rep for no reason. I'm talking about heavy winter stews with venison meats, lamb tongue with herbs, fresh fish with a beautiful and simple lemon/oil that sometimes gets served in our house too.
I mean, I'm still only 18, but I know for sure I will pass these recipes and traditions down for the next generation. It saddens me enormously to see a third/fourth generation Italian or whatever, to entirely lose their identity. In England, identity with Italy is strong amongst the community (its quite large, there are some 500,000 Italian Brits) as most of us are still first or second generation, and obviously living in Europe means that we travel to Italy very frequently. In some ways it's not as good, because I cannot romanticise it too much knowing its problems, but I guess its nice to know a country with good and bad, rather than just a fantasy portrayal of it.

Francesca said...

I am Italian-American, not first generation, but we still work in our Italian dishes and traditions to our American Thanksgiving. We always had lasagna or other pasta dish served alongside our turkey and stuffing. My non Italian-American friends thought it a novelty; my very non-Italian husband, on the first Thanksgiving he spent with my family, was completely surprised! Keep up the Italian-American traditions. I plan to do so with my own family.

Italian American Girl said...

Thank you for your feedback everyone and sharing. Amazing.