My Italo-Turkey Day*

   My father said, “They don’t have turkey in Italy.” I wasn’t sure what he meant. It was Thanksgiving, I was on school vacation, there was a high-school football game earlier that day, a chill in the air, and our family was about to have a Thanksgiving feast.
   I thought that the only differences between this day and the usual Sunday dinner were that we ate turkey, rather than chicken; there was cranberry sauce; and the day was Thursday. I was wrong. The differences were much more.
   My grandparents had known nothing of Thanksgiving when they arrived in America.
   “But they found a way,” my aunt said. She continued, “My mother was progressive. She learned how to stuff a turkey and taught everybody else. She learned about yams and cranberries. She made us speak to her in English. She wanted to learn everything she could about her new home.”
   Grandmother never saw a turkey before arriving here from a small town in southern Italy. She knew nothing of Pilgrims and how they celebrated their good fortunes in America. She was comforted, however, when she learned that she shared something with those early settlers: they had all arrived in fear, ignorance, expectation and hope. Because she felt this bond, she became more involved, more American. Thus she learned how to cook a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving not because she had to, but because she wanted to.
   I returned from the football game to the wonderful aromas floating up the rear staircase of our Providence tenement, permeating all the floors. I opened my grandparents’ door. Our families sat around a huge table. The warm light streaming through the dining-room windows brought something — magic perhaps — that made every Sunday and every holiday dinner beautiful. The children had their own table, just as splendid as the adults’, in the adjoining parlor.
   The feast began after a thankful prayer. Antipasto first, followed by requisite lasagna, then hot dumpling soup. A lull, then the stuffed turkey was presented as king, symbolically carried by grandfather followed by my proud grandmother. Mashed potatoes, turnips, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce accompanied the turkey. Grandfather scooped out the stuffing, carved and served the turkey. We ladled out brown, not Italian red, gravy. When finished, we thought that we neither could nor would eat another thing, certainly not the desserts.
   But, oh those desserts! In addition to traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin, apple and custard pies, we had torrone, spumoni, confetti (candy almonds), biscotti, noce (nuts), mandorle (almonds), nocciole (hazelnuts) and gelato. Stovetop-roasted chestnuts followed. Coke and Nehi sodas, Grandfather’s homemade wine, and espresso washed everything down.
   Late in the day more family arrived, uncles carrying guitars and mandolins and music that extended the day’s festivities.
My grandparents, though immigrants, did what people in America have always done for Thanksgiving.
   They appreciated and embraced it, added their culture, and then taught it to us. They taught us that it was our holiday, our American holiday, new and now familiar. It may have been “Italianized,” but it was now clearly American.

* Published ‘Grandfather’s Fig Tree and Other Stories.” New River Press, 2008


By | 2017-07-10T16:10:28+00:00 November 22nd, 2012|Family, Festa, Food, Ingredients, Reflections, Stories of the 1940's and 1950's|8 Comments


  1. Pat Mitchell November 22, 2012 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Ed, I love this story. It brings me right to my grandmother’s house and her dining room table. I miss the Italian American Thanksgivings we shared as a family back then, even though I adore the traditions we have today as a family now.

    This story is such a classic for all Italian Americans and I believe for all families that came to this country in search of what it means to be American.

    Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful day today with your family

  2. Tony Agostinelli November 22, 2012 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Ed: Our Thanksgiving Day celebration was similar to the holiday fare and preparation as our Easter and Christmas holidays. However, the food was not all the same. There was anti-pasta, escarole chicken soup with little meatballs, pasta with meatballs and beef and pork, and turkey with all of the trimmings, melanzana (egg plant) a la parmigiana, and homemade American pies. My grandfather’s homemade wine, and after he died, my uncle’s homemade wine. We were thankful for all that we had, and that all of our relatives were working. I went to parochial school, and the nuns made sure we all brought home fictures, drawings and writings about our first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

    Today, my daugher will serve the Thanksgiving Feast, and my son-in-law will do the cooking. In past, I would make the escarole soup and melanzana; today, only the melanzana.

    We are still all very Thankful for what has been given us.

    Tony Agostinelli

  3. Al Raymond November 26, 2012 at 7:40 am - Reply

    Great memories

    • Edward Iannuccilli November 26, 2012 at 7:51 am - Reply

      Thank you, Al. Indeed they were.

    • Tony Agostinelli November 26, 2012 at 10:37 am - Reply

      Yes, there are turkeys in Italy; many in the north and from Austria and France. Google it: “Are there turkeys in Italy?”


      • Edward Iannuccilli November 26, 2012 at 3:26 pm - Reply

        Thanks, Tony, but our grandparents, from the south, never saw one until they came to America. Nonetheless, one Thanksgiving some years ago, we were in Italy with my parents at Thanksgiving to see our daughter who was schooling there. As my mother was bemoaning the fact that we might not have turkey, there, ahead of us was a restaurant in Perugia advertising turkey for lunch. Guess what we had in this, the pasta capital! Yep, tacchino…

        • Tony Agostinelli November 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm - Reply

          Ed: Nor did my grandparents…they found our about turkeys in the USA, as did my Dad. It was never as important an item on our dinner table at Thanksgiving, although, we did have it at that table. We had more of the trimmings, which had an Italianesque flavor.

Leave A Comment