Just about every culture in the world has its holiday traditions. Italian culture is no exception. Both native Italians and Italian-Americans often mark major holidays by participating in ceremonies, celebrations, and rituals their families have passed down for generations. Traditions help to bring families together and celebrate where we came from and honor those who came before us. It’s never too late to restart a tradition that your family used to have. I have listened to many 2nd and 3rd generation Italian Americans who remember Nonno making wine in the basement and wish they could continue the tradition. I always tell them, “what’s stopping you?” If you have any Italian heritage, you might want to honor it by practicing some Italian holiday traditions with your own family. The following are a few noteworthy examples of how my family keeps the traditions alive at Christmas. Keep them in mind if you’re thinking about adding a little more Italian culture to your holiday celebrations!
For Italians, Christmas Eve is when we have our big family gathering. And, of course, many of our family traditions are food related. One such traditional food offering are antipasto platters. Several of us will put them together to share with the rest of the family on Christmas Eve. This classic Italian starter is traditionally served on special occasions such as Christmas. In rural Italy years ago every family had a pig, which was killed each year so that different cuts of cured meat would be available in the pantry. The family also made numerous jars of preserved vegetables and their own cheese. All this produce would be carefully assembled to be enjoyed as an antipasto or starter. Nowadays, all you need is a trip to the supermarket or Italian deli to find these delicacies. Arrange them on big platters in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves. Make sure you have plenty of good bread and grissini (Italian bread sticks). You can also enhance this course by making some bruschetta. My antipasto always includes some Bellisari’s Gourmet Spreads & Sauces. 😉
One tradition that my siblings and I loved was that our grandparents would give us stockings full of nuts, nectarines, tangerines, and Italian candies. This would be their Christmas gift to us, and we looked forward to it! A child today would probably be disappointed by the goodies found in the Christmas stockings of the past. Some of the best present-day stocking stuffers may be considered an electronic or game (even our pets and newborns get in on the action now!), but in the past, stocking stuffers were more like candies, nuts, and fresh oranges, all of which were considered to be a real treat at the time, and my grandparents carried on this tradition. Because I have such fond memories of those stockings, stockings are an important part of what I give my sons for Christmas.
One of my favorite holiday memories is when on Christmas Eve, after we’d eaten, the whole family would put on coats and hats and head out to go caroling! I remember being so cold but being so proud to be out bringing Christmas joy to our neighbors. Our family caroling became a part of our neighbor’s tradition too. They looked forward to it as much as we did. Unfortunately, these days that tradition doesn’t happen. So many of the neighbors are not home and the youngsters in our family aren’t really into it. Maybe we should try to do it again this year since people have to stay home. I know we all could use some extra-festive holiday joy this year.
Holiday traditions play an important role in our lives. This is true regardless of your culture. Holiday traditions can help us connect with our extended family. They can help us maintain a sense of normalcy when celebrating our first holiday without a loved one, for example. Perhaps most importantly, they remind us that we belong to a community. That’s an encouraging feeling, whether you’re Italian or not -- especially this year! Happy Holidays from all of us at Bellisari’s!