Italian Thanksgiving—It’s Not Traditional, but It’s Our Tradition

Braciole, meatballs, red wine, sauce, homemade desserts, family and laughter set this Italian-American scene, and if the pandemic gets in the way, you can be sure we'll all reconvene in 2021.

By: Felicia LaLomia, ISDA Contributor 

Every year, I look forward to Thanksgiving. But not the Thursday with turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. I look forward to the weekend after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as Italian Thanksgiving. 

Like many Italian gatherings, it centers all around food. For the past few years, it’s been hosted at my parent’s house. The kitchen is converted to a banquet hall, with about six tables, some folding, some dining, mismatched together to create one long eating surface. Table cloths try to hide the different structures and disguise it as one, but the varying heights give it away.

Having totally exhausted the turkey route, our table is filled with just about any other food you can think of. The day starts early, around 1 p.m. with sips and bites. 

Cheese plates, smoked salmon, aged meats, toasted crostini, dips – and that’s only the first course. Then there’s the wine – bottles upon bottles cover the kitchen island. White, red and bubbly. Different shaped wine glass decorated with charms accompany the wine.

The table isn’t really set. The plates and silverware are strewn along the table for everyone to grab. Wine glasses and water glasses are set in front of every folding chair. Bowls of red stained pasta, pots of sauce, plates of meatballs and sausage, maybe even a boiled egg or two (anyone else have these with sauce?), long rolls of braciole, chunks of parmesan cheese waiting to be sprinkled.

The normally large kitchen shrinks in size. With the forty plus people who come – family, friends, stragglers – every corner is filled, every glass is in use. By the time we all find our seats and sit down, jokes of “how’s the weather down there?” from one side of the room are already being thrown around to the other side.

Then, we all join hands and say a prayer. For a moment, it’s silent as we all look around for someone to start grace. Eventually, one of the adults volunteers one of the kids. They start it and we all join in. And the quick toast afterwards is followed by “cheers!” and “salute!”

Various octave notes of clinking glasses lead into a constant hum of talking and clanking forks on dishes. 

“Pass the pasta!”

“Can I have the cheese, please?”

“Wheres the meatballs?”

“Is there any sauce left?”

“This enough for you?”

About 30 minutes later, most everyone has surrendered, having gained 20 pounds in the process and unbuttoned the top button. Slumped back in their chairs, the wine glasses are always still in hand.

Then, comes a standoff. Half of the people (most likely the wives) begin the “pre-clean,” or the stacking of the dirty dishes into one pile. The other half of the people give the cleaners a stink eye (most likely the husbands). 

“Will you be patient, Aunt Josephine?” a husband will say. “We just finished.”

Aunt Josephine, a woman I never met, had the reputation of immediately starting to clear the table right after everyone finished. Now her names lives on as a way to tell people to “just relax” after dinner. 

Eventually, one by one, the guilt-ridden join the eager dish clearers. My dad has a habit of giving us children the “eyeball,” as we call it, to get up and help our mother clear the table. His brothers normally follow suit to their own kids.

After about forever of washing, drying and putting away, we finally all sit back down at the table…only to have more dishes brought out. Why? Dessert!

Glasses made for after dinner drinks are brought out with small forks and plates. Then come the platter(s) of Italian cookies, pies, cakes and other sweets. Bottles of frangelico, amaretto, scotch, and whiskey replace the red wine bottles. 

By this time night has fallen and looking around the abnormally long table, you can see the sleep creep into people’s eyes. But the night is far from over. The men retire to the garage or the back porch, weather-permitting, for the cigar smoking. And the women stay in the warm kitchen to continue chatting.

Later in the night, the folks from a certain generation say their goodbyes and we young folk are left. This is normally when the music and dancing begin, until the midnight hour. By then, people are picked off one by one, normally doing an Irish goodbye. 

Every year, I look forward to this day. It’s not traditional, but it’s our tradition.


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