Many families are gathering to celebrate the religious holidays of Easter and Passover. Others may be rejoicing over the arrival of spring and multigenerational family trips.
There is a great cause for celebration — or there should be — when families gather. I was reminded of the importance of generational gatherings last month when I attended my great-niece’s christening.
Sitting at a table reserved for my siblings and their families felt comforting and familiar. Yet a feeling of nostalgia for another era stirred within me. The realization that we were the oldest generation at the christening hit me. Good lord! We were seated at the “old folks” table—the table once reserved for our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
My nieces and nephews were at one table and their friends at another. If you are Italian, there is a kids table—although the kids were running throughout the room trying to lasso each other with a hula-hoop. I don’t recall the hula-hoop being used this way, but the kid in me wanted to jump in. Distance and life obligations kept my sons, their wives and my grandbabies, Luca, and Nova from attending. Responding to my videos and photographs, both of my sons commiserated about enjoying those big Italian family gatherings.
Distance and life obligations kept my sons, their wives and my grandbabies, Luca, and Nova from attending. Responding to my videos and photographs, both of my sons commiserated about enjoying those big Italian family gatherings.
They mentioned how they loved to run free (parents weren’t paying that much attention) during the festivities. Our three-way FaceTime conversation was the springboard for more memories.
Once upon a time, a long time ago when I was a little older than my grandbabies Nova and Luca, family gatherings were ruckus events. My siblings and I looked forward to interacting with our cousins and wider family.
Be it Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter the grandmas of the family would cook and supervise the next generation in old world Italian cooking. Pointing with the ever-present wooden spoon, the grandmas held the next generation captive — perhaps by fear. Those wooden spoons were used for many things besides stirring the sauce. My mom and the aunts stood at attention, outfitted in aprons. Each held a wooden spoon ready for a cue from the matriarchs to start stirring.
My maternal grandmother was called “grandma-over here“ because she lived on Staten Island close to us. My paternal grandmother who lived in Canarsie Brooklyn was referred to as Grandma Canarsie. For my grandmothers, Thanksgiving was puzzling. Antipasto, ravioli, sausage, and meat balls were the pièces de résistance. Turkey was an add-on. I can still remember my grandmas discussing in broken English what to do with the turkey in the kitchen sink.
For my grandmothers, Thanksgiving was puzzling. Antipasto, ravioli, sausage, and meat balls were the pièces de résistance. Turkey was an add-on. I can still remember my grandmas discussing in broken English what to do with the turkey in the kitchen sink.
For Christmas, food preparations started weeks before. Struffoli (Italian Honey Balls) and Panforte made grandma over — here’s house smell like a candy store. Christmas Eve consisted of the seven fish dishes, wine and midnight Mass. Christmas day was standard Italian fare resulting in a food coma.
Easter brought Italian Easter bread called Colombia Pasquale. Interesting: hard-boiled eggs were placed inside the bread. If you had a piece of egg in your bread, it was a sign of luck. Dinner, straight from grandma’s kitchen, was an occasion for an abundant and indulgent feast—though, really, what Italian holiday isn’t?
At the Christening, I suppose because I was seated at the “old folk” table, I could identify with my grandmothers and aunts who made those wonderful holidays and memories possible—but not really.
After the matriarchs’ passed, my mom and aunts did not follow those old world traditions. I mean, really, who had time to hand roll meatballs or hand cut the homemade ravioli for forty or more people. And sadly, me even less. Some traditions will evolve and change over time. Families blend, people move, and life situations change. However, I have noted that they will make the effort to gather at funerals!
Some traditions will evolve and change over time. Families blend, people move, and life situations change. However, I have noted that they will make the effort to gather at funerals!
Life has become complicated. We live a global existence where getting together may mean a FaceTime call. We have forgotten as a society that traditions impact our lives in a positive way. Traditions remind us of where we came from and where we belong.
It is extremely easy to decide that making the enormous effort our grandmothers made is not worth it. On the other hand, the benefits of creating and maintaining traditions will outweigh the work involved.
The joy and family connections I felt at the christening made the three-plus hour car trip worthwhile. A shout-out to my niece and nephew who hosted the christening party that restored warm memories from a time long ago.
And on this Easter Sunday, a big shoutout to heaven where the grandmas and Nanas reside. I can visualize them in their aprons, wooden spoons in hand supervising the angels in broken English making heaven smell like an Italian kitchen. (Who can say? There is more between heaven and earth than meets the eye.)
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