Many cultures have been celebrating harvests for centuries. Thesmophria is an ancient Greek harvest festival. Southwest American Indians perform a Corn Dance, the Jewish people celebrate Sukkot, which marks the end of the agricultural year and coincides with the final harvest before the onset of winter, and many Asian cultures have celebrations in gratitude for their rich rice harvest.
The Romans also celebrated a harvest festival called Cerelia, which honored Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, grain, and fertility (and from which the word cereal comes). The festival was held each year on October 4th and offerings of the first fruits of the harvest were offered to Ceres. Their celebration included music, parades, games and sports, and a feast.
But Thanksgiving in Italy? How about celebrating the Celtic New Year in Japan, or El Carnaval in Russia? The distinctly American tradition, created by Pilgrims to commemorate a bountiful harvest in the New World, doesn't translate well in another land where the Plymouth Rock would be just another stone in two–thousand–year–old Roman archaeological ruins. Even the transliteral phrase in Italian for Thanksgiving, La Festa del Ringraziamento, refers to a variety of religious holidays held throughout the year for patron saints.
Variations on a Theme
In fact, expatriates from North America who do honor the Thanksgiving holiday in Italy find it difficult to replicate, since the ingredients necessary for a New England–style Thanksgiving dinner are not easy to find. Italian Thanksgiving, for most Italian Americans, then, means the inclusion of special Italian recipes to accompany the roast turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, Macy's Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.
Every family of Italian heritage has different culinary traditions to celebrate the holiday. An Italian Thanksgiving dinner might include ravioli con la zucca (pumpkin ravioli), tacchinella alla melagrana (roast turkey basted with pomegranate sauce and served with a pomegranate-and-giblet gravy), sweet Italian turkey sausage and mozzarella stuffing, baked sweet potatoes with lime and ginger, and even Italian cakes and pastries. What matters most, though, during La Festa del Ringraziamento isn't what ingredients are used, or who won the football game, but the opportunity for families and communities to come together and celebrate the season in a tradition that's timeless.
Italian Thanksgiving Vocabulary List
Click to hear the highlighted word spoken by a native speaker.