I will always have fond memories of celebrating Thanksgiving with my parents and our relatives. My Dad was born in Italy and came to America at the age of 13. He lived with relatives who also emigrated from Italy before the Great Depression. My Mother was first generation American and she also had relatives from Italy. However, since Thanksgiving is strictly an American holiday, it was extremely important to my parents and relatives because they wanted to be everything AMERICAN.
Immigrants arrived at Ellis Island in the early 1920’s and they were shuttled by ferry across New York harbor to meet up with relatives who had already settled in here. I loved to hear their stories of how they felt when they arrived at Ellis Island. They would literally have tears in their eyes as they explained the joy, excitement, and the anticipation of life in America when they first set eyes on the Statue of Liberty. I think they knew more about the history of that statue, our American laws, than most Americans born in this country.
They didn’t speak English, but worked hard to learn the language. Most of them settled in New York City and sought employment immediately. Some became bricklayers, bridge builders, street cleaners, cart pushing vendors selling their wares. Others were artists, craftsmen, chefs and tradesmen.
This was a wonderful time in our country, when immigrants came from all over the world to build their lives in this symbol of opportunity. All of them became American citizens, as soon as they were eligible. On the day my father earned his citizenship and pledged allegiance to this country, he said it was the most important day in his life. Those were the stories I would hear as a child around the dinner table at my Thanksgiving dinners.
Our dinner was a feast to behold.
The women would prepare every conceivable dish that would depict the tradition of Thanksgiving. Many of them had never fixed a turkey or made gravy for the turkey. Some of the dishes, like mashed potatoes and stuffing, would have Italian seasonings added such as Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese and homemade Italian sausage. You can see my Mom’s Italian Style Turkey Suffing Recipe.
The meal would start with Antipasto (Italian appetizer), which is a salad mixture of Italian salami, cheeses, ham, artichokes, mushrooms served with a vinaigrette dressing. Because some of the older men in the family missed their Italian meals, the women would even fix a pasta dish with meat sauce and meatballs and then we would start on “the turkey meal”.
It was fun to bring my American friends to our Thanksgiving dinners. Even though I would warn them not to eat too much at the beginning (I didn’t tell them ahead of time what the menu was) many didn’t pay attention as the Italian food was so delicious. Little did they know that the traditional American Thanksgiving meal was yet to come! Needless to say, we would be at the dinner table for a long, long time.
I feel blessed to have these memories and to have been raised in a family that instilled in me a devotion to the greatest country in the world, AMERICA! A happy and bountiful Thanksgiving to you all!