Thanksgiving: One Italian’s Perspective

by November 24, 2011 at 8:45 am 1,175 3 Comments

"Borderstan""Flowers", Thanksgiving, Borderstan Candids

Instead of being thankful on Thanksgiving, why not make someone grateful? (Luis Gomez Photos)

Borderstan recently welcomed Candida Mannozzi in the Lifestyle section. She is sharing her observations about people, places and general things she observes in the neighborhood. 

From Candida Mannozzi. You can reach her at [email protected].

Happy Thanksgiving, Borderstan.

With the holidays upon us, a thought occurred to me: Instead of being thankful for the good people or things in my life (the exercise has at times felt suspiciously self-congratulatory), why don’t I do something to make someone else grateful? I’m turning Thanksgiving on its head somewhat. I hope that’s allowed?

My perception of Thanksgiving has, understandably, evolved over my many years here. In the mid-1980s, as a college kid and foreign student, Thanksgiving was barely a blip on my radar screen.

Do you know how many times Italian mamme (moms) pull these kinds of meals off, feeding friendly armies at almost no notice? But that culture operates in spontaneity. By contrast, Thanksgiving strikes me as an exercise in pre-arrangements.

We “internationals” spread out over a suddenly deserted campus on a long weekend, in the noticeable absence of most of our U.S. peers. All the favorite dining hall spots were free for the taking, the place echoed. We were not irritating others if we stopped to chat with the pizza guys in the off-campus dive, there was no line being held up, the place was ours!

After spending more time here and cultivating significant friendships with Americans, Thanksgiving became a more important feature on the annual calendar of festivities. Even though I still chuckle at the choice of turkey as the “piatto forte” (main dish) for this occasion, I have been invited to enough such gatherings to appreciate their underlying sentiment.

However, why Americans go through two major family reunions in barely a month, given the attendant drama that inevitably accompanies such events, is still a mystery to me. Gluttons all, for food and punishment!

I wonder at some aspects of Thanksgiving. The shopping and consumption frenzy that precedes and follows it is inexplicable to me. Store shelves emptied worse than during emergencies? Family phone and data plans go over their monthly limits with calls, travel arrangements, last-minute instructions and recalls.

Do you know how many times Italian mamme (moms) pull these kinds of meals off, feeding friendly armies at almost no notice with freshly made pappardelle? But that culture operates in spontaneity: “Ma, Marco! You brought four of your friends home for dinner without telling me?! Well, go grab the chairs in the good sitting room. Boys, we’re not setting up the main dining table now, sit with us in the kitchen. Pass the parmigiano!” (And you can bet Marco will be doing the dishes after the meal, with or sans help from his friends.)

By contrast, Thanksgiving strikes me as an exercise in pre-arrangements. Here, we mobilize: the men are in charge of… the women meanwhile… aunts, uncles and grandparents are tasked with… the occasional invited friend is asked to contribute… by the time we’re all seated at the groaning table, winded, celebrating our tactical victory over the outside world of equally crazed consumers – well, we’re understandably exhausted and roast turkey can, easily, seem a true delicacy.

I don’t think Tryptophan has a single thing to do with the post-prandial comas we all collapse into. Coming off the adrenaline rush that led up to the meal is what knocks us out!

Still, puzzlement aside, I admit there is something quietly comforting about being gathered around a table with close friends and family. All cultures have a ritual of this kind. It’s universally recognizable, no matter where you are or where you’re from.

So to deserve my place at that table, this year I’ve been trying to do a simple good turn for someone every day, and one for me, to keep those good wheels spinning. You know, I may just keep it up even after the holidays.

So, thanks for Thanksgiving, America, and I hope it was a happy one for you, Borderstan!


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