Family Food Heritage Holidays

An American Holiday with Italian Food

Growing up, I always had a love/hate relationship with holidays. I loved having dinner with all my family. I loved all the special occasion food. I loved the break everyone took before dessert when card games and general chatter would take place.

What I didn’t like? The “jobs,” as I called them growing up, that would get handed out and often started very early. Depending on your age and maturity level, your job might change from holiday to holiday. Usually my jobs included rolling the ham and salami for the antipasto trays, getting out the fancy china and setting the table, and collecting coats when family members arrived. My least favorite job? What I referred to as “the runner.”

The Running Girl

Growing up, I lived in what is often referred to as a “mother/daughter house.” My family lived downstairs and my grandparents and uncle lived upstairs. As a result, we regularly had ovens going upstairs and downstairs. We had stuff in two different refrigerators – plus the extra refrigerator every family had in the basement and the extra freezer in the garage. The “runner” was the poor schmuck who got stuck running up and down the stairs every time something was needed. Most of the time, you would be told “it’s upstairs in grandma’s refrigerator,” only to discover it was in the basement, so you went upstairs for no reason. And there was never a single trip for multiple items. “I need you to run upstairs and get the cranberries out of grandma’s fridge.” Ten minutes later “go to the freezer in the garage and get the extra ice.”

It. Was. Exhausting.

There were moments I seriously wondered if it was just a ploy to get us tired so we would go to sleep on time. Sometimes I would drag along a cousin to keep me company. But if we were too long and they thought we were involved in an expanded chat or dawdling, someone would actually call on my grandparent’s phone and ask what was taking so long! So not only were we running errands, we were on the clock.

The payoff, however, was always the food.

Thanksgiving Lasagna

A favorite part of the day, of course, was the food. The payoff of all that running. Even as a child, I was keenly aware it was a lot of work. No matter the holiday, there were always multiple courses – antipasto, some kind of macaroni, and a meat course. Then a break. Then dessert.

For Thanksgiving, the macaroni course was always lasagna. One of the few times each year we would have it.

One Thanksgiving not long after I was married, my mother announced that it was getting to be too much cooking, too much work, too much food. She proposed removing one course.

It became a heated debate.

Someone suggested removing the antipasto. Most of us immediately objected. It wasn’t often we would have some of the Italian delights that were served. My mother then suggested eliminating the lasagna. I was the first one to put a very emphatic no on that idea. She asked, “so then what do you want to eliminate?”

An almost unanimous suggestion – “the turkey!”

The only two who actually objected were my husband and my father. So completely exasperated, my mother gave up and the subject never resurfaced.

So yes, holidays were expensive, exhausting, hard work, and a full-day marathon. And I miss them every time a holiday rolls around.

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