On the fourth Thursday in November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. No, it’s not a “thing” in Italy, but for many US citizens who reside abroad — including members of Italy Magazine staff — Thanksgiving remains one of the most treasured holidays of the year. For some, its meaning evolves or expands after making the move.
Thanksgiving (Il giorno del ringraziamento in Italian) is celebrated by sitting down at the table with family and friends for a hearty meal, enjoying and giving thanks for the bounty of the harvest (even if that “harvest bounty” is largely sourced from supermarkets in today’s households). Stuffed turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and gravy with tangy cranberry sauce on the side are all fixtures on the typical Thanksgiving table.
The holiday, as it's celebrated today, has its origins in the 17th century with the arrival of the Mayflower to Plymouth, Massachusetts. As the (simplified) story goes, a meal was shared between the newly settled Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe as a way for the English settlers to show their gratitude to the Native Americans for helping them survive their first winter.
So, what's it like to celebrate a quintessentially American holiday like Thanksgiving in Italy? Our Italy-based American staff (and one Italian living in the US) shared their unique perspectives.
Elizabeth Heath, Executive Editor
Home base: Allerona, Umbria (via Florida)
Years in Italy: 13
Executive editor Elizabeth "Liz" Heath has been making Thanksgiving lunch for her Italian family and friends since moving to Italy 13 years ago. “The first time I cooked it for my husband's skeptical family — a crowd of about 20 people — his aunt proclaimed after lunch (and to my eternal delight), ‘We have another cook in the family!’”
This year, Liz has planned a “scaled-back” affair (cooking for 12 people instead of the usual two dozen). Still, her core group of invitees looks forward to the meal every year. “It's a harried week of prep work but in the end, I'm always happy — and thankful — to share the tradition with my Italian and international band of friends and loved ones.”
Mary Gray, Managing Editor
Home base: Florence (via Mississippi)
Years in Italy: 10
“Celebrating Thanksgiving every year is one of the few star-spangled traditions I really cling to,” says Mary Gray, Italy Magazine’s managing editor.
This year, Mary is hosting 10 adults (and two infants) in her 35-square meter Florentine apartment. She enjoys the fusion of Italian and American rituals that naturally arises at such gatherings — for example, chasing the pumpkin pie, her least favorite of all the Thanksgiving staples, with an amaro or grappa. And while she invests the most time in prepping casseroles and other contorni (sides), the Southerner finds that her easy go-to appetizer of deviled eggs is usually the biggest hit. (They've won over some Southerners of the Italian variety, for what it's worth.)
Once, in a pinch, Mary and friends landed in a turkey-free, Florentine Tex-Mex restaurant on Thanksgiving, but she’s never opted out of the holiday entirely. Unlike others in this roundup, Mary prefers to celebrate at dinnertime on Thursday, even though it inevitably throws a wrench in the work week. Or maybe that's precisely the appeal.
Sammi DiBacco, Senior Marketing Manager
Home base: Rome (via Illinois)
Years in Italy: 5.5
Marketing manager Sammi DiBacco doesn’t consider herself a huge “Thanksgiving person,” but she admits to loving any reason to eat delicious food and sip red wine with loved ones. Her group gathers at a friend’s house and does a potluck-style meal where everyone brings a dish to share.
Sammi has celebrated Thanksgiving five out of the almost six years she’s been in Italy. “One of those years I was actually back in the US,” she clarifies.
Confessing that in the past she’s gone the lazier route and let the Hard Rock Cafe do the cooking, Sammi is happy to report that she’s stepping up her game in 2022: “I am hosting this year!”
It’s rare for Italy transplants to celebrate on the actual day of Thanksgiving (because it lands in the middle of the Italian work week), so Sammi and her group opt to have the meal on the Saturday following the holiday instead.
Insider tip: “If you need a good American-made [pumpkin] pie, Homebaked in Rome has got you covered,” Sammi says. Spoken like someone who’s been there.
Gabriela R. Proietti, Social Media Manager
Home base: Rome (via Pennsylvania)
Years in Italy: 3
Gabriela "Gabby" Proietti, Italy Magazine's social media manager, says that each Thanksgiving has looked different over her three years living in Rome. “I’ve been surrounded by different groups of people, but nonetheless, no matter the place or people, we never cheat on the traditional Thanksgiving food,” she says.
In her first two years living in Italy, Gabby celebrated with fellow American and Italian friends at home. But this year, she’s switching things up and heading to Milan for what she calls “a very non-traditional Thanksgiving celebration.”
“Living in Italy is beautiful,” Gabby says, “but one-off, American-only celebrated holidays always make me miss my birth country and my people.”
Toni DeBella, Staff Writer
Home base: Orvieto (via California)
Years in Italy: 10
“Thanksgiving is one of those American traditions that brings back so many happy childhood memories. I have a lot of affection for it,” says staff writer Toni DeBella.
“Over the years, I’ve stopped marking observances like Independence Day, Labor Day and Presidents’ Day,” Toni says. “Thanksgiving, however, is one of those special celebrations that endures.” Plus, there's no pie on Presidents' Day.
Laura Bonato, Controller
Home base: Boston, Massachusetts (via Sicily)
Years in the US: 22
“Our Thanksgiving as Italians living in the US has always had a special meaning and flavor," says Boston-based Sicilian expat Laura Bonato, Italy Magazine's accountant.
“While we celebrate the roots of the holiday and our gratitude for all the blessings we receive, we use the opportunity to express our Italian food culture, preparing some of the classic Italian recipes that intertwine in the long meal with the American Thanksgiving staples,” Laura adds. Sharing culture and food traditions is (ostensibly) what the first Thanksgiving was about, after all.
On Laura’s table, you’ll find a traditional turkey, as well as a sumptuous lasagna dish, accompanied by eggplant parmigiana, freshly baked sourdough bread and assorted vegetables.
“This year I’ll also make some scacciata (a type of calzone filled with greens and mozzarella),” Laura says. To wash it all down, she plans to pour a Sicilian red from Mount Etna.
“We love and look forward every year to the Thanksgiving gathering — it is warm and delightful to express how thankful we are for what we have, for our family and friends.”