L’amore domina senza regole.
Love rules without rules.
The thing about writing about Italian traditions is that they are so ingrained that sometimes, we don’t even know the original reason as to why they developed or why they’ve continued. Not that we love the traditions any less – usually they mean we get to spend time with family and friends and celebrate. Who needs an excuse for that? But Valentine’s Day, or in Italian Il giorno della festa degli innamorati, certainly must come from an Italian Saint right, San Valentino perhaps?
I started looking up why Valentine’s Day started and there’s a mix of stories about Italian saints in jail, saints marrying couples in secret, Italian spring festivals, the day when birds pair up for mating, and so on. None of them really hold up, since clearly this isn’t even remotely a religious festival anymore. In the end, despite its’ supposed saintly origins, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Italy just as much the same as it is celebrated here in North America – heart-shaped boxes of candy, gifts and treating the one you love to a really good meal.
One of the more recent traditions in Italy to declare your love does have a clear origin though. People have taken to locking padlocks to bridges, railings and lamp posts. These are called Lucchetti dell’Amore or “Locks of Love.” This tradition started eight years ago after the release of a best-selling book, and subsequent movie, “Ho voglio di te” (I want you). In the story the main couple, trying to symbolize that they will be together forever, tie a chain and a padlock around a lamppost on the north side of Rome’s Ponte Milvio (a bridge) and inscribe their names on it, lock it and throw the key into the Tiber River.
Spread throughout Italy, and now Europe and North America, scads of locks have appeared on bridges in many cities (in fact, the picture above is from a bridge I found in Helsinki, Finland). Though most cities will eventually remove the locks or ban them all together for ruining the aesthetic of the city, people continue to add locks to new and interesting places to declare their love, as permanently as they can. By 2007, that same lamppost from the inspiring movie reportedly collapsed due to the weight of the locks attached to it (see the picture below!).
In a way, the locks don’t surprise me. One Italian “tradition” is to always be open, honest and loud about your love. Love for family, your partner, food, life, you name it. So this Valentine’s Day join me in just being full of Italian love, no matter who (or what!) you declare it to. You may want to put a padlock on your favourite park bench or bridge or you may just want to yell it from the rooftops. Here’s a few key Italian phrases to use this love-filled weekend:
Pizzica e basa non fannu pertusa.
Little pinches and kisses don’t make holes (or do any harm).
Il primo amore non si scorda mia.
You never forget your first love.
Quella destinata per te, nessuno la prendera. (Dialect)
No one will take the one who is destined for you. (Meaning: True love waits)
Chi te vole bene te fa chiagne, chi te vole male te fa ride. (Dialect)
The one who loves you makes you cry, the one who wishes you ill makes you laugh.
Today we welcome a guest post from Abril Liberatori, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at York University. Her dissertation explores immigrants from the Campania region in Italy who migrated to Canada in the post-World War II period. She aims to compare Campani immigrants’ experiences in Ontario and Buenos Aires. (Photo above: Family birthday party for the author’s grandfather. Buenos Aires, 1941. Author’s private collection.)
People in Buenos Aires refer to themselves as ‘descended from the ships,’ a poetic way of saying that the city is founded on the backs of immigrants. My own ancestors were newcomers there once, when they crossed the Atlantic from the small villages of Campania into the then-bustling and promising South American country. Many of my ancestors’ friends and families ended up in Canada and the United States, and so these waves of migration developed networks of families scattered across the globe. Those networks were resilient and strong. Families across the Americas kept in touch with their relatives in their hometowns and abroad. They wrote letters, sent photographs and mailed remittances. These networks were so strong that they lasted years, sometimes even decades. So, as a fifth-generation ‘Italian’ (can I even call myself that?), I grew up feeling that migration was an important aspect of my identity.
When I was six years old, my parents moved our family from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Toronto. The experience was one of the defining moments of my life. But migration was not a new concept for me, in fact it has long been a part of who I am.
As far back as my memory permits, I remember my grandfather mapping our family tree. Over dinner tables I would trace my fingers over browned photographs, sleuthing to find the same features I saw in the mirror. I would pore over charts and tables of endless ancestors, seeing the same names over and over again. I would hear stories of heroes, and pioneers, sinners and workers. I was young, but I knew my family’s stories well. Later, as an immigrant to Canada myself, I reveled in the distant adventures of those who looked so much like me and lived such similar experiences. To this day, those family stories continue to be etched in me. Migration, it seems, defines me.
In a way, I believe migration defines many of us. In a country that allows us to celebrate the multiple aspects of our identity, many of us connect with our ancestors’ migration histories (or even our own) as vital aspects of who we are. Many of us have family in different parts of the world. My project is an attempt to trace the migration stories of these Campani families that are spread throughout different countries, but who have their hometowns, and their experiences of migration, in common. From my own family’s roots, I have developed a passionate interest in the migration stories of migrants from Campania. I find it fascinating that these family ties continue to survive across decades and continents. I would like to create a space where those stories can come together.
From my dinner table to yours! If you or your ancestors are from the Campania region and you would like to share your migration story with me, I would love to hear from you. Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing your story!
My grandparents were storytellers. The stories they told all centred around the emotions related to family, to struggle, to laughter and to traditions. There is no better time for storytelling than Christmas.
Over the past two years, I’ve contributed articles to Panoram Italia, an Italian-Canadian magazine, about Italian culture and community. Panoram does fantastic Christmas-themed issues that give me the chance to reflect on Christmases past. Last year I contributed the article “What we used to get for Christmas” which chronicled the gifts that Italians gave at Christmas back in Italy. Oranges, chestnuts, sugar dolls were all recalled with fondness and I am still in awe at the smiles those memories of Christmas gave to all the older Italians I interviewed.
This year, I wrote “Remembering our First Christmases in Canada“, an article that tried to recapture what Christmas in a new land with new traditions felt like for Italian immigrants. For some it was a hardship, spending Christmas without family, for others they were reunited with sisters and brothers. And, as usual, shared food was a key part of the memories.
Here’s an excerpt from the article where I got to share a story from my maternal grandfather:
For immigrants to Canada there are many new experiences and customs that colour the start of their lives in a new country. Christmas in Canada, away from the family, rituals and comfort of home back in Italy, was one of the first notable moments they experienced. Everything was new and unexpected, from the weather to traditions.
My grandfather often told us of his first Christmas in Canada in 1952, which was memorable indeed. While working for the Canadian National Railway, the company provided all the meals for the workers, deducting the cost of the meal from the worker’s pay. He looked forward to the dinner provided by CNR on Christmas Eve, expecting a festive feast that would help celebrate the special day. But on December 24, he was greeted with a plain meal of chicken soup. Disappointed and alone, he went to a grocery store to buy all he could afford: one chocolate bar and one pound of grapes to celebrate.
However, on December 25, he experienced what came as a surprise to most Italians: that Canadians hold their Christmas celebrations on Christmas Day. The railway offered a big celebration meal to all workers and my grandfather came to learn a new tradition.
Merry Christmas, Buon Natale! With one month to Christmas Day, it’s time for the gift giving to begin.
Last year for the Christmas season I featured two classic holiday recipes on the blog: colluri and turdilli. This year more recipes are on their way, but I wanted to offer you, my readers, a special gift.
So here’s my holiday “thank you” to all of you that visit, read and share An Italian-Canadian Life. I’ve created three unique Italian ecards that you can send to your nearest and dearest, giving them a “taste” of the best of Italian Christmas foods. Send an ecard now
All Italians receive at least one or two panettones at Christmas (it’s a sweet cake-like bread). So now, you can send one virtually too! Maybe you’ll send it to someone you won’t be able to see this year, or send it to someone who hates getting their fourth or fifth panettone – just for fun.
You can also send my favourite holiday food gift of all: a virtual cookie tray. Complete with amaretti cookies, peach pastries and cornetti, everyone loves getting a traditional Italian cookie tray to munch on through the season.
So Merry Christmas/Buon Natale readers! Share the Italian foodie love!
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What does it mean to be Italian in North America? Today An Italian-Canadian Life welcomes a guest post by Amy Di Nardo, a university student studying nursing in Toronto, who hopes to work in the gerontology field. She loves garlic, kitchen-floor dances, and espresso. (I can’t say I blame her…)
The neighborhood I currently live in Toronto (Downsview) is very diverse. If I go for a walk on a Saturday afternoon, it excites me to hear different languages — whether it be Yiddish, Italian or Russian being spoken at different intersections. At a nearby park, I see young children playing on the swings, while a group of elderly ladies walk by, deep in conversation.
I have lived in Toronto for just about two years and it was a huge transition. I found that it took a great deal of time to adjust to the the rhythm of a large city. In my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, I grew up in an Italian bubble. The city contains a very large Italian population relative to its size and due to its isolation from other major cities (nine hour drive to Toronto), a unique culture was created that lives and thrives within the community.
The ways in which ethnic communities interact, both internally and externally to other groups, seems very different in small versus metropolitan centres.
It didn’t take me much time to find an Italian presence in Toronto. The first experience I had was going to College Street for the Tarantella Festival. The street was closed off for dancing, musicians, vendors and artists such as Mimmo Cavallaro and Rionne Junno. I wouldn’t expect this sort of large-scale event to come to Sault Ste. Marie.
After this event, I was introduced to the popular GTA magazine, PanoramItalia, and the newspaper Lo Specchio. There were profiles, articles, events, language classes — everything you can think of! I quickly realized how organized and vastly different the Toronto Italian community is from Sault Ste. Marie — however, I still cannot put my finger on the exact variances.
Jerry Buccilli joins us for his fourth guest post with An Italian-Canadian Life. We love his writing, memories and recipes and this is another great addition. Thanks Jerry!
My Dad will be celebrating his 80th birthday this May. He’s had a good, long and colorful life. Sometimes there were dark periods (as when mom passed away) but for the most part no regrets. Since his children began having children of their own we all began calling him “nonno”….even his own children. He’s proud of this reference and often says that his best accomplishment in life was to raise his family.
As with most Italian men of his generation he’s also incredibly proud of his garden. As far back as my memory takes me I remember my father working in the garden during the long summer months. He’d work there so much that we often had lunch outside so he could quickly return to his “work.” There’d always be something to do: a tomato plant to tie so it wouldn’t fall over; zucchini to pick; herbs to cut, trim and hang up; watering, shoveling, cleaning, etc….There was always something.
Sometimes, when the garden was in full bloom and it was having a good year he would whistle or even sing. My mom would be sitting a few feet away near the patio and she’d ask him to sing to her. At first he would hesitate but then he’d begin to belt out some old tune and mom would smile.
Life was good. He was always the happiest in his garden with his wife by his side.
Often I would sit with him in the middle of the garden and we would talk. My father would tell me stories from his youth. Or his days in Venezuela when he and his father and brother travelled across the Atlantic to find work when WWII left Italy in economic upheaval and work were scarce.