I am from a very large, very loud, Italian-American family. Growing up, we celebrated two holidays, Christmas Eve and The Sunday Before Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve comes with the territory. Any Italian worth her Parm knows Christmas Eve is for two things: fish and family. Even the non-religious among us partake in this sacred devouring of shrimp and deep fried smelts. Personally, I skip the smelts, but to each his own. I don’t judge a man by his seafood. If there’s anything Italians love more than fighting over being right, it’s food.
Food, fights, feasts… F-words are kind of our thing. But the most important F-word to any Italian is family. (You’ve all seen the Godfather. You know what we’re about.) It was my great-grandma Laura who gave us The Sunday Before Thanksgiving. Grandma Laura was an exceptional woman in many ways, deserving of much more than one paragraph in a blog post, but for the sake of word count, I’ll be brief. She was smart, strong, and resourceful. She was also one of eleven children. Eleven. I guess there are stranger things than having eleven children, but she decided to have only four of her own. Good call grandma. The thing about having four kids is eventually they grow up and get pulled in four different directions. They start families of their own and there’s less time for everyone to be together, especially around the holidays with in-laws vying for prime time with the grandkids. No one was taking sides against the family with her as matriarch, especially on Thanksgiving. So she did what any smart, strong, resourceful woman would do: she moved it to Sunday.
The Sunday Before Thanksgiving was always the real Thanksgiving to me. My grandma’s modest home overflowed with the best ‘F’s in life. Rooms were crammed full with every known incarnation of relative, from great-aunts and uncles to second cousins twice removed. The whole affair was boisterous and full of energy, and by that I mean it was very, very loud. My cousin Andrew and I would crawl around the house pretending to be spies, sneaking black olives from the kitchen in artery clogging amounts, while we waited impatiently for the turkey soup to be ready. Italian egg drop soup is one of life’s ethereal pleasures; rich savory turkey broth studded with delicate shreds of beaten eggs, almost like noodles that dissolve on your tongue. I’d get to share the turkey neck with Grandma Laura, and we always had cranberry sauce that was still shaped like the can with no actual berries in sight. After four years of culinary school it’s still my favorite kind. Ain’t no shame in my cranberry sauce game. This beautiful cacophony of food would end with a mountain of Italian cookies, and me wishing every Sunday could be the one before Thanksgiving.
I’m almost 31 now, and my family of five is about to pile into our too small car and drive to New York for yet another Sunday Before Thanksgiving. They are different now. Grandma Laura left us seven years ago at the age of 92 and, damn it, I still miss her. The house is different too, and the faces have changed. Now I’m the married one who spends most ‘real’ holidays with my in-laws, and my kids will be the ones sneaking desserts with their great-grandma in the kitchen. But tradition has a magical way of making things feel the same, even when they’re not. I still feel a twinge of childlike excitement as Sunday approaches. I yearn for the warmth of turkey egg drop soup to fill my soul, and a paper plate piled high with rainbow cookies. And that ridiculously loud volume at which my family holds normal conversations? I’m looking forward to that too. Okay, not really… but they’re family, and you never take sides against the family. Especially on Thanksgiving.
Don’t miss out on your chance to experience New England’s Favorite Holiday Tradition, A Christmas Carol. Tickets to Trinity Rep’s production are available now.
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