Why Sunday Dinner Became Big for Italians – Joseph Battaglia (US World Herald)

by Joseph Battaglia on December 5, 2019

Original Article published at US World Herald.


When the whole family came over on Sunday to enjoy each other’s company and Nonna’s cooking.

One of the most enduring customs I have experienced growing up in an Italian household is Sunday dinner.

This was the one tradition that brought the entire family together.

Now keep in mind that for Italians on Sundays, dinner occurs right after mass. So the time of “Dinner” can be anywhere between noon and four in the afternoon.

Ours was always around 2:00 or 3:00 pm.

I loved the way the house smelled when I came home from church!

All of my brothers and sisters (and some extra cousins) would line up as my mom would let us dunk some bread in the tomato sauce (or “gravy” as we called it in Jersey) for a quick taste.

This is what I grew up with.

Every Italian family has its own speci􀁸c menu, but we typically ate pasta, meatballs, sausages, eggplant Parmigiana, and bracciole (a piece of very thin meat usually 􀁸lled with cheese, breadcrumbs, and parsley tied into a roll).

And to finish, fresh and dried fruit, nuts in their shells and cannoli from a good local bakery.

On the table were Coke and red wine, both in big bottles.

This is the way it has been done for most 􀁸rst and second-generation Italian families.

So how did this tradition begin?

Earlier in the century when Italians were facing discrimination and insecurity, they soon realized that family intimacy was the most dependable source of emotional and material strength.

Italian laborers worked long hours, six days a week, and Sunday provided their only opportunity for socializing.

Joseph Sciorra, the Director for Academic and Cultural Programs at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, makes an interesting argument that when they started to improve their economic status, food became a way to show the new-found prosperity.

The Sunday dinner, in particular, was a way to celebrate their ability to win over hunger, to display all the food that the Italians, in the past, had only seen on the tables of the rich.

In fact, Sunday dinner is the meal that is proof of their success in America: it was a way to show that they had made it.
Their success rested upon two pillars: work and family.

Sciorra concludes that the Sunday dinner was not only about eating but also a way to feel Italian in another country and to maintain cultural traits.

But the whole idea of an Italian family sitting down to weekly Sunday dinner has been in decline in America for
decades.

And that is a pity because we are just cheating ourselves out of those sacred memories that connect us all to the past.

However, that’s beginning to change. The Sunday dinner is making a comeback.

One thing I’ve learned about this family dinner tradition is that it takes a little effort, but it’s not insurmountable.

Sunday dinner has been a tradition in my family since I was a kid. It is no longer a “weekly” affair but I can now say that I see my family several times a month, not once a month, and that’s a huge difference.

If the idea of Sunday dinner sounds totally unrealistic to you, I know where you’re coming from. But there are ways to make it workable and the bene􀁸ts you’ll reap will be worth the effort.

Studies show that children who eat meals with their families are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (drugs & alcohol) and have better relationships with their parents.

What is more, family dinners are related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems and greater emotional wellbeing.

Not to mention that treasured childhood memories are irreplaceable.

You may not always feel like going, but I promise you and your kids will look back fondly at the memories made and relationships strengthened at Sunday dinner.

Now, let’s eat. No one likes food, or for that matter does it better, than Italians! 

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