St. Joseph’s Day, which is known as the festa di San Giuseppe, is actually Father’s Day in Italy. In a country where the overwhelming majority of the population is Catholic (and the Pope is your neighbor), saints are a big deal. This is, of course, especially true in southern Italy. San Giuseppe is celebrated March 19. Like all other feast days honoring saints, this one recognizes everyone named Giuseppe (Joseph) and Giuseppina (Josephine).
How St. Joseph’s Day Is Celebrated in Italy
But some feast days include other celebrations. They sometimes associate the day as a way to honor whatever the saint is said to oversee. Saint Peter is the patron saint of fishermen, so on that feast day (June 29) in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, the fisherman fry up fresh fish at the porto and give it away for free. Since Joseph served as Jesus’ dad on Earth, he is associated with fathers. So, Italians consider March 19 the festa dei papa (feast of fathers), too. And June doesn’t even register for them.
Indeed, today Italians are offering up handmade cards, recited poems, little gifts, and good food to their fathers. Many are shouting, “Auguri” to the fathers they see in the piazza or at the pranzo (lunch) table. I’m about to make homemade gnocchi and a promise for a dinner out to my husband, the father of our son. The meal would be incomplete without dolci, some sweets. On this day the cream adorned zeppoles that either fried or baked are the traditional dessert.
The Takeaway for Italians Abroad
The message here is to be kind to your fathers on this feast day, which happens to fall on Sunday Funday this year. You don’t need fresh pasta or even a gift. A hug and a kiss will likely suffice. And a St. Joseph’s Day zeppole like the ones in the photo above wouldn’t hurt. C’mon, who could resist?
I’ll never forget the day I forced my father to take on a turkey in heat in front of our entire neighborhood. I was just moving into the front apartment in my parent’s house in suburban New Jersey. They had gone to the movies for the afternoon, and I was loading some stuff from my childhood bedroom into the new place and doing some light cleaning in the basement. I didn’t have kitchen appliances yet, so when hunger struck, I had to go back next door. I was heading out the side door when I was approached by a giant Thanksgiving turkey. With his feathers on display, he stood up to my waist.
My immediate reaction was to slowly turn around and then quickly slam the door shut. I watched the turkey from the window and he turned around to show me his bottom and display more feathers. I called my zia, who began instructing me in her thick Italian accent to get a broom, bop him in the head, and wait for her husband to arrive to finish off the thing, so we could have dinner. I told her she was crazy and hung up. Then, I called my sister, who is a professional zookeeper (of birds no less). She informed me that the turkey was showing me his backside and feathers because he wanted to mate with me. She told me to go out the door and resume my normal activity – going to get something to eat – but not before she asked if I was wearing pants.
I said, “Why does it matter if I’m wearing pants?”
She said, “Well, he will probably peck and scratch at your legs, especially since you don’t want to mate, and he could cut you if you are not wearing sturdy pants.”
I said, “Well, then I’m not going outside – and that’s the sort of information you tell a person up front, sister!” And I hung up on her, too.
So, I gave up on getting help from my relatives via phone and decided to just wait for my parents to return. In the meantime, the neighbors, in whose driveway the turkey was standing, came outside and did the same thing I did, replete with door slam. When the turkey hid behind the doorway in their garden, they ran out, jumped in their car, and took off as though they were O.J. and the police was chasing them. The turkey was still there, staring me down, and making some noise to boot.
Finally, my parents returned home, and I immediately called them. They didn’t believe me that there was a full-on Thanksgiving turkey outside the door, until my mom moved to the window. Then, she said, “Oh, you’re not kidding.” Of course, I wasn’t kidding. Who would make up something like this? The thing had been holding me hostage for what seemed like days but was probably more like 30 minutes. My father, took his sweet time, went to the bathroom, had a drink, and finally walked out into the driveway. He made eye contact with the turkey, who began to run around the car parked in the driveway as if it was a chicken with no head. My father took off and ran toward the bird, all the while, shouting,” Go home-a turkey, go home-a turkey, my daughters won’t-a let me kill you, turkey. Go home-a.”
At this point, my father is running out of steam and he is starting to walk like an oompa loompa instead of run. Still, he keeps his chant of “My daughters won’t let-a me eat you. Go home-a turkey. Go home-a turkey,” steady. People from the neighborhood start to come out of their homes to see this dream-like vision of a man and a turkey on the run. People can’t help but stare, and everyone is laughing – hard. My father and the turkey start chasing each other in another neighbor’s yard and then they ended up running into the street. Cars are stopping, people are watching the scene unfold as though it’s theater. Then, I can’t see my father and the turkey. Then, they’re back in view. Then, I can’t see them. Then, they return to my window seat. My father is still shouting at the turkey to go home. Finally, he gets him to go down the street, toward the house from which we believe he has come. Indeed, he returned to the cage in a fellow Italian’s backyard.
Two days later, a few turkey feathers blew over from our neighbors house and into our driveway. Surprise, surprise, she had had turkey for dinner. My father said to me, “You see, he got eaten anyway. We could have eaten him ourselves. And you’re going to eat one of his cousins on Thanksgiving. Remember that.” Still, I prefer to forget all that and cherish instead the face of my father, the face of the turkey, and the chase. On that day my father was my hero, not to mention comic relief for the entire town.
I kicked off the new year a few weeks ago with my parents and grandparents, and to celebrate we played bowling, ping pong, and sword dueling on the Wii. (To join the rockin’ party, visit the “New Year’s Eve 2011” photo album.) We have to turn my rug around to make an alley for my father to get a running start. He has to bowl as though he actually has the ball in his hands, as opposed to the Wii remote, and he took a major spill on my hard wood floors the first time he played on Christmas. The traction from the rug helps, but he jumps so hard at the end of each run that the house shakes. Still, he usually wins. But on New Year’s Eve, Grandma was the big winner of the night. She was pretty great at bowling strikes and popping the ping pong ball to win points. I, however, earned the title of sword dueling champion. I credit all my pent-up anger for those wins. I just pretend the avatar I’m facing is one of the many enemies I collected like bottle tops in 2010. (Shut up, you all know who you are!) All those enemies sunk into the virtual ocean, baby, and it felt oh so good. Although we were all sore the next day, we had so much fun that I’ve been continuing to Wii with my husband Antonio. I can be a sore loser, however, so I sometimes get a time out. Still, a good time is generally had by all, and my time is better when I win.
Our friend Agostino d’Ambra recently traveled from Ischia, Italy to spend three weeks with us while he studied English at Berlitz in New York. (Check out the photo album “Agostino in America“.) When Agostino called to say he arrived in Ischia, he said now that he was gone, I would be getting a break. After all, I would brown bag lunch for Agostino and my husband Antonio, wash their clothes, clean the bathrooms (and the rest of the house), make all the beds — oh and work full time and cook us all dinner. Alas, however, there is no rest for weary me. My mom took off for Florida, where she is awaiting the arrival of her first granddaughter. And I’m here continuing my free cleaning service for my hubby, my father (in mamma’s absence), and myself.
I’m madly in love with my husband Antonio and totally devoted to him, and I love Agostino and our male friends who have stayed in our home. (There have been quite a few of them; my family, in fact, has been jokingly referring to our house as a hotel with all the guests we’ve recently hosted from Ischia.) And my father is the greatest man I know. But man boys — especially those with lots of sisters, who used to clean up after them — are messy. If we all lived by a few simple rules, our lives would be much easier. (Let me add that this blog is also a clever way of introducing you to the various articles I’ve recently written for the About.com Newlyweds site about spring cleaning and isn’t necessarily a reflection of anyone in particular although the guilty know who they are.) If I ever have sons (or daughters for that matter), I’m going to teach them these rules, have them write them on the blackboard 100 times, and etch them into their brain matter.
Rules for Boys (and Messy Girls)
1. There’s no shame in a man — even an Italian mamma’s boy of a man — making his own bed, folding his own laundry (or dare I say, even washing it).
2. If there’s still olive oil in your dish, it is not clean. You need soap and water (preferably hot) to clean a dish.
3. Always put the milk back in the fridge when you’re done with it. Don’t put back an empty milk carton. Put that in the garbage or recyclables (if you’re responsible and it is possible in your community).
4. Follow directions, as in listen when I tell you how to divide the garbage for recycling.
5. Flush the toilet. Clean the bowl, at least a bit if you leave behind anything yucky.
6. This reminds me of when my cousin was a newlywed and gave a glorious, passionate speech at Sunday lunch about tire tracks on underwear and how men should, “Wipe and look, wipe and look, wipe and look — and you’re not done until the paper comes out clean.” Sage advice indeed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – My husband Antonio is a fanatic about using a bidet and never ever has broken any of these bathroom rules and is in fact probably cleaner than me when it comes to his throne. I’d be remiss if I led you to believe otherwise. But this is another story for another blog.)
7. More sage advice – pee in the bowl and only in the bowl, not on the floor and certainly not on the wall. Ever.
8. A couch or chair is not a closet. Pick up those clothes and put them away.
9. Odor eaters and bleach are our dear, dear friends.
Boys, even though I know you’ll never follow any of these rules, I still love you all. Just be sure to thank me when I’m done cleaning up. (My husband and his friends and my father always do.) Now, I’m off to spend my lunch hour ironing and preparing dough for tonight’s pizza dinner before returning to my desk to continue reporting my latest stories and updating my Web sites. Maybe I’ll find time to eat, too. It never ends. Never. Ever. Never.
Many, many of you have heard the hilarious tale of the turkey next door. In 2008, I was in my kitchen in northern N.J., just outside of Manhattan, and I noticed a Thanksgiving turkey in the yard next door. I banged on the window, but it just stared at me. At a certain point, it turned and showed me a full display of its feathers and butt, which my sister, a zookeeper and bird expert, explained meant he wanted to mate with me. First, I called my aunt and she told me to get a broom, hit it over the head, she would come kill it, and we’d eat it. There was no way I’d be participating in that plan, so I called my sister, who told me to go outside wearing long pants just in case the turkey decided to spur me (read: claw at me continuously). After that, I wasn’t going anywhere. I stayed put until my parents returned to their home just next door and I told my father to get rid of it.
He chased the turkey for a half hour in a display that was as humorous as it was dramatic. In fact, townspeople gathered to watch the turkey and Papa run up and down the street and in and out of people’s yards. We don’t get turkeys in our neck of the woods, so it was quite a scene. It was like theater. “My daughters won’t letta me killa you, so go home-a turkey,” Papa shouted all the while in his Italian accent. Finally, the turkey finished playing with Papa and returned to the yard that he was calling home. I’m pretty sure the neighbor was planning on eating him because two days later we found some feathers nearby that looked suspiciously familiar.
Why am I telling you this now? Well, today, yet another winged friend showed up in our neighbor’s yard. This one was far more menacing. I believe this was a hawk, and he was eating another bird. All that’s left now are the feathers. It was gruesome, but I watched this theater, too. I even picked up a camera this time. See above and below. The turkey was cuter — and so was my Papa.
We are three days into the new year, and I already like 2010 better than 2009. On the eve of 2009, my cousins Anna, Nino, Damiano, and my Zia Concettina and Zio Raffaele and my parents came to my place to usher in the new year, and I vomited twice within the first hour of our dinner. I drove everyone away real fast with that move. Everyone left and I spent the rest of the night hugging the toilet. I had a terrible stomach flu that lasted two days. I wanted a do over this year, and the family gave it to me. Everyone returned to my house this year — and we made it to midnight this time. Cousin Raffaele joined us, too, which made it extra special. (For pictures, visit “New Year’s Eve 2010” photo album.)
The weekend after 2010 began, I was quite productive. You can check out the blog I wrote for the About.com Newlywed’s site, which includes my most popular stories for the year that had gone by. Now, I’m looking forward to a 2010 full of success and blogs and dialogue with all you readers — and my wonderful family.