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  • Re - discovering Columbus Day
    An Italian twist on an American favorite
    Una Mamma Italiana

    by Tiffany Longo

    "In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Every October, that phrase hums in my memory. It's one of those clever teaching techniques that gets little rhymes stuck in your head so that you NEVER forget them. (Works like a charm, by the way.) And despite the annoyance of its repetition in my mind as I write this, I cannot deny my gratitude to that Italian explorer. After all, had Cristoforo Colombo not sailed that "ocean blue," most of the country wouldn't enjoy those Monday sales and a day off work!

    But seriously, this federal holiday has more to offer than we may think - it gives Italian families another excuse to celebrate our heritage. Since 1866, Italian-Americans have used Columbus Day to celebrate both America and our Italian passion for discovery. Today, these sentiments still exist, as do the Italian-Americans who feel them. It seems the only thing missing is the celebration. This places the responsibility (yet again) on the Italian-Americans of our generation to preserve our innate passion for life.

    I'm talking about our drive for exploration - our zeal for discovery. Millions of Italians possessed this when they came to America in search of a better life. Celebrating holidays like Columbus Day gives us a chance to honor these ideals for the sake of our future generations. If we create special memories on these holidays, then traditions will develop that everyone in the family will look forward to each year - especially the little ones.

    You see, most children share one particular quality with Christopher Columbus; they are natural-born explorers, and my own are no exception. As their parent, it's my job to embrace these cravings for discovery as learning opportunities. With just a little time spent on the history of Columbus Day, my children could gain a rich lesson in their heritage, right?

    Well, as great as that sounds, at the young ages of my children, a history lesson isn't as appealing as, say, dirt. So, I'll try to steal their attention with activities that will keep them enthusiastic about being Italian. In addition to a big pasta dinner, some effortless family crafts will add to the excitement of the day.

    La Festa

    Coloring dried pasta makes for a great kids craft.
    I start the feast day by preparing my Nonnina's marinara sauce. Letting my kids peel the garlic keeps them involved (and my hands smelling clean). After that, I reluctantly give my children unlimited access to glue as they turn cardboard and colored pasta into Italian and American flags. Always seizing those 'learning opportunities,' I try to help them 'discover' which one is farfalle, penne, gemelli, etc. Stocking up on several varieties allows the kids choose which one gets cooked for dinner. Never pass up an excuse to get them helping in the kitchen, right?

    These small tiles cost under a dollar to make! Just draw or paint your image, then seal them with the poly spray.
    Older children (and adults!) might enjoy making homemade trivets and coasters. It's so simple to paint or decoupage the Italian flag on discounted and leftover tiles. Then you can use them for Columbus Day Dinner every year! (FYI: Instructions for these and other Italian crafts on my blog:

    By the afternoon, the house is festively decorated with all of the colorful pictures and crafts we made. And by dinnertime, we are enjoying a big family meal that everyone helped to create. So while I have the family's attention, (no one is going anywhere - there's pasta), we read aloud the story of our family's (and Columbus') migration to America.

    And since children aren't the only ones who love an excuse for a celebration, every age group should organize a Columbus Day feast. Columbus Day parades still exist in some areas, so check out your city website to attend. Can't find one? Host a potluck meal with loved ones to share recipes, stories and traditions. Honor the passion for discovery that our ancestors had by 'exploring' your genealogy; today's resources are endless.

    Start The Tradition

    However you choose to celebrate Columbus Day, the goal remains the same. It is a reason to share love and create memories. In doing so, we teach our family to give thanks for both our freedoms in America and the traditions of Italy. When Columbus sailed westward to get to the East, he was definitely thinking outside the box. So don't let any holiday slip through the cracks. Be creative and use the day as an excuse to develop family traditions. After all, how do you think Thanksgiving began?

    But we'll wait for next month to explore that holiday.

    Article Published 10/2/2008


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