The region of Sicily holds a special place in my heart and also in the hearts of my family members. Both of my grandfathers can trace their families back to the largest of all the Italian islands.
Many of our family customs, traditions and our religion have Sicilian connections.
Sicily itself has been influenced and controlled by the greatest civilizations, empires and cultures over the past 2500 years. The Greeks, Moors, Byzantines and the Roman Empire all laid claim to Sicily at one time or another. The history of these different people helped to make Sicily a very diverse island. The architecture ranging from Greek and Arab influences reflects the vast diversity that was brought to this island throughout time. Located in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has been very valuable throughout history because of its easy access to trade routes between Europe and Africa.
Sicily has a roughly triangular shape, earning it the name Trinacria. It is separated from the Italian mainland by the Strait of Messina. Sicily has numerous rivers and is mostly hilly and its surrounding small islands have some highly active volcanoes. Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and still casts black ash over the island during frequent eruptions. Summers can be very hot.
Many traditions of Sicilian culture stem from the Roman Catholic religion. Sicilian towns celebrate "festa". Each town has a patron saint, whose feast day, or "festa", is considered the most important local holiday. This saint also serves as a symbol of the towns identity. On these days, as well as other holidays, religious figures are taken from the church and brought through the town in parades. These processions can be elaborate with bands and musicians accompanying the people carrying the saint. People also donate money to kiss the statue of the saint. There are also large fireworks displays and different foods that coincide with the saint and the season. My family is Catholic and although we don't have processions with saints in our streets, we have a large statue of Mary that was handed down to us by my great Aunt displayed in our home. Its presence reminds me of my Sicilian heritage as on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception all of Italy including Sicily celebrates this day as a national holiday to honor Mary. Schools and government offices close so that people can attend mass and then celebrate the holy day.
Our family gatherings and holiday meals are still tied to the traditions of Sicily and Italy. Recipes have been passed down and shared from our relatives who are no longer with us but just the
smells and aromas bring back those memories to my parents and grandparents. We eat meals served with many courses starting with an antipasto salad and then comes Sicilian style artichokes
stuffed with breadcrumbs garlic and olive oil. Then various pasta dishes and the adults drink wine and we finish with cannoli's and numerous desserts. Although not necessarily a Sicilian only dessert
my family looks forward to the pizzelles my mother makes around Christmas time. She uses the same pizzelle iron her grandmother had used for years. The smell of the pizzelles just announces that
Christmas is almost here again this year. My grandmother also makes her "nanny" cookies which is an Italian recipe passed down that everyone especially enjoys. In between courses and at the end of
the meal our families begin to reminisce about past holidays or times when we were not as fortunate as we are today. I have learned many life lesson from those conversations. The time we get to spend
on those days is similar to the riposo in Sicily which traditionally is a mid-day meal time of about three hours. Families would come home, rest relax and eat a meal together. Life would slow down.
Our family gatherings normally do last longer than planned but no one really seems to watch the time.
I am proud to have two grandfathers who can trace their roots back to Sicily. They both worked hard and cared most about providing something better for my parents and their grandchildren. I should think that this reflects well on their grandparents and great grandparents who came here from Italy with very little in the way of materialistic things and risked everything. Although Sicilians may have not always been treated appropriately here or in Italy, they continued to provide what they could and make life better for their children. Each generation on both sides of my family has believed in similar principles in life. They both valued God and their families and wanted to give them better than they may have had growing up.
Luckily all four of my grandparents have been able to visit Italy over the past few years and hopefully one day I can visit as well to enjoy the beautiful land and meet people in the place my family once called home.