The Power of Holiday Traditions

My great grandfather Giuseppe Cortopassi was a chef in Lucca Italy before he immigrated to the US in 1900. My grandfather Santiago Cortopassi was born in Brazil during a 2-year stopover before they settled in St. Louis. One of the traditions he brought over from the old country was our special family meal at Christmas. That ritual will be played out again this year in our home, and will be experienced by at least the 6th generation of Cortopassi descendants.

My grandmother Ceil Cortopassi making ravioli
My grandmother Ceil Cortopassi making ravioli

The dinner starts with a thin beef broth soup with some tiny pastas in it, and that is followed by an Italian salad that ha to be mixed in a bowl that is the size of our kitchen. Oh, and the greens have to be mixed by hand. Then comes the big moment: homemade ravioli with a specially prepared thick meat sauce whose recipe is heavily guarded by all family members. I remember as a kid watching all my parents and aunts and uncles helping my grandparents roll out the ravioli that they laid out all over their home to dry. These days we buy fresh ones at Mama Toscano’s shop in the Italian section of St. Louis, the closest to the ones we used to make ourselves. Finally, we imbibe on some homemade Bailey’s Irish cream that is my dad’s recipe, immediately followed by some well-earned down time on the couch.

All 3 of my adult children would be aghast if we ever tried to skimp on any part of the meal, that’s how special it is for them. And I’m glad they feel this way, because traditions like this link them with the elders and past generations who came before them. It creates interest in their heritage and provokes discussions and story-telling. I think that anything that connects kids with family legacies and stories is invaluable. I never met my great grandparents, but I have a connection with them through the ravioli meal every Christmas.

Encourage your children to ask their elders for stories of holidays past and about where family traditions originated. Kids love to hear tales about what things were like for their grandparents and parents when they were growing up. Show slide shows of relatives at different ages and of Christmas’s past. Most of my favorite holiday memories are of sitting around laughing at old pictures and listening to anecdotes from different generations. The power of traditions is in these memories and connections.


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