Italians are proud of their cultural heritage and the differences it holds compared to other European cultures, such as Sicilians. Even Italians who have migrated from native Italy to the U.S. hold great pride in their traditions, passing down their cultural values to the next generation.
1. Native Italians speak in more languages than just Italian. Italy’s official language is Italian and roughly just over 90% of the population speaks Italian fluently. However, there are other significant influences through language that Europe has imposed upon Italy. Due to this, natives can speak but are not limited to, Sicilian, Croatian, French, German, Greek, etc. It has been shown that being fluent and exposed to different languages other than your first language before the age of eight can have positive effects on identity development, with bilingual Italian children being more stable in their identities.
2. Food is an important part of keeping life and family together. Food is the catalyst for Italian extended family get-togethers, but Italians are known for their regional spins on food – no one family gathering will have the same type of Italian food, made the same way, that tastes the same. What U.S. Americans see as typical “Italian food” is specifically reminiscent of south-central Italy; Italian families may have an entirely different, and still delicious, spin on “traditional” Italian dishes.
3. Italians celebrate an extended Christmas. Christmas in Italy involves several weeks of preparation and celebrating and Christmas decorations do not come down until after January 6 – six whole days after U.S. Americans celebrate “New Year’s”. January 6 is known as the Day of the Epiphany, where children are given candy or coal (don’t worry, it’s usually made of black sugar) and the day before are treated to the leftover Christmas dishes. The Day of Epiphany marks the day La Befana, Italy’s female counterpart of Santa Claus, rode a broomstick through Italy. Her figure is sold in many antique shops in Italy.
4. Italians are not the same as Sicilians. Sicily is an island region south of Italy and is the largest island in the Mediterranian Sea. If you were to call a Sicilian Italian or vise versa, you would probably get some cultural backlash. Sicily was not integrated into Italy until 1860 “Unification” in which Italy became a country of its own and absorbed several of the surrounding islands, one of which being Sicily. Regional pride is commonplace in Europe as the areas are not as large as U.S. state counterparts and both Italians and Sicilians care deeply about the stories of generations past.
5. Italians have rituals to honor the dead. Much like Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico, Italians take special considerations and lengths to commemorate their dead. On November 1st, the day before Dia de Los Muertos takes place in other regions, Italy celebrates “Saints’ Day”. During this religious holiday, Italians typically decorate the resting places of loved ones with flowers and food to honor them and give them gifts from the life on Earth they once knew. The day after, November 2, is called “All Souls’ Day” in which it is believed that deceased loved ones return to dine with the living on the treats and drinks left out for them by the living.