Chandler West's Senior Year in Italy

Italians connect over food, even without a Thanksgiving feast

ColumnistNovember 24, 2011 

— While Thanksgiving is specifically an American holiday, I've thought about it a lot over the past few days, and I've realized that the ideas behind the celebrations are actually quite universal.

Thanksgiving is a complex thing. For us, it is filled with significance, stories, legends, images and family traditions, but I think that most can agree that when you boil it down, it comes to something simple: people coming together, thankful for each other's company.

Although in Italy there is sadly no holiday purely devoted to this, I notice the presence of both major elements on a regular basis.

People here, just like people at home, come together on both small and large scales. Meals tend to bring people together around a table, especially in Italy. Family and friends gather to eat with such reverence, as if it were a religious ceremony. I think part of this value of mealtime comes from an even bigger value of food. Every dish is prepared with love, flavors combined expertly together. Italians are passionate about the food they eat, and they take great care and pride in making everything perfect.

Italian meals are incredible, not only because of the delicious food. The food is the glue that holds everyone together in a merry suspension while it's being eaten. Breadcrumbs get sprinkled all over the table. Conversation gets loud, heated, and exciting. A great deal of what makes family family and what makes friends friends happens around a table.

So, the fact that there's no specific day dedicated to getting together and enjoying a big meal doesn't keep this exact thing from occurring on a regular basis. Of course, in Italy the food served here is far more likely to be pasta or pizza instead of turkey, casseroles or cranberry sauce.

There have been other instances where I've found parallels between the way people come together here and at home.

Last week, on a foggy Friday night, a boy in my class was in a really bad car accident. The rest of us were just arriving at a theater for a class trip to see a play when we got the news. As such news so often is, it came through a jumble of sources and was unclear, vague. Nobody knew for sure if he was going to be okay.

Most of the boys left the theater to go visit our classmate in the hospital and get more information, but they got there after visiting hours and weren't allowed in. The rest of us stayed to watch the play, but at intermission persistently checked for text messages regarding test results and prognosis. It turned out he had a broken femur but was going to be fine after surgery and a lot of time to heal.

I was amazed by the way my class, usually so playful and mixed up, became such a tight, efficient support unit so quickly in that time of disaster. They're still rallying around our injured classmate, and I don't think they'll cease until he's back on his legs again.

When something bad happens, people rally together. Even if they can't make it right, they at lease make it easier; they are at least there to support.

That exact behavior was found 4,658 miles away back home around the same time. The way the people of York County rallied around in the wake of the disastrous tornado that killed three people and destroyed homes is much the same as what my class has been doing.

Besides being in a beautiful country living the most amazing experiences of my life, I think that that's what I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving. It's wonderful that around the world people have the same core goodness and generosity.

We, as humans, see one another suffering through hard times, and it's naturally somewhere inside us to want to help. I'm thankful that people come together, worldwide, whether it be to eat a meal in good company or to stay strong and united in the face of disaster.

Chandler West is a Rock Hill High student spending her senior year in Italy. She writes about her adventures abroad each week in The Herald.

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