Last updated on November 7th, 2023
Americans have Thanksgiving traditions. But are there any Italian Thanksgiving traditions?
Do Italians Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Not exactly. Italians do not have a national holiday that celebrates American Thanksgiving. However, you will find plenty of Italians toasting the holiday with their expat friends and family at a home or restaurant. Italians do love a celebration!
Are There Italian Thanksgiving Traditions?
Most American Thanksgiving traditions aren’t celebrated in Italy, for cultural and logistical reasons. Italian Thanksgiving traditions tend to revolve around the Thanksgiving meal.
How is American Thanksgiving Celebrated Differently In Italy?
It’s Not Celebrated At Lunchtime On Thursday
In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily happen on Thursday. While the American Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, it’s not a national holiday in Italy, which means… adults have to go to work and kids go to school!
Italians celebrating the holiday often move the meal to the Friday or Saturday following the official Thanksgiving. That way, it’s a more relaxed occasion and guests are more likely to be able to attend.
If you’re set on having the meal on Thursday, it will need to be in the evening – after work and after school.
What We Do: I usually cook our Thanksgiving meal on the day of Thanksgiving. It’s not quite the same as having all day to eat and spend time as a family, but I like knowing we’re celebrating on the same day as the rest of our family in the US.
You Won’t Watch American Football
Few Italians follow American football – this is soccer (calcio) land after all! If you’re craving American football, try a streaming service or hop into an Irish pub – they often stream international sports. With the difference in time zones, the Thanksgiving football games are on in the evening and night in Italy.
You Won’t Watch The Thanksgiving Day Parade
Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade has been an American tradition since 1924. It’s not an Italian tradition, but if you want to watch it, you’ll need to use a VPN and stream it through an American network.
Want to relive Macy’s Thanksgiving day parades of the past? Or introduce your Italian friends to the parade? Check out this video, reliving 95 years of the parade:
Volunteering On Thanksgiving Isn’t A Tradition
Some Americans volunteer on Thanksgiving, usually preparing or serving Thanksgiving meals to those in need. Volunteering isn’t a part of the holiday here because having a Thanksgiving meal isn’t common. That doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer though! There are always organizations in need of help.
The Menu Isn’t Identical To The American Thanksgiving Menu
Italian Thanksgiving includes classic dishes like roasted turkey (which can cost 10€ or more per kilogram!). There are often Italian dishes like lasagna or pasta served, sometimes with a Thanksgiving twist – like pumpkin risotto or ravioli.
What We Do: I stick to the menu I grew up with: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, rolls, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. I do have to make some substitutions (like getting lingonberry sauce at IKEA instead of cranberry sauce).
No Black Friday Shopping Madness
While Black Friday is becoming a big sales day for brick and mortar and online stores in Italy, it’s nothing like the crazy shopping day in the United States. The discounts tend to be light (10-25% off) compared to the United States, so no fights break out over televisions or discounted toys.
How To Say Happy Thanksgiving In Italian
If you’re invited to or hosting an Italian Thanksgiving, you’ll want to greet your guests or toast the holiday in the local language!
Happy Thanksgiving in Italian is ‘Buona Festa del Ringraziamento.’
For a more detailed explanation, check out our post on How To Say ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ in Italian!
Typical Italian Thanksgiving Menu
Thanksgiving is served family style, so you won’t see the typical Italian ordered courses (antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, dolce).
Usually the menu is made up of American Thanksgiving dishes, some with an Italian flair.
Here are some common dishes in Italy for Thanksgiving. An Italian Thanksgiving meal won’t include every one of these dishes.
Each region has its favorite appetizers. You may find stuffed artichokes, olives, cured meats, cheese, vegetables marinated in oil or vinegar (sott’olio and sott’aceto), salame, stuffed mushrooms, and more.
For example, in Tuscany, our Italian Thanksgiving appetizers include prosciutto crudo, fresh and aged pecorino cheese, and olives.
An autumn staple in Italy, this simple soup seems to make its way onto most Italian Thanksgiving menus.
Classic or vegetable lasagne always have a place at an Italian table, and Thanksgiving is no exception!
Pumpkin Ravioli or Pasta or Gnocchi or Risotto
The beloved zucca (or butternut squash) is the star of many autumn dishes in Italy. It pairs well with sage and gorgonzola and you’ll find many variations of it in pasta and rice dishes at Italian Thanksgiving.
Whole turkeys aren’t found at the butcher, so if you want one for Thanksgiving, you’ll need to order it in advance (two to four weeks!).
Don’t forget to empty the insides from the cavity. You may also need to pluck feathers from the bird before cooking it.
Italian-style gravy with tomatoes doesn’t pair well with turkey. Stick to the American style, with turkey drippings, milk and flour.
In Italy, this dish is usually prepared in a separate pan, not stuffed inside the turkey. Sausage and sage are common additions to the stuffing.
Called purè, Italian mashed potatoes are a little bit different, probably because of the type of potatoes and the way they’re prepared by Italians. Italian mashed potatoes are more runny than American mashed potatoes.
You may also find cubed, oven-roasted potatoes in place of the mashed potatoes at Italian Thanksgiving.
While they are popping up in more markets and grocery stores, it’s still difficult to find sweet potatoes in Italy. Italians often have trouble adjusting to the idea of eating a ‘sweet’ potato (much like they have trouble eating pumpkin in a sweet pie).
Green bean casserole isn’t popular here, but cooked green beans are. They are prepared simply, with herbs or garlic and butter.
It can be tough to find cranberries in Italy. Some international markets will carry the canned cranberries, but we use IKEA’s jarred lingonberry sauce.
Pie & Desserts
Typical pies on offer include apple and pumpkin pies.
Italians aren’t often keen to try pumpkin pie – I never convinced our Nonno Silvano to try it – but it’s a classic Thanksgiving dish. Depending on what ingredients you use, you may need to visit an international market (if your recipe calls for evaporated or condensed milk or canned pumpkin).
You may want to check out Family-Friendly Pumpkin Patches in Italy!
Other popular alternatives at an Italian Thanksgiving are cheesecakes (pumpkin, or plain with a berry or citrus sauce), tiramisu, pannacotta, or chestnut cakes.
Where To Eat A Thanksgiving Meal
Many expats cook the Thanksgiving dinner at home, but in larger cities a few restaurants will create a set menu for the holiday.
If you aren’t invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, but want to check it out, try a restaurant meal. You’ll most likely need to reserve your meal at least a week in advance so the restaurant can gather uncommon ingredients and prepare the meal.
For example, in Florence, just a few of the places you can celebrate Thanksgiving at include:
- Ristorante Accademia – serving Thanksgiving dinner since 2000, classic, traditional menu
- The Four Seasons – high-end, glamorous Thanksgiving dinner
- The Place – Tuscan style Thanksgiving dinner
- Melaleuca Bakery & Bistrot– a healthy, creative menu and an incredible pie selection (you can also order pies to take away)
- Harry’s Bar – elegant menu, somewhat traditional
What To Bring To Thanksgiving Dinner In Italy
Your host/ess may tell you not to bring anything, but if prefer to not show up empty-handed, you could arrive with:
- chocolates or candy
- a tea towel
- a candle
Thanksgiving Facts To Share With Your Italian Friends
- The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 and lasted for three days.
- The first Thanksgiving included the Plymouth pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans. It celebrated the successful fall harvest.
- Turkey probably wasn’t served at the first Thanksgiving.
- Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday in 1863.
- Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the 4th Thursday of the month of November.
Now that you know about Italian Thanksgiving traditions, it’s time to celebrate the holiday! Buona festa del ringraziamento!
I’ll leave you with this clip about Italian Thanksgiving from the 1990 film, My Blue Heaven:
Thanksgiving in Italy FAQ
There are some areas in Italy that celebrate a successful harvest, but there isn’t an official holiday for it. There are also many feste di ringraziamento (festivals of thanks) throughout the year that honor patron saints.
We celebrate every year with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with our Italian family. We’ve also had ‘friendsgiving’ with other expat families. We roast a turkey and make gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, stuffing, and pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake.
Our Italian Thanksgiving takes place on Thursday evening.
I’d love to start other Italian Thanksgiving traditions, but the evening seems full enough with the meal.
American Thanksgiving is celebrated as a day to give thanks for the harvest and blessings of the year. It’s believed that the ‘first Thanksgiving’ took place in 1621 as a harvest celebration meal shared between with pilgrims of Plymouth and the Wampanoag Native Americans. For more background on the history of the holiday, check out the History Channel’s article on Thanksgiving.
The date isn’t fixed like other American holidays. Instead, Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November.
It’s usually celebrated with family. In fact, it’s the busy travel period of the year, with everyone traveling home to be with family for the celebration.