La famiglia is the most vital component of Italian culture. This is because it holds the ability to affect all other aspects of an Italian’s life. When thinking of words to describe an Italian family, the first ones that come to mind are loyal, loving, and close-knit. Families could be separated by locations or even conflicting schedules, but will do whatever they can to maintain a close relationship with their family. Family also supplies the basis of social interaction as well as emotional and economic support (Pier). Furthermore, family life holds power over how one views traditions, gender roles, and marriage. Additionally, family life differs from region to region in Italy.
Traditions provide us with the fondest memories with our families and ways to learn about and praise our culture(s). Luckily for Italians, there are plenty of traditions that bring family members together. There are also lots of celebrations. Simple traditions such as eating dinner as a family or making cookies with Nonna are super common. Also, the majority of Italians are Catholics, so there are lots of religious holidays and traditions to celebrate throughout the year (“Italy”). Most religious families attend mass every Sunday. Even if a family is not very religious or has a hectic schedule, it is always necessary to make time to eat at least one meal with the family. For Italian families, food is a central part of holidays and celebrations (“Italy”). Quality family bonding is very important to all Italians therefore holidays are perfect opportunities for spending time with the family. Also, spending time with family teaches younger Italians about their culture so the traditions and celebrations can last for generations to come. It is important to continue traditions in order to maintain the Italian culture
The Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th and is the last day of Christmas. It is sometimes referred to as Little Christmas. The Epiphany is celebrated as a national holiday (Ciprietti, Elena). One popular tradition that stems from this holiday is la befana. La befana is a witch who gives gifts to children on this day (Ciprietti, Elena). The next religious holiday celebrated is Easter. The day of the Easter celebration is not on the same day each year. It is determined by the Gregorian calendar but it always falls in March or April. Traditionally, a family will attend mass and then have a large meal together. Some common Easter foods in Italy are lamb and sweet bread (Ciprietti, Elena). The day after Easter Sunday, deemed Pasquetta, is also celebrated. On this day, friends get together for picnics or barbecues (Ciprietti, Elena). Next, All Saint’s Day is celebrated on November 1st. On this day, Italians celebrate all of the saints. It is also a national holiday (Ciprietti, Elena). Lastly, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th and is one of the prevalent religious holidays. On Christmas Eve, Italian families have a large sit-down dinner with multiple courses. Midnight mass is also a must for Italian families (Ciprietti, Elena). The next day, there is celebration with a Christmas lunch. On this holiday, almost every building, store, or museum is closed for the day (Ciprietti, Elena). Again, the holidays provide great bonding time with family.
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For Italian families, religious or not, secular holidays also allow for traditions and celebration with beloved family. Some examples of these include: Ferragosto and International Women’s Day. Ferragosto begins on August 15th. Typically, families will take a vacation in beach towns or the mountains (Ciprietti, Elena). Ferragosto is a great tradition that promotes spending time with family as well as relaxing from a hectic schedule. On March 8th, Italians celebrate International Women’s Day. During this day, women are traditionally given yellow flowers (Ciprietti, Elena). International Women’s Day is the perfect reason to celebrate the women in your life, especially those in your family. It is also crucial to mention that each Italian region has its own holidays and festivals—secular or religious.
The Catholic Church has always had a great influence on family life, especially marriage and starting a family. This has led to Italians favoring a traditional union—marriage between a man and a woman. Also, the church encouraged Italians to only have children within marriage (Luciano, Mario, et al.). In the past, the traditional Italian family was very large, with more than six children. It was very common for mothers to take care of the children while the husbands made money (“Italian Families: Then and Now”). This is no longer the case. Italy’s National Statistics Institute (ISTAT) reports a sharp decline in the average number of members per family (“Italian Families: Then and Now”). This sharp decline in the average family size is due to the vast changes in the Italian lifestyle and cultural norms over the past few decades. These lifestyle shifts include: “1) decreased marriage rates, delays in weddings and these occurring at older ages, and a growing number of civil ceremonies; 2) low birth rates: Italy has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe and also has an increasing number of births out of wedlock; 3) increased marital instability, with legal separations” (“Italian Families: Then and Now”). Despite change in size and/or structure, family is still the driving force behind Italian culture. Families still spend ample time together, eat meals and celebrate together, and maintain relationships with those who are not physically near.
Furthermore, many Italians are not getting married or getting married later due to educational expenses and the lack of steady employment in Italy. ISTAT further explains that those who attend university often do not have financial support. Then after attending university, it is difficult to find a stable job (“Italian Families: Then and Now”). Therefore, it is most likely that Italians are not getting married because they cannot start a family without some sort of financial security. In 2010, the average age of men getting married was 35 years old and for women it was 32 years old (Luciano, Mario et al.). Due to Italians getting married at later ages, they are also having children at later ages. In fact, the average Italian women has her first child at approximately 31 years old; European women from other nations have their first child between 26 and 30 years old on average (“Italian Families: Then and Now”). Next, marital instability that ultimately leads to divorce only occurs in 10% of Italian marriages as of 2012 (Luciano, Mario, et al.). However, these modern lifestyles are not only limited to heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples are still not able to get married in Italy. In place of marriage, couples usually engage in civil unions (Luciano, Mario et al.). Efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Italy have been slowed by the still-strong influence the Catholic Church has in Italy. However, same-sex couples are more accepted now than they would have been ten years ago, so progress is being made.
The region in which an Italian lives also significantly impacts the structure of a family. For example, Italians from the northern regions or larger cities are far more independent and individualistic. However, family is still valued and influential in social behavior (Pier). Additionally, northern regions better accept modern family values but the nuclear family structure still reigns as most common. Northern Italians generally prefer to have fewer children (Pier). Italians from southern regions and rural towns are far more family-oriented. Southern Italian couples have a lot more children than their northern counterparts. Also, immediate family and extended family often live together in the same home which leads to an intense involvement in each other’s daily lives (Pier). This involvement with one another create genuinely close relationships between family members. Often times, a family will live in the same village or town for generations. Therefore, there is a strong emphasis on family reputation. Some families do damage control and hide any drama or conflicts that could lead to shame or damage to their reputation (Pier). Lastly, southern Italian families tend to hold traditional family values (Pier).
Gender roles have tremendous influence on the Italian family structure as well as everyday life. First, it is important to understand the daily occurrences in an Italian woman’s life. Italian women are generally raised to be independent and confident. However, stereotypes often depict them as being attractive but unintelligent (Pier). This indicates the sexist undertones that can occur in Italian cultures and cultures all over the world. However, social attitudes are beginning to change but sexism still occurs. Italian women are often catcalled or not taken seriously due to their gender. Just like women in the United States and nations all over the world, Italians women also face lower wages than male colleagues (Pier). These cultural attitudes affect the roles of women in family—as a mother, daughter, wife, etc. In the traditional Italian family dynamic, the man is seen as the patriarch and the breadwinner while the woman takes care of the house and the children (Pier).
In today’s world, Italian women earn degrees of higher education and work to provide more financial stability for the family. However, they are still expected to do the majority of household chores such as cleaning, cooking meals, and laundry (Pier). One’s region and socioeconomic class also affects the prominence of gender roles and how household activities are balanced. In urban areas and/or upper class families, men and women are more open to sharing responsibilities in the household. Additionally, women are increasingly opting for career paths instead of being homemakers, causing the birth rate in Italy to decrease. But overall, men play a very miniscule role in domestic chores (Pier).
Therefore, it is evident that family greatly influences all aspects of an Italian’s life. Family helps us feel secure, confident, and loved. Italians exemplify all of these characteristics while going above and beyond to show their love and loyalty to family members. Regardless of where an Italian lives, how far away his/her family is, or family dynamics, Italian families value one another. In conclusion, it is important pay attention to our families because they greatly impact how we think, our beliefs, morals, and habits.
Work Cited Page
- Ciprietti, Elena. “The Top Italian National Holidays: Christmas, Carnevale, and Beyond.” Walks of Italy Blog, 4 Jan. 2014, www.walksofitaly.com/blog/traditions-2/italian-national-holidays.
- “Italian Families: Then and Now.” Life In Italy, Culture, 2 Nov. 2018, www.lifeinitaly.com/culture/italian-families-then-and-now.
- “Italy.” Countries and Their Cultures, www.everyculture.com/Ge-It/Italy.html.
- Luciano, Mario, et al. “The Family in Italy: Cultural Changes and Implications for Treatment.” Taylor and Francis Online, 20 Apr. 2012, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/09540261.2012.656306.
- Pier. “Italian Culture - Family.” Cultural Atlas, IES (2018), www.culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/italian-culture/italian-culture-family.
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