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Italian~American Day
11 October 2021

The American Community Survey, compiled between 2008 and 2012 and being the most recent analysis, identified 3% of the total population of Bedford County as descending from Italian ancestors.

Italian~Americans in the United States celebrate Columbus Day as a day of ancestral national pride. Despite the fact that Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean under the sponsorship of Spain, he was born at Genoa, Italy. Columbus Day was traditionally celebrated by Italian~Americans on the 12th of October. That was the date in 1492 (according to the Julian Calendar) on which Columbus made landfall in the Americas. In the Gregorian Calendar, he would have made landfall on 31 October. For many years the claim was made that Columbus discovered the North American Continent, and to Europeans, that was a fact. But the truth of the matter, as revealed by later archaeological findings, was that other individuals had made landfall on both the North and South American Continents prior to Columbus. In regard to the Eurasian immigrants who had come to North America across the Beringia land bridge about thirteen thousand years ago and gave birth to generations of indigenous Amerindians, the continent had never been lost and therefore was not in need of being discovered. That detail should not deny the fact that to the Europeans, Columbus truly did discover a land of which they had no knowledge.

Columbus Day was celebrated as early as 1792 by the Tammany Society in New York City. President Benjamin Harrison, in 1892, declared the 21st of October to be a holiday honoring Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas. Prior to his declaration, there had been many years of anti-Italian sentiment. Harrison hoped to bring that period of discontent to an end. But the anti-Italian sentiment continued into the Twentieth Century. That sentiment did not discourage Italian~Americans; in fact it emboldened them to work harder to have the day declared a federal holiday. In 1934, lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal Service Order, resulted in Congress passing a statute requesting the President of the United States to issue a declaration for the holiday. The declaration was then made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The statute did not establish the holiday as an annual event. Each year the President had to make a similar declaration to keep the holiday active. The National Columbus Day Committee was formed in 1966 and its leader, Mariano A. Lucca was successful in having the observance declared a federal holiday in 1968.

Basil M. Russo, the National President of the Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America, recently noted that: "Columbus Day is not a day that's set aside to honor an individual, but rather is a day that's set aside to recognize and honor a monumental historic event that began the process of over 500 years of worldwide immigration to America by oppressed people seeking a better life for their families..."

Italian~Americans celebrate holidays such as Columbus Day with community gatherings and meals. The meals, in which each family brings a favorite dish to share with everyone else, are called potlucks by Italian~Americans. Sometimes they are referred to as covered dish dinners suggesting that the food be casseroles or other foods baked in the oven. Speaking of Italian food, the dishes that are thought to be 'traditional' Italian dishes may have got their start on the Italian peninsula, but the forms they have evolved into today owe their variety to their spread throughout the world. Perhaps the most famous and beloved Italian dish, spaghetti, is just one of various forms of pasta embellished with a sauce. It can be made with or without meatballs. It might be prepared with a tomato based ragu alla bolognese or marinara sauce, or with bechamel, a creamy white sauce made of flour, butter and milk. Lasagna is another pasta favorite. The dish consists of alternating layers of pasta, cheese, meat and sauce. By enclosing the meat in pasta pockets and boiling them, and then covering them with a sauce, one gets ravioli. 'Vegetable' lasagna is made by substituting diced or chopped vegetables with the layer of meat in regular lasagna. A variation of lasagna is baked ziti, made with ricotta cheese or sour cream and provolone cheese. For chicken or veal lovers, an Italian~American cook will cover the meat with a tomato-based or marinara sauce and top it with parmigiana cheese and bake it to make chicken parmigiana or veal parmigiana. One cannot speak of Italian food and not mention pizza. Traditional Italian pizza consists of a flattened dough base onto which are placed diced tomatoes, crumbled cheese and olives and all dusted with oregano, basil and other herbs.

Italian~Americans are not known to favor beer like their German or Irish neighbors. Their pasta dishes are better paired with wines and mixed-alcoholic drinks. Aperitifs, or mixed-alcoholic drinks, drank before a meal will stimulate the appetite. Certain liqueurs used both in cooking and in cocktails, such as Campari and Amaretto, evoke the spirit of Italy like no others.

Columbus Day is celebrated in large cities such as New York with extravagant parades and public events. Churches hold special services in some locations.

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