Published in "Italy a Love Story", edited by Camille Cusumano, Seal Press, 2005:

An Italian Thanksgiving
By Serena Richardson
November 26, 2003

Luciano’s parents had never met an American before. And when I began my new life in Northern Italy with this kind, loving man I had met in California, his parents suddenly had to begin speaking a new language: Italian. For in the in the rolling hills outside of Venice, the dialect changes from village to village and my elementary Italian is straight out of a textbook. And as I slowly and sometimes painfully, learn Italian, and their dialect, I found that they are fascinated by my tales of American life, especially Luciano's mother, Anna Maria, who loved my story of Thanksgiving.  I told her that the Friday after Thanksgiving tutti i tacchini negli Stati Uniti sono morti.  All the turkeys are dead.  Tutti morti?  She thought that was so funny.  They had only seen one whole in the movies. So of course I wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner for this family.
The first obstacle was the turkey.  I discovered that it is very difficult to find a complete turkey in Italy, even in the larger town of Treviso where I live and work as an English teacher.  Turkeys are too big to stay in one piece.  I could find legs and breasts, but not the whole bird.  I thought, no problem, I can ask my butcher across the street and order one.  He is the classic butcher, round, bald with a little moustache.  However, I should have expected trouble ever since the day he told me that
filletto al pepe verde is always made with pork and everyone knows that it is made with beef. Well-now I do, after a failed attempt to amaze one of Luciano’s friends, Massimo, for his birthday. Filletto being his favorite dish, and my first time making it, I went to the butcher for advice.
“Pork! You use pork for
filetto al pepe verde. Absolutely. How much do you want?”
While very appreciative of the meal, Massimo gently informed me of my mistake and I made a mental note on the credibility of the butcher. The same butcher who on this day, a week before Thanksgiving, informed me sadly that turkeys are just not available
intero, only in pieces.  I could not believe this. Turkeys had to be in one piece at some point in their lives, especially in Italy where I have seen them running around, blithely enjoying a Thanksgiving free environment.  I consulted the experts on food procurement: Luciano's parents.  They were endlessly amused by my predicament, which was discussed at length at the kitchen table.  Giancarlo suggested buying a lot of turkey pieces and making a little mountain.  Anna Marie recommended sewing the pieces together...Frankenstein Turkey. They were no help.
I even asked my students as part of a classroom discussion on holidays.  I told them all about Thanksgiving,
Ringraziamento, and its history and how it is always on the third Thursday in November and how it is traditional to roast a turkey. And then I mentioned my difficulties in finding one, whole.  After taking this all in, the class was silent. I imagined them all processing the concept of buying, cooking and then eating an entire turkey. Then they collected themselves and several suggested that I go to a very beautiful butcher shop near the school.  It is a temple to meat: glass, mirrors, copper cases and huge legs of prosciutto sticking in the air with bows on their ankles.  A heavy curtain is pulled over the window at the lunch pausa so the meat is not disturbed.

So in I went there and asked the butcher if I could order a miniature, but
complete turkey to be picked up next week.  With a small smile he said, “Why yes, it can be done.”
What a relief!  So the bird was ordered.  But he added that it was going to be a tacchina not a tacchino.  I figured girl or boy turkey, I did not care, as long as it was small and in one piece.  Later my students told me that there was no such thing as a tacchina. I could have ordered a toad for dinner for all I knew.  But it was ordered and whatever it was, it was going to get roasted whole.
Since I taught a class on Thursday night we decided to hold the dinner on Friday night. Luciano’s parents and la Nonna (his 91 year-old grandmother, Italia) would arrive at my house at 7:30 pm and dinner would be served promptly at 7:45 pm. Because I knew that this was a late night for them, I asked if we should have it on Sunday lunch instead, but Giancarlo said, no, we must follow tradition and come as close to the real day as possible.
All was set for dinner on the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 21.
Thursday morning I went to my first meeting of the English Speaking Ladies Club a group of ladies that strives to provide a tiny English-speaking world in the middle of the Veneto. The subject of Thanksgiving came up.  One woman mentioned how one year she went to the butcher to pick up her turkey (the same place where I had placed my order) and was informed that there was no turkey for her because they had not been able to get across the Piave (a very large river nearby) and she said that she’d had to settle for two ducks. Now, I wanted to ask why the turkeys could not get across the Piave-I mean there are bridges and all, but I did not.  I was distracted by the way they were referring to Thanksgiving in the future, as if it were next week, not today.  I off-handedly said, "Isn't today Thanksgiving?" 
“No, no Serena, check your calendar.”
"Oh”, I said casually, hoping that I did not reveal my confusion.  The conversation moved on to something else and I quietly snuck out and looked, for the first time, in my date book.  And there it was in the front of the book staring at me:


No wonder the butcher had smiled at me.  He knew it was on the 27th, not the 20th.  I felt so disoriented, so embarrassed. I mean, this was my holiday. I was supposed to be the expert. I had wanted to impress. And I got it wrong. By a whole week! I frantically called Luciano to see what we should do.  No answer. I left a message.  I had to teach on Friday the 28th. Oh no. I dropped by the school to see if I could get a sub to teach the class.  No way.  So literally pacing in front of the grocery store I waited to hear from Luciano, on whether or not to go ahead with Thanksgiving, a week early. He called back and I answered, "Ok, now what do I do?" 
He said, "You know Serena, people pay a lot of money to go to funny movies or to see comedians, but I don't need to, I have you.  Don't worry, you are in Italy-early or late, it does not matter. Besides, my parents will never know it is not really tomorrow."  So it was decided to go ahead with the plan, but that we would tell them the truth later.
Friday morning I picked up the bird, ready to face the butcher, pretending as if I knew damn well that I was a week early.  Maybe I am jetting off to Paris for the real Thanksgiving;
he didn't know.  I was in suspense about how big the turkey would be. And there it was, not too big, weighing in at only 5.90 kilos, about 13-14 pounds. The clerk politely asked me if I wanted her to cut it into pieces. I almost leaped across the counter. Did she have any idea?  And so the turkey rode home with me, intact, bouncing across the cobblestones in the basket

of my bicycle. At home, I unwrapped it and discovered that he,she?) still needed a good deal of plucking.  So there I stood in my kitchen, plucking a turkey with a pair of tweezers.  I thought, oh my God, I am an Italian housewife.  But of course an Italian housewife would never be caught dead in such a predicament.  But into the oven it went, where it just barely fit.
I was so prepared for the day that I even had a few minutes to sit down and relax.  Ready for a 7:45 seating.  But then the doorbell rang at 7:05.  They were early!  I jumped into action and got dinner on the table at 7:30:

Broiled almond-stuffed Dates wrapped in pancetta
Cherry Tomatoes stuffed with gorgonzola cream
Baked Radicchio with Casatella cheese and golden raisins
Herb Roasted Turkey
Sausage and mushroom stuffing
Braised fennel
Oven roasted potatoes with rosemary
Sautéed turnip greens with pepperincino
Hazelnut cake with chocolate ganache glaze
Coffee, grappa

To a round of applause, I brought out their first whole turkey. La Nonna ate two helpings, Giancarlo, three. Giancarlo made a little speech as he sometimes does: “We would all like to thank La Serena for this wonderful dinner with the family and the tacchino spet-tac-ol-ar-e. ”

He likes to draw out the syllables of words for dramatic affect, and it works.  
And today there is turkey all over the place. I sent some home with Luciano’s family, I have some frozen and Luciano is sick of it.  Even I cannot face it any more. But friends now look at the family with new respect when they say, “Oh yes, we have had a whole turkey.” A few days later, Luciano casually mentioned to the family that the real Thanksgiving is this week and that we were a little early. There was a moment of silence. I held my breath. All eyes were on Giancarlo, who solemnly said,(about this holiday, which means absolutely nothing to Italians),
"The day is not important.  What is important is that we celebrated it together."
And he is right.  It gave me goose bumps and it still does. And in this simple sentence he summed up the meaning of Thanksgiving, which has perhaps become lost to those of us who have celebrated it for years without thought, simply because it is on the calendar. So I have already had my Thanksgiving.  And so what? 
Maybe those ladies who are all celebrating tomorrow will have to cross the Piave to get their turkeys.  We have already had ours.