Italian Rituals: The Sunday Visit

nonno and nonna's New Jersey basement where I first experienced the "Sunday Visit"

One of the nicest Italian rituals I continue to observe  is the “Sunday visit.”  The idea of the Sunday visit is centered on spending time with your family and friends, maybe consuming an espresso or aperitif, and celebrating a leisurely day without work or obligations.  I was exposed to the Sunday visit early on at my grandparent’s home, where we lived with my parents until I was five years old, and was amazed at the stream of folks entering our finished basement just to say “hello.”

My grandmother’s brothers or family friends were frequent guests and I’d get a kick out of sitting at the plastic covered table with the weathered men (the women were at home making lunch, usually caprettopasta ,coniglio, etc. which didn’t strike me as odd as a little boy).  The conversation was, of course, in Italian and the men didn’t think anything of a 5 year old, American born, boy speaking perfect Calabrian dialect.  As a pretentious kid, I’d ask all sorts of questions and was only asked to get up from the table if there was an adult waiting for a seat (thinking back the men were more than courteous).  When I was asked to get up I’d walk over to the couch located at the back of room and from that vantage point I’d marvel at the smoke filled room with simultaneous conversations going on all at once; the environment was carnival like yet elegant with well dressed folks drinking exotic liquors and sipping dark coffee from small cups.  It wasn’t until I went off to college that I realized that the Sunday visits were, in a sense, social experiments were I learned the art of conversation, family hierarchy, the value of money and the importance of loyalty.

I’m uncertain if our son Tommaso will experience the same existential, Sunday morning, moments his father experienced in the early 1980’s, but I hope, at the least, he realizes that remaining close and loyal to one’s family can bring about tremendous fulfillment and satisfaction (that is to say, it can make life truly beautiful).


  1. Thank you so much for sharing all these memories with all of us. The pictures and descriptions are always so warm and honest.

  2. I am SO in LOVE with this photo–the details are so familiar to me, reminding me of dinners at my Nana and Papa’s dining room in Newark, New Jersey — the cruets, the smiling faces. You are absolutely right about the magic of those Sunday dinners–thanks so much for sharing.

  3. I had Sunday visits growing up but ours were more centered around a meal and visiting with my grandparents. We went every other Sunday and always had a big meal of spaghetti and meatballs. Braciole was served on holidays. Grandma made some other dishes but I don’t remember them well. I just remember what I liked. And she made the best chocolate chip cookies and pizzelles.
    I want to give my grandchildren those same visits and we are doing that as best as we can. Thanks for bringing back a fond memory for me.
    I am going to add you to my blogroll.

  4. Thanks for adding to your blogroll!

  5. Thanks, Susan. The photos was taken in New Jersey as well, about 30 minutes north of Newark!

  6. Bernardine,
    My pleasure and thanks for the kind words!

  7. Vincent, this brings back so many special memories (mine from the 70s and 80s.  Both of my parents are gone. my mom only two years.  I long for those days so much it easily brings tears to my eyes. My 17 rd old daughter knows only a little of that world…it pains me that she won’t have these experiences and family closeness (some of us are in NY, Caserta, La Spezia and Boston)  Life changes and we make new takes effort to ensure that certain traditions survive.   Sunday dinner, yes, the salad is served later 🙂 and holidays are still exciting affairs. My daughter grew up eating a delicious fried meatball on a piece of crusty bread with a bit of sauce drizzled on it for Sunday breakfast.  She loves regional food.  My mother and I instilled in my daughter a love of our culture and pride.  She knows the difference between Italian food and American Italian food.  She grew up eating fresh strawberries with a drizzle of basalmic, a sprinkle of sugar and fresh mint leaves.  She was self motivated to stop eating fast food after watching SuperSize at the age of 10.  Cooking in our home is a family affair.  We eat fresh, seasonal and simple foods. These traditions have helped us stay close, healthy and keep our weight down.  There is such pleasure in cooking and eating together, especially when the food is good! Thank you for your blog. 

  8. I well remember those days of coming home from church; snitching meatballs as soon as they came out of the pan; relatives around the table – and continued it when my kids were little, even though by then we had moved an hour away. With the older generation gone and the younger ones spread out all over, it’s nearly impossible to maintain the Sunday tradition except for holidays and occasional weekends here and there. It was a simpler time, but I think a love of family can still sustain itself even though the traditions of the past are hard to keep sometimes. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

    • My pleasure, Linda. For me, it was swiping tastes of tomato sauce with fresh bread from the local bakery.

      I’m not sure why modern families move away from each other, I’m sure it’s because of work, dislike of old communities, etc. but I think there’s something to be said about staying close to your family.


  9. I was born in ’76 and experienced a similar childhood. We all still speak Roglianese (the dialect of Rogliano, Cosenza) when we visit and at home. 🙂 Truly a great culture!

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