Calabrian families are numerous, however, this is changing. Families in the past were much larger. Some people had 6 to 8 children. Today, most people have between 1 to 3 kids. Family is very important in Calabria. There is a very close bond between family members. They help and support each other. The unemployment rate is high in Calabria but people seem to manage well thanks to the family.
The grandparents are the most important members of the family. The majority of them will live with their daughter or son’s family. Many children are raised by their grandparents even if mothers are also present. Most men go to work while many women stay at home to look after their kids along with their own parents. This situation is changing as many women now want to work. This is when grandparents can look after the children. The grandparents also make most of the decisions.
There are very few retirement homes in the South of Italy as many live with their families. Some grandparents stay in the actual home of their son or daughter or some of them may be lucky to have their own house either upstairs, downstairs or next door. They are never very far away. I have seen this in many households. The elderly are most respected in Italy. Grandparents are always present, especially for the Sunday lunch. Some of them do the cooking. I know an elderly woman who is almost 90 years old and she cooks every Sunday for about 20 people.
Sunday lunch is very important in Calabria and Southern Italy. It is a chance for everyone to be together; aunts, uncles, cousins, etc… The whole lunch can last from 3 hours to 6 hours and longer on special occasions such as Easter and Christmas. Sunday lunch starts with the preparation of the food. Some people start preparing from 6am onwards to make sure it is ready for 1pm or 2pm depending on the family.
The dish always starts with pasta served with a tomato spicy sauce but can vary from family to family. Some favourites are lasagne, baked pasta and cannelloni. The second course is always meat with vegetables followed by dessert. Relatives always bring those little cakes you find in patisseries nicely-wrapped for the occasion.
The arrival of the diners
At 1pm the family members start pouring in. Some have been to mass, others have been busy cleaning the house. Nevertheless, they are ready and waiting to taste the exquisite dishes of the grandmother. They sit round a large extended table, excited to spend this wonderful Sunday lunch together. First there is a nice fuss over the kids then it is time to catch up with all the news of the week and then finally, there is that wonderful long-awaited Sunday lunch cooked by the lady herself “Grandma“.
There is usually not much chatter when eating as everyone is thoroughly enjoying their food. However, in between courses, there is usually a pause. This is when everyone starts chatting again. Some of these pauses can last for 30 minutes while Grandma is cooking away for the next course.
In the meantime, kids start to get bored aiming for the nearest tablet device or mobile phone so they can immerse themselves in another world while waiting on the next course. Dessert is an exciting time for everyone. The desserts of Southern Italy are incredibly yummy as well as those wonderful home-made cakes from the patisserie.
The kids come back to this world when they hear the paper being unwrapped and the cakes served at the table. Even if they have already eaten that delicious home made dessert Grandma made. There is always room for these little cakes.
I am sure they make them small on purpose. Once the cakes are finished, the little ones return to the other world while adults eagerly wait for that little cup of espresso coffee followed with a digestive liqueur. Then it is all over except for Grandma and her daughter who have to do all the washing up.
The satisfied diners show their appreciation by thanking and kissing grandma and then off they go. Some people take a nap in the afternoon. During the week most people are busy with different schedules so Sunday is the ideal time for everyone. I noticed that Sunday lunch is no different from the rest of the week for some households. Every day is as if it is Sunday lunch. This can vary from family to family.
Building their future home
Parents start building the house of their kids when they are young so that when they get married, they can live next door, upstairs or downstairs. This is very common in Calabria. You will see many unfinished buildings as they slowly build them. Some are very surprised when their kids say they are moving to the North of Italy for more work opportunities.
Most parents want the kids to stay with them. Many unmarried people in their forties or fifties are happy to stay with their parents. Married ones live in the same apartment block. I have also noticed that many children when they grow up go to University in Rome or other cities. Some return and many stay elsewhere. They always come back for holidays.
Summer and the festive period in Calabria
There are not many young people living in Calabria between the age of 20 and 35. You will find many elderly people or young families living here. Summer time is full of people as many return to visit their families. And then there is that important festive time when all the family get together to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Many people travel from all over the world and the rest of Italy to be with their families. You can really see this close bond if you are invited to stay with a Calabrian family.