Nonna is the Italian word for grandmother. Nonnina is a term of endearment meaning “little grandmother.” Occasionally, nonnina will be shortened to nonni, but nonni is also the word for grandparents plural.
Nonna does not make the list of the most popular grandmother names, but many grandmothers who are not Italian have chosen it because it is short, easy for kids to pronounce and sounds good when combined with a first name. Perhaps they also like the roles that grandmothers play in Italian families.
Importance of Grandparents in Italian Culture
Italian culture is associated with large, close families, but economic troubles and changing times are altering that model. Today, families in Italy and Italian-American families tend to be smaller. Most families are two-career families, making it more difficult to maintain family traditions than when women were mostly concerned with family and homemaking.
Traditionally, extended family was very important in Italian culture, with grandparents and great-grandparents playing vital roles. Adult children usually stayed close to their parents. Families expected to eat at least one meal a week together, and the family gathered on many other occasions. Most modern Italians and Italian-Americans still honor that model, but they may not be able to replicate it fully.
Italians and Italian-Americans are both still predominantly Roman Catholic. Grandparents and other members of the extended family often play significant roles in reinforcing beliefs and religious practice.
Grandparents as Child Care Providers
Italy’s birth rate has fallen in recent years, partly because young families lack the resources to coordinate jobs and childcare. Most employers have no accommodations for working mothers. Some even ask their female employees to sign undated resignation letters, to be activated if they ever become pregnant.
To make matters worse, Italy lags behind other European countries in providing social services, and childcare is expensive. Many grandparents provide childcare for their grandchildren so that mothers can continue working.
The Enjoyment of Life
Enjoyment of everyday life is an important part of Italian values. Food is, of course, one of the things that Italians enjoy most, but the mere consumption of food is not the point. The preparing and sharing of food is a pleasurable traditional activity and one that is shared with children and grandchildren. Some easy dishes that grandparents and grandchildren might prepare together include homemade pasta, Italian-style macaroni and cheese, and classic tiramisu.
Holidays have their traditional foods. An Italian Easter menu is likely to feature eggs and lamb. Christmas celebrations might commence with a feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve and progress to a Christmas day spread that concludes with special Italian cakes and cookies.
Grandparents Day in Italy
Italy has celebrated Grandparents Day, which they call Buona Festa dei Nonni, since 2005. It is celebrated on October 2, a date when Catholics also celebrate guardian angels. Italian schools often celebrate a grandparents day on this date or on another. Grandparents are invited to schools, honored and “feasted.”
The official flower of Buona Festa dei Nonni is the nontiscordardimé, the forget-me-not, which is the same as in the United States. The official grandparent’s song is entitled “Thou Shalt.” “Ninna Nonna” is a popular song that is considered the unofficial song of Grandparents Day. An annual prize—”Il Premio nazionale del nonno e della nonna d’Italia“—is given annually to grandparents who have distinguished themselves with meritorious service.