It starts off rather slowly. A wedding here, a christening there, heck, even the odd engagement party or bridal shower. Suddenly, the typical Italian’s idea of the party guest “loot bag” is taking over shelves, ledges, and just about any flat surface around your home.
I’ve never been a fan of the “bomboniera” and I can guarantee I am not about to become one any time soon. Yes, it is part of our rich Italian culture and tradition. Hospitality and generosity reign supreme for most Italians, and then, don’t even get me started on expressing thanks. For some, the expression of gratitude has become a personal mantra, a way of counting one’s blessings. It can take the form of writing, reciting, or even peacefully in thought. For Italians, the way of expressing “thank you” for attending a monumental event where one slipped an envelope with cash into a festively dressed box with a slit on the top, is the one and only “bomboniera”. Of course, any gift, albeit monetary, or gift-wrapped with fancy ribbon or tissue paper, warrants the giver one lovely, take me home and put me on a shelf, ledge, or just about any flat surface around your home doo-dad. Some may feel I am being too harsh towards what many of our older generation think of as, the beloved “bomboniera”, but in this age of downsizing, decluttering, and the quest for minimalism, the “bomboniera” is just another “thing” that often ends up in donation bins, garage sales, and recycling bins across the city. For those out there who fear being found out that they may have discarded, recycled, donated, or the dreaded “re-gift” of the “bomboniera”, fear not, your secret is safe with me. Denial and lies will only lead to more of the same, more denial, more lies, particularly when your eight-year old god daughter asks you, “comare, where is the “bomboniera” from my baptism? I want to see it! Show me! Now!”
I must confess, I too have walked the path of the “tell a fib about the bomboniera’s demise and how it fell off the shelf, ledge, or any flat surface around your home, rather accidentally. “Smashed to bits thanks to that cat and those Italian ceramic floors,” I have shamefully heard myself expressing with such disappointment. Now don’t get me wrong, I am just as guilty as the next Italian who has hosted a wedding, a bridal or baby shower, a baptism, an engagement party, an anniversary party, and any other occasion that Italians feel may warrant the giving of the “bomboniera”. I too have handed out some doo-dad or other on many an occasion that has most certainly landed itself on a shelf, ledge, or any flat surface around your home. Oh sure, there were times were I tried to invent a more useful, practical, if not enjoyable use for the “bomboniera”. From bottles of wine, to picture frames, to espresso spoons, I am just as guilty as millions of my Italian comrades, born of and raised by the Italian immigrant. Forced into a life sentence of culture, tradition, addiction to starchy, high carb foods, seven course meals, and of course, the dreaded, “bomboniera”.
How does one break from the dreaded “bomboniera” tradition you ask? If only it were as simple Shakespeare once wrote, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings."
What does that mean you ask? I’m not quite sure, but it sounds as though it could apply to our dilemma – the fact that there is no way to break from this “cultural cult of bomboniera-pushing people”. Why? Because Italians are too darned generous, hospitable, and passionate I tell you! Passionate! Dream as I may of a “bomboniera-free” life, but the fear of mom and pop’s reaction, the look of disappointment, anger, outrage, and the “you are definitely out of the will this time” makes me cringe, shudder, and push the speed dial button for the family therapist.
So there you have it – “bombonieras are here to stay!” But before you embark an a “bomboniera-destroying tirade”, I have good news. As the next generation of young Italians approach their own engagement parties, weddings, showers, and baptisms, they can carry the torch that we were afraid to put out. The move towards a more “consumable form of bomboniera” seems to be gaining popularity. From olive oil to chocolates, and honey to jam, there is hope that we will soon find ourselves leaving large Italian functions with a tasty treat that will happily end up on the pantry shelf, wine rack, or in one’s tummy, rather than the nearest shelf, ledge, or any other flat surface around your home. Yes, there is hope for us “bomboniera” liars afterall.
By Dosi Cotroneo