La Festa Degli Innamorati

From the country that gave us Romeo and Juliet, famous novels like “I Promessi Sposi”, and romantic gondola rides, there’s no doubt that Italy is THE country for lovers. Even the Italian language, which is so expressive and precise in thought and emotion, is considered one of the most romantic and beautiful of all languages. So how do Italians celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day? Logic would say that Valentine’s Day is a huge celebration, right? Italy does take its celebrations seriously, but current-day celebrations are not as extensive as you would think. Let’s look at the history of Saint Valentine’s Day, or “La Festa Degli Innamorati” in Italy:

Ancient Traditions The origins of Valentine’s Day lie in ancient Pagan fertility day celebrations. In 494 AD, Pope Gelasio I declared a Valentine Day celebration in honor of Saint Valentine to replace the Pagan festival, and the original Saint Valentine’s festivities were celebrated as a spring festival where lovers would gather outside in gardens or parks to listen to music and exchange poetry. One ancient tradition is for an unmarried girl to wake up early and stand by her window. Legend has it that the first man she sees that day will marry her within a year.

Today’s Traditions Present-day Valentine’s celebrations are more commercialized than in centuries past, and many Italians consider it an American import. On this day, the exchange of gifts is usually only between lovers. Usually a couple will go out to dinner, or prepare a nice candlelit dinner at home. A popular gift is the Baci Perugina chocolate-covered hazelnut with a romantic poetic quote in 4 different languages hidden inside. And that is basically the extent of Valentine’s Day celebrations in Italy. But if you’ve traveled in Italy in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed lucchetti, or padlocks, attached to bridges, railing, and lampposts. While not an Italian invention, this “locks of love” tradition started in Italy in 2006 when novelist and screen writer Federico Moccia wrote a best-selling book called Ho voglio di te (I want you), followed by a movie by the same name. The story, about a pair of young Romans, includes a lie: the hero tells the young lady he desires of a legend (invented by him) in which lovers wrap a chain around the third lamppost on the north side of Rome’s Ponte Milvio bridge (built in 206 BC), lock it, and throw the key into the Tiber River, symbolizing the unbreakable bond uniting them. Between the popularity of the story and the Italian tradition of not being shy about expressing true amore, before long thousands of locks and chains had piled up, and the lamps atop two of the bridge’s lampposts actually crumbled under their weight. City officials who tried to solve the problem were accused – and we all know this is BAD in Italy – of being anti-love: “The left is against lovers,” one rightist city official, Marco Clarke, charged. Finally a compromise was reached and official spots for the locks were built – six sets of steel posts with chains on the bridge – so lovers could declare themselves without damaging the city’s infrastructure. And so the tradition began, and now it has spread throughout the country, with couples writing their names or initials on the locks before affixing them to posts or railings.

In Italy, Saint Valentine’s Day is not about expensive gifts, but instead a day to show someone you care; a day to say “Ti Voglio Bene” (I love you). And isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about, anyway?

an Evening in Modena


Annual Columbus Day Dinner


An Evening in Turin a Huge Success!

A large crowd was in attendance as the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa hosted “An Evening In Turin” fundraising dinner on November 11, 2015 at the Embassy Club West.

Dinner was prepared by visiting chefs Antonio and Stefano Latini. Together, the father/son team own Villa Somis and Nove Merli restaurants near Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy.

This fundraising dinner was the first that the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa hopes to organize annually to raise operating funds for the center and to highlight each region in Italy through its culinary history.

An Evening in Turin

torino_nightThe Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa is pleased to host “An Evening In Turin” fundraising dinner to be held Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at the Embassy Club West.

Dinner will be prepared by visiting chefs Antonio and Stefano Latini. Together, the father/son team own Villa Somis and Nove Merli restaurants near Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy.

Tickets for the fundraising dinner are $150/each or a table of 10 can be purchased for $1,300. Please contact Paola Bartesaghi at or call the cultural center at (515) 280-3719 for more information.

This fundraising dinner will be the first of many events that the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa will be organizing. The purpose is to highlight each region in Italy through their culinary history. All of the Italian regions will be showcased by a dinner prepared by expert chefs from the designated region.


Italian Ambassador Visits Cultural Center


The Honorable Claudio Bisogniero with Cultural Center Director Patricia Civitate (left) and President Jo Anna Schmeling (right).

The Honorable Claudio Bisogniero, Italian Ambassador now serving in Washington, DC, was guest of honor at a reception held December 4th at the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. Ambassador Bisogniero officially took the reins as Italy’s ambassador to the U.S. on February 6th.

Born in Rome, Italy on July 2, 1954, Claudio Bisogniero earned a degree in Political Science from the University of Rome in 1976, and served as an officer in the Italian Army in 1976 and 1977. He then entered the Italian Foreign Service in May, 1978.

Late in 1992 Bisogniero was posted for the first time to the U.S. to serve as first counselor for economic and commercial affairs at the embassy in Washington, D.C., with special focus on financial issues, the IMF and World Bank, and defense industry co-operation. After four years in Washington, he moved north to New York, to serve at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nation, with primary responsibilities for political affairs and UN reform. In 1998 he returned to Rome to serve at the Foreign Affairs Ministry for the next 8 years.

Ambassador Bisogniero with board members of the Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa.

Ambassador Bisogniero with board members of the Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa.

From 1999 to 2002, Bisognero served in the Personnel Department and later at the Office of the Secretary General, as direct collaborator with the Secretary General. In February 2002 Bisogniero was appointed deputy director general for political multilateral affairs, responsible for NATO, the United Nations, G8, disarmament, OSCE, anti-terrorism and human rights issues. In June 2005 he became director for the Americas, with responsibility for the relations with the nations of the Western Hemisphere, including the U.S. In October 2007 Bisogniero was named NATO Deputy Secretary General, serving in Brussels until late 2011 when he was named ambassador to the U.S.

Ambassador Bisogniero with Polk County Supervisors (L-R) Angela Connolly, Tom Hockensmith and John Mauro.

Ambassador Bisogniero with Polk County Supervisors (L-R) Angela Connolly, Tom Hockensmith and John Mauro.

Consulate General of Italy Marco Gracioso, whose office is in the Consulate in Chicago, accompanied Ambassador Bisogniero while visiting the mid-west. Also in attendance at the reception were members of the Des Moines City Council, the Polk County Board of Supervisors, members of the Board of Governors of the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa as well as representatives from the Society of Italian-Americans, the Societa Vittoria Italiana and ladies of their auxiliaries.

Ambassador Bisogniero expressed his extreme pleasure of being at the reception and during his visit to the Cultural Center and told those in attendance that he was impressed with the manner in which the Italian Culture and Heritage is being displayed at the Center. He also congratulated the Board for not only preserving but also shared their Italian heritage with generations both old and young alike. Click here to view the letter from the Ambassador.

St. Joseph’s Altar Celebration Video

2014 St. Joseph’s Altar Photos

2013 St. Joseph Altar Celebration

Thank you to all of the volunteers and attendees of the 16th annual St. Joseph Altar Celebration, held at the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa on March 18th and 19th, 2013.

Doors opened at 5:30 PM on Monday, March 18th.  Msgr. Frank Chiodo, pastor of St. Anthony parish in Des Moines, blessed the altar following the children’s “tupa tupa” (knocking) pageant.  A traditional Lenten meal was then served family style after the blessing.

Altar visitations continued on Tuesday, March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph, patron of families and laborers.   Refreshments were provided during the day, and a luncheon was served from 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM.  The celebration concluded with the incineration of petitions.

Both days were open to the public free of charge, while a free-will offering was accepted.  All attending either of the celebrations were given a gift bag containing a St. Joseph prayer card, St. Joseph medal, blessed bread and the traditional “lucky” fava bean.  All proceeds, as well as the fruits, vegetables, breads, pastries and financial contributions were distributed to the St. Joseph Shelter, the Bidwell Center and the Catholic Worker House.

Please enjoy the photos from this year’s event:

Cultural Center Holds 37th Annual Columbus Day Dinner

The Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa held the 37th annual Columbus Day Dinner Party on Sunday, October 7, 2012 at the Forte Banquet and Convention Center in downtown Des Moines.  A full crowd of 118 attendees enjoyed a delicious Italian meal, but the highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Outstanding Citizen Awards.

This year, the Board of Governors of the cultural center awarded Outstanding Citizen Awards to Lisa Vivone Cruchelow, Nancy Stefani and Rose Leo Grandanette (posthumously).

Special thanks to Randy Prati for a great job organizing this year’s dinner.

Below is a slideshow of photos from this wonderful event.