Home Community On a Firm Foundation: Aunt Mary’s Pizza Night

On a Firm Foundation: Aunt Mary’s Pizza Night


Mary Quilici Aumack

Executive Director
Catholic Community Foundation of Santa Clara County, aumack@cfoscc.org


If you’ve read even a few of my articles, you know that I am BIG on tradition, from the sacramental to the silly. I deeply appreciate the rituals of our faith, delighting in the Eucharist and attendant songs, prayers and gathering.

AND I love the traditions of friendship, such as the periodic gatherings of our “Friday Group” with whom we grew as a family in the community of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. I love the traditions of family: Our sister gatherings, celebrating “Little Christmas” in January, and my revered Christmas EVE EVE on the 23rd.

Our Thanksgiving tradition started 35 years ago when we decided to join my sister and her family in Portland. Our niece and nephew were 9 and 6, and I was pregnant with Kacey. What started as a one- time visit has grown to a deeply treasured tradition. We’ve only missed three years since 1983. While certain aspect of the menu are set, we spend the weeks and months beforehand strategizing on the best desserts. We attend the same holiday bazaar every year. And we bake. Sometimes we catch a movie. We always try to get in some good walks. And we bake. My sister and I have coffee at a favorite spot on Wednesday morning where no one else is invited. And did I mention baking?

Wednesday is “minestrone night.” We tell ourselves that we are eating light, in preparation for the next day feast, as we slather butter on freshly baked bread.

On Thanksgiving we gather as family and reflect on our countless blessings. Some years we’ve had 30 at the table. This year was 14. Some young family members have moved away and are starting their own sacred traditions. We text pictures back and forth, sharing our love of mashed potatoes, new stuffing recipes, a spicy take on cranberry sauce, and family.

A couple of decades ago (no one can remember exactly when it started), we decided to make Aunt Mary’s pizza for the night after Thanksgiving. Because, you know, we hadn’t EATEN enough during the week. And again, what started as a one-time thing has evolved to a “must have, must attend” tradition. A couple of years ago we moved pizza night to the home of my niece, where we have a huge island and two ovens. We started a new practice of making the crusts earlier in the week (just too many to roll out the night of the party).

And here’s how it’s grown:

  • My niece Arian and two of her closest friends were still in high school (we think) when we started. They now come with their families
  • Kids who weren’t born in the beginning are now fashioning gourmet pizzas

This year we had:

  • Close to 40 people
  • 28 pizzas!
  • A couple of pizzas with cauliflower crust for the first time (pretty tasty)
  • Habanero and egg on our pizzas (also pretty tasty)
  • Kacey & Arian invited new people, sharing the tradition

At one point during the festivities, one friend came up to me with her 14-year old daughter and said “Do you remember? Madison walked for the first time at Pizza Night 13 years ago.” I did remember, and it made me cry.

One of our nieces missed pizza night this year because she and her husband and daughter were leaving that day for new adventures in Montana.

When we started pizza night most of our parents were still with us. My brother-in-law’s mom Jilma (who we all called Mimi), provided a highlight of our annual gathering with her gentle smile and mischievous laugh. We had not met Jason, my niece’s wonderful husband who we lost last year.

We are bound to family by history and tradition. Gratitude for these ineffable gifts fills me.

And so it is with our faith traditions. We gather, we are transformed, and we serve. And all of that is in community, providing support on our journey.

For me, in all of this, is God. And I give thanks.

Learn more about preserving our traditions a www.cfoscc.org.