Twenty years later to the day, a Drumheller couple for 64 years recalled their first Christmas outside of Italy after escaping the war torn country to work in the mines of the valley.
“It was -32 degrees,” says Joe, 89, and currently a resident at Sunshine Lodge. “I look to my brother and said, ‘Are we really going to stay in this country?’”
Snow wouldn’t last more than a day in their northeastern Italian hometown of Zoppola, “it was beautiful there before the war happened.”
Over a decade later, Joe and Maria say they never would have moved back to Italy.
Christmas in 1940s Italy was a big deal, they say, with the vast majority of citizens being Roman Catholic. Maria says people would hand-make the nativity scene, hang the tree with oranges, apples and other fruit, and spend much time socializing with family and friends.
“It was a lot of fun, people in Italy would do anything for their own kids,” says Joe.
Joe and Maria were forced to move from their little town, the railroad was destroyed after the war, money was tight.
“We survived, not so well, but we never starved,” Maria recalls.
Moving here in 1946, Joe quickly found work among the legions of other foreign workers in a few mines in the valley, including mines in Rosedale and Midland. He soon got his machinist ticket to work deep under the earth. “At least it was warm down there in the winter,” he laughs now.
Maria was a housewife, like the majority of women in those times, raising three daughters– Rosemarie, Angela, and Velma, who currently live in Drumheller
“Times were tough, we thought of moving away, but the Girardis hung on and it worked out all right,” Joe says.
“It’s the friendly people here that makes us stay,” said Joe about his decision to stay in Drumheller for most of his adult life.
Christmas in Drumheller during the mid-century was different than it is now, the couple say of the holiday time spent here with their kids.
Now, everyone has a long list of what they want “Saint Nikolas” to bring them. Back then, you received one gift that you truly needed and it was cherished heavily.
“We went back to Italy in 1991, it was beautiful: beaches, condos everywhere, but we kept thinking the entire trip ‘Let’s go back to Drumheller.’ Sometimes it’s too cold, but we just stay in the house and it’s pretty good.”