Christmas traditions mean different things to different people, especially in a setting like the West Kootenay which has attracted people from all corners of the world for generations. Here’s a look at how local residents, new and old, celebrated in their hometowns.
Opening up our hearts to the real needs of the world is what the Christmas season means to Vicki Bisaro. What we need is peace and a little less of the material things that don’t really matter.
The 97-year-old pillar of the Trail community sat down with the Trail Times to reminisce about Christmas past in the Silver City.
But first the story begins with her recollections of living in Northern Italy until she, her mother and brother boarded a ship in Trieste in 1924. The young family landed in Halifax weeks later and in another two weeks, after a dusty train ride across Canada, they stepped on West Kootenay soil for the first time – and joined her father who had immigrated to Trail three years earlier.
“We never had presents at Christmas because that wasn’t the thing to do in Italy,” recalled Bisaro. “Instead of celebrating the way we do here, January 6th, which is when the three wise men reach the stable, that was the big celebration.”
The Epiphany in Italy, based on the story of the three kings (Magi or wise men) visiting Jesus in Bethlehem and offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, remains a public holiday in that country today.
“The night before we would put out a wooden shoe on the window sill,” Bisaro explained. “And then in the morning we could hardly wait to get up because there would be an orange and a few chestnuts and walnuts left in it.”
She remembers the tangy treat of an orange grown in Southern Italy, and how she and her brother would go out to the street to eat it.
“We didn’t even throw the peel away, you had a bunch of kids around you poorer than you,” explained Bisaro. “They would say, ‘Can I have just a little piece of the peel?”
It’s those childhood memories, her life growing up in Trail during the lean times and a long happy marriage and four sons, that shaped Bisaro’s strong spirit and belief about the true meaning of Christmas.
“My husband loved Christmas, for him it was the most important day of the year,” she said. “As the children came and grew, all my relatives knew that toys were not to be given. My boys were sure to get one toy but it had to be from Santa Claus – only one. The rest of the presents were useful things like clothes or books.”
The Bisaro family celebrations began with a tree that was plucked fresh from the area’s forest. The day was Christmas Eve, which truly marked their start to a holiday season full of homemade goodies and many laughs with family and friends.
After midnight mass at St. Anthony’s Church, the family would return home for hot chocolate and platters of traditional Italian baking, before the boys were allowed to open one present.
In the morning, the rest of the presents were opened while Bisaro, who still lives in the family’s West Trail home, sat with pen and paper to write down the gifts and who gave each one to the boys.
“They had to write a thank you to everybody that gave them a present,” she said. “And they had to deliver it, if the person was local. It didn’t have to be a long note, just a short one to tell them personally what they thought.”
Another Christmas tradition that the great grandmother misses, is sitting beside her sons at the kitchen table, preparing 15 pounds of dark Christmas cake, and five pounds of white.
“I found out after they were gone that we could so make much more with less stuff,” she laughed. “Because they really loved to taste.”
But more than anything, Bisaro, who will turn 98 in May, said the custom of visiting family and friends every day until New Year’s Eve has her wishing she could go back in time.
“Every single day we would go out visiting or have people visit us,” she said. “We would talk about nice things of all the people we knew and remember all our family. It was like you were back when everybody was still alive.”
Although her family is spread all over the world, when they do return at Christmas, Bisaro says there is always daily visits around the Trail community to talk about the good times past.
“It brings everything back again, because we don’t want to forget all these wonderful people that we knew.”