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The Regional Dancers are a favourite attraction at the Edmonton Heritage Days Festival image of the Italian immigrant to North America as a manual labourer carrying a cardboard suitcase tied with string is a common one.  This is an image that is used both within the Italian community as a part of its own immigration folklore as well as externally by the media and others.   

While the possessions brought over might have been few, there were customs and traditions that were centuries old and were bred in the bone that also came with them. The Pontarolo and Lizzi families of Coalhurst, Alberta.  Photo from Our Treasured Heritage:  A History of Coalhurst and District.  They also had regional variations, based on the region of Italy from which the immigrants came.   Initially, men alone came to work.  Finding that they could have a rewarding life here, they married and had children.  It is these families that have left their mark on the cultural life of Alberta.  Customs and traditions from the homeland were a means of making the alien landscape bearable.  Antonella Fanella writes in With Heart and Soul:  Calgary's Italian Community

In an effort to cushion the shocks of life in the new country, Italian immigrants planted fig trees in their greenhouses and grapevines in their backyards, played favourite folk songs at social gatherings, cooked traditional foods and visited friends and family on weekends.1

Customs and traditions are rooted in the family, whether nuclear or extended, as well as in institutions and organizations in the community.  Mrs. E. Andrenacci mixing eggs and flour for macaroni for tagliatelli, a popular Italian dish.  Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives. Customary practices and traditions involve not only the nuclear family but also the paesani [townspeople].  Oral history project interviewees indicate that, because there were no close relatives, people from the hometown formed an extended family.  They gathered together for companionship and also to reproduce the customs and traditions of home.  For single men, the boardinghouse became the "home-away-from-home" but those who were lucky to be married also opened up their homes.   Social gatherings cushioned the loneliness and the strangeness of the life where everything was alien-landscape, weather, plants, language, food, ways of relating to others and the workplace.  

The motivation for the gatherings were secular, sacred or both.  The celebration of marriages, births, name days, anniversaries and birthdays provided a reason to get together.  Food was the vehicle for social interaction.  Many of the customs and traditions of the Italian community revolve around seasonal religious festivals all of which had their prescribed foods and rituals.  Whether families are church-going or not, if they connect with their Italian roots, then, they make foods associated with these festivals.  


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