Dori Zamboni was one of Chiara Lubich’s first companions. Here she shares a childhood experience of Christmas.
[New City Magazine – December 2021, page 14]
I was eight years old, but I was old enough to realise that Christmas presents were not brought by Father Christmas. In our house there was a lot to be done and my parents were completely absorbed in their duties and did not have time to think of little things. Even Christmas presents were collected at the last possible moment.
That Christmas Eve I was alone in the house awaiting my father and mother. I remember I was in front of the stove, where I had just gone to prepare some food, when my parents came home. As soon as they saw me they started to sympathise with me. My father stroked my hair. I heard my mother say something about ‘the poor child’.
At first I did not understand, then I did not want to understand. A little confused, they said: ‘You know how busy we have been. Now we have something unpleasant to tell you. We have not had time to go to the shops to buy you a present. We have only just finished working, and its eight o’clock. But when they open again we will buy whatever you want.’
I felt a terrible suffering which struck right to my heart. I did not want to believe them. I burst into tears and ran to my bedroom. I cried because I did not have a Christmas present and I could see what would happen the following day when I met my little friends who lived near me. They would ask: ‘What did Father Christmas bring you?’ Then they would show me all the presents they had received, and I would have to reply ‘Nothing’.
The girl with the wooden clogs
The following year at the same time, Christmas Eve, again I was awaiting alone. Again they were late and I said to myself ‘You will see, they will forget again.’ It seemed that a cynicism, rare at my age, had taken hold of me.
What should I do? I could not bear the thought of suffering as I did last year. Suddenly I remembered something I had seen a short while before. A woman came to do the washing and she brought her baby girl, about three years old. The child had no shoes although it was winter. She wore tiny wooden clogs and a little apron over a discoloured dress. She sat on the stairs at my house. I was doing some work, but every now and then I looked at her. She was silent, gazing into space, very calm.
Suddenly she did a very strange thing. She took off one of her clogs, wrapped it in a filthy handkerchief, then held it in her arms as if it were a doll and rocked it, humming gently.
The joy of giving
Following on this memory another thought came to me. ‘Perhaps there is a way to be happy even when one is disappointed. Perhaps the only way to be happy is to make others happy.’
I rushed to my room, opened a box in which I kept my dolls. Some had lost their arms, or legs, or head, but some were still very pretty. There was one, my favourite, which fascinated me because it was in a little basket and it had a set of clothes which I could change – bonnets, jackets, etc. I looked at it, collected its bits and pieces, put it into a little cot and made a parcel of it.
I rushed around to find the lady before my parents came home. The lady recognised me and said: ‘What do you want miss?’ ‘It’s for your little girl.’ I turned and ran off. She stood at the door and called after me ‘Thanks’.
I arrived home breathless. My parents had still not arrived. Even before I saw them I realised that I had guessed right. They had forgotten my present again. But I only had one thought in my head: that little child.
My parents sympathised with me, but I did not cry. I had a lump in my throat, but I continued to think of that girl, who would be happy. It was the first time in my life that I experienced the joy of not receiving anything.
From: A star over Bethlehem by Ann Finch.
Published by New City (2001).
ISBN: 978-0-904287-77-6. Cost: £7.50