Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A little girl’s Christmas promise

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 23, 2021

The first tree I drew in school was a coconut palm, since maples and oaks were foreign to me. Living in Miami, my sister and I played outside year round, perhaps donning a light sweater in what northerners called the dead of winter.

My parents had been born in New York City, so the lack of ice and snow in Florida caused them great merriment. No more battling with children as they were stuffed into snowsuits and no more clearing sidewalks with a gigantic shovel. They loved telling the relatives up north that the temperature on Christmas Day would reach the eighties.

My parents steadfastly maintained the Christmas traditions of their Italian ancestors. This meant a large seafood feast on Christmas Eve, and manicotti and meatballs the next day. After Mass, my mom bustled around in the kitchen, the bells on her apron ringing softly, while my sister and I played with our gifts.

One year, these included stuffed animals, paper dolls, a bottle of Heaven Scent cologne and a Slinky toy. We ate chocolates from our stockings, as we dreamed about how we’d spend the ten dollars from our aunt.

Soon, the doorbell rang and in came the parade of aunts, uncles and cousins. The ladies wore brooches on their dresses, which were little sparkling trees and colorful tiny wreaths. My father made cocktails for the adults, while the cousins eyed our gifts and begged to play with them.

Sometimes they carried a toy they’d received that morning, hoping to use it as a bartering chip. It never worked, however, since my sister and I closely guarded our treasures, “Look, but don’t touch,” we warned, when the younger cousins reached for a  stuffed animal.

The kids were sequestered at a separate table for the meal, where we could wreak  havoc without ruining the adults’ enjoyment. Not surprisingly, there were giggles, shouts, spills and crumbs emanating from our domain, but the adults didn’t interfere unless they heard screaming.

My mom’s desserts were made from recipes handed down from our Italian grandmother. They included hazelnut biscotti, plus wine cookies made from fried dough and drenched in honey. After dessert, the kids raced outside to transform themselves into horses, galloping beneath the orange trees. Meanwhile, the adults drank espresso spiked with anisette, cracked open roasted chestnuts and talked about whatever it was that old people found interesting.

When dusk settled in, the visitors said their goodbyes, climbed into their cars and headed off. My sister and I rushed to the tree to make sure the cousins hadn’t played with anything behind our backs. When everything was accounted for, we breathed big sighs of relief.

Then came my favorite part of the day, when I would lie beneath the Christmas tree, gazing upwards at the bubble lights. I picked up the baby from the manger and imagined holding the real infant in my arms. I’d kiss the downy hair on his head and breathe in the scent of innocence.

I returned Jesus carefully to the manger and reflected, as I stared at the nativity scene. I knew God had sent this baby as a gift to the world. He only had one son and he loved him so much, yet he allowed this son to leave Heaven and walk on earth.

I gazed at the crucifix I wore on a chain around my neck. So many scary things had happened to God’s son, but he never stopped loving us. I made a promise to Jesus, right then and there. Next year, I’d let the cousins play with my presents.

Artwork by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef. Lorraine’s email address is