An Italian-tinted Yuletide

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Christmas is a time for celebration, but how we celebrate has changed over the centuries. How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you embrace the more secular version embodied by Santa Claus with his big bag of presents, or the more religious one in which gifts are given in recognition of God’s gift to us of His Son Jesus Christ?

One tradition I embrace is the Christmas story told by Mario Avignone who is the originator of this column. Fr. Pierini asked him decades ago to start writing Petals as a way of keeping Roseland alive in our hearts. In my 14 years as the author of this column I have tried to maintain a traditional sense of belonging to the larger Roseland community for those who grew up in the neighborhoods of Roseland, Pullman, and Kensington and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Years ago, when Fr. Joseph Chiminello was pastor of St. Anthony’s, he had a beautiful manger scene set up in front of the altar in the old church. It cost a lot of money to import from Italy, and it was his pride and joy.

On Christmas morning, Fr. Joe went into the church between masses to pray in front of the imported crib. As he approached the manger, he was shocked to see the Baby Jesus had disappeared! He looked everywhere in the church, but couldn’t find the beautiful little statue of the Bambino.

He phoned the Kensington Police Station, then located at 115th Street and Indiana Avenue, and talked to Commander Tom O’Brien and reported the Baby Jesus was missing and someone had stolen it.

Commander O’Brien and his best detective rushed to the church. Judge Alexander Napoli, who lived in the neighborhood, heard about the Baby Jesus being missing from the Nativity crib and rushed to help find it. Someone phoned Alderman Dominic Lupo and reported that the Baby Jesus had been stolen from St. Anthony Church. He too, joined in the search but to no avail.

Fr. Chiminello, Commander O’Brien, Judge Napoli and Alderman Lupo stood at the front of the church in front of the Nativity discussing who might have stolen the beautiful statue and why. They had no clue and were at a loss as to why anyone would commit such a sacrilege.

Just then there was a sound coming from the front of the church of a door opening. As they watched in disbelief, a 6-year-old boy walked into the church and up the main aisle pulling a little red wagon with a blanket in it. As the wagon drew close to the group of men at the front of the Nativity, the boy stopped and opened the blanket to reveal the beautiful imported statue of the Baby Jesus.

The men were dumbstruck. Finally, Fr. Joe, in a gentle voice, asked: “Why did you steal the statue?”

The boy looked at the men with a smile on his face as his eyes lit up in innocent wonder and he said: “I didn’t steal Baby Jesus. I prayed to Jesus last night for a red wagon for my Christmas present. When I woke up early this morning — it was there — my little red wagon was under the tree. I was so happy, I wanted to give Baby Jesus the first ride in my red wagon to say thank you for answering my prayers.”

A time-honored Pullman tradition

Every year when the seasons change, Pullman is abuzz with activity. This year we Pullman residents held the 49th annual Pullman House Tour. With eight residences and three civic buildings on display, along with Mother Nature’s cooperation and an overflowing Sunday Classic Car Show, Pullman became the place to be. Visitors could be seen walking throughout the neighborhood from one end to the other and always deep involved in conversation about Pullman’s beauty and history.

The weather was so pleasing that the crowds showed up early and didn’t melt away until an hour after the event closed. The people were very congenial and they never seemed to mind waiting in the short wait lines to get into the houses.

Being a preservation community, the one major restriction Pullman has is that the front of the houses must resemble the original 1880s structures as much as possible. All bets are off on the interiors, though, and many Pullman homes have achieved a status that would easily get them a display in Better Homes and Gardens. Walls have been totally or partially removed and recessed accent lighting and first-floor powder rooms have been added. Kitchens have exposed brick and new cabinets, while the layout of the appliances has been adjusted to allow for a brighter more open space.

Many of the houses in Pullman now have exposed flooring and, in the case of Sue Moss’ house, which I volunteered at over the weekend, she removed a few layers to show off the original wooden floor in one bedroom. Two skylights were original in each house to give added light, with one over the hallway and one over the bathroom. In Sue’s house, the hallway skylight lights up the open air staircase leading to the first floor giving the room an open, airy feeling.

Columbus Day Parade

In recent years, we’ve had one heck of a time honoring Christopher Columbus. For that reason, this year’s turnout for the parade was superb! Nearly 100 floats and marching groups took part — a record number! The ABC 7 camera crew and the emcee had their hands full keeping tracking of each group that they were tasked with identifying as they came into range of the TV cameras along State Street.

There were many floats full of people expressing their Italian love. It was my good fortune to drive out to Casa Italia to take a bus to Our Lady of Pompeii for Mass. Immediately after the mass, everyone headed to Arrigo Paark for a wreath-laying ceremony sponsored by the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America. Immediately afterward, we boarded the bus to Wacker Drive to take part in the parade. I joined with my fellow members of the Leon d’Oro Lodge and officers of the Grand Lodge of Illinois and Wisconsin for the State Street procession.

Throughout the day, at every single event I was part of, we were graced by the beauty and talent of Daniela Crocco. She sang the Ave Maria at Mass, sang at the wreath laying and entertained everyone waiting for the parade to begin. Once the parade got rolling, it was really great to follow the float Daniela was on as the crowd gave their approval to her vocal renderings of well-known Italian songs. The connection with the audience created an electricity that definitely added to this year’s display of everyone’s love for our Italian American heritage.

The end of a long day was a gastronomical feast sponsored by many vendors and managed, as always, by an indispensable and faithful team of volunteers and workers. I knew many of them and humbly thank them: Nancy Cometa, Darrell Marchioretto, Paul Basile, Deb Yacino, and the rest of the volunteers. The crowds dined, drank and laughed for hours in the warm weather as they enjoyed their reward for taking part in the festivities honoring their Italian American Heritage.

My book “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” has sold more than 600 copies since it became available a year ago. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have provided so many fond memories of the Roseland we all grew up in. I have some copies of the book available if anyone is interested in sharing or revisiting their life in Roseland. Contact me at or 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756.


About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

Check Also

Early discipline

I was a reasonably docile child who misbehaved only occasionally, though among the first things …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Want More?

Subscribe to our print magazine
or give it as a gift.

Click here for details