I thought to myself they must be crazy in America

Italian immigre Angela DiChiara, age 84, Jamaica Plain recalls her arrival as a child in Boston’s North End around the turn of the twentieth century in Not So Long Ago: Oral Histories of Older Bostonians, collected by Lawrence Elle.

Inevitably around the holidays, these sorts of stories tend to turn into what is this cranberry jelly stuff, but they’re still pretty charming.

I soon made friends with a little girl and in a few weeks we started to go to school. She could speak both Italian and English and she had a lot of explaining ot do for me. When I met the teacher for the first time she told her I had just come from Italy and did not speak any English. The teacher said, “That’s all right, she’ll learn,” and I did very fast.

Now it was around Christmas and the teacher was getting the room ready, starting to fix the windows with all kinds of pretty things before Christmas and I saw them carrying in a great big tree. I was all eyes. I did not know what they were about to do with it because no one had told me anything about the tree.  I thought they were going to plant it in the room and I thought to myself they must be crazy in America. I asked my friend what were they going to do and she explained it all to me. When the tree was up everybody in the room helped to put all the trimmings on it. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw in all my life. But the next day when we went to school I got the surprise of my life. I saw this nice big fat man all dressed up in red and a big white beard and he said, “Ho, Ho, Ho”, and sat under the tree with dolls and all kinds of toys and candy. In a little while he started to call all the girls by name and gave each a beautiful doll and a bag of candy. When I saw I had a doll in my hands I was so excited I was shaking because I had never seen a doll before. And to think it was mine to keep. I could hardly wait to get home to show it to my mother and father, and when I got home I could hardly talk I was so excited telling them all about what had happened at school.

Image: Children’s Aid Society Italian House, Five Points, NY.

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