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Christmas letters from the children of Cuglieri

Letterina di Natale di un bambino del catechismo di Cuglieri, Sardegna - Archivio Storico - Gesuiti, Provincia Euro-Mediterranea

What did a Sardinian child ask for himself and his family in the mid 20th century? Today we go back in time to 1958, to Cuglieri, Sardinia, where the Society of Jesus was entrusted with the Pontifical Regional Seminary of Sardinia. The seminarians themselves were in charge of catechism, supported by the Jesuits, in the ‘Opera Catechistica S. Giovanni Berchmans’.

The association was aimed at children and organised preparation for First Communion and Confirmation.

The source

From today’s source we can reconstruct one of the activities organised for Christmas.

Forty letters were found among the papers, which had been distributed to the children. As can be seen on the photo, the instructions for the activity were written on the title page: each child would write his or her name, come to the novena every day in the church of St John at 5.15 p.m. and, on returning home, attach a sticker in the shape of the Child Jesus to mark participation in the novena and note down any little flowers or prayers recited. On the card the parents would be able to mark their child’s conduct by signing. On the third page, each child would express his or her thoughts to Jesus and their wishes for the coming Christmas. We have these letters because the children were asked to bring them to church on Christmas Day and hand them in to show the preparation they had experienced in the weeks before.

This is a type of source that could easily have been discarded, over the following decades and given the numerous transfers of documentation, from Cuglieri to Turin, from Turin to Gallarate, before arriving in our archive, but fortunately they have been preserved. They allow us today to discover what the wishes but also the family conditions of these 40 children from Cuglieri were.

Children’s requests

The little letters that the children address to the Infant Jesus contain various good intentions and requests.

“Make me more good, obedient and studious, and come and be born in my heart, prepared by me in this novena” writes G.

T., after asking for blessings for daddy, mummy and little brother, also asks for something for himself: “I desire a gun, a tractor, an aeroplane, a school bag, a big ball and some sweets of your liking”. Little T., on the other hand, writes ‘bring me whatever you want I’ll be happy, kisses’, some only ask for ‘something nice’.

Among the toys requested in the various letters are: a helicopter, ‘a big car that will fit me’, a tank.

P. wants ‘a nice bicycle, a guitar, a rifle, and a ball, and I would also like to have the crib’.

Someone confides revealing their family difficulties like P. ‘you know very well that for three years I have been fatherless, I pray to you to help me in all the needs of my life and help my family. I have faith in you who are so good”; like P. “I want some assistance because we have two sick little girls and we are too poor”, or G. who paints the sad condition of his family in a few words “heal my father who hasn’t worked for over a year and we live in abject poverty”. Someone expresses his material request among the spiritual ones, like G. “I wish to make myself big and give me health and health to me and my parents and a brother and sisters, and a pair of boots and then also to be studious and also good and intelligent”. Little A. starts like this ‘you know that I am bad. Try to make me as good as you want. We are very poor and have nothing, you know dad and almost a year without working. With much suffering’. The parents’ unemployment returns in several letters, C.’s words are also very moving: ‘I don’t want anything, neither games nor sweets, but only my poor mother’s recovery from a serious operation’.

Many worries are also expressed with regard to the Infant Jesus: ‘you are shivering with cold in the middle of the straw and Our Lady cannot do anything to you’ writes A. S. is also rather distressed: ‘Oh Infant Jesus you are in the middle of the straw and you are always cold but we love you with good will but you are in the middle of the straw’.

Someone, however, goes further in his requests, revealing how much the children were conditioned by Catholic rhetoric and the political climate of the time: I ask you for this grace, to help me convert the communists and pagans’, says A. Little G. goes ahead for the future ‘give me the grace to go with you and all your chosen ones to Paradise’.

Here and there a few stickers are missing but often there is a signed note from some parent “that’s why it’s missing we lost it last night as we were preparing the crib it’s not S. Merry Christmas”.

This is not the first time that the column has dealt with sources produced by children, in fact we have in the past reported on the little thoughts written to the Provincial of Veneto – Milanese for his visit to Arici.

Other children’s activities in Cuglieri

Some of the children from the catechism were part of the group of ‘Piccoli Cantori di S. Giovanni di Cuglieri’ (Little Singers of St John of Cuglieri), taking part in real tours in other Italian parishes ‘on the continent’ – as they say in Sardinia, speaking of the Italian peninsula – to perform their repertoire.

The education of young Catholics, necessary to approach the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation, was also provided in the other churches officiated by the Jesuits.

In some cases, the Society set up real religious schools; in many cities there were catechism courses as we know them today.

For those who would like to delve deeper into the subject, our Archives hold documents on the catechism organised by the Jesuits in some Italian cities.

The sources tell us about catechism mainly during the twentieth century, but for research on the subject in the previous century, the manuscript of 1842 by an anonymous author concerning catechisms, preserved in the Veneto – Milanese Province fund, could be useful.

Maria Macchi