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The Special Neighbour

Children’s Story was written by Grazia Martienssen

Christmas Time

Angela and Angelo are 5-year-old twins that live in Italy. They are very excited because their Christmas tree will go up soon, on the 8th of December. This also coincides with the celebrations of the Feast of the immaculate conception of Mary. A canon is fired from Rome’s Castel Saint Angelo to mark the start of the festivities.

This period is a very magical time in Italy. In fact, the festivities continue until the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January. Churches have special services during the lead-up to Christmas.

We call this the Advent period, which comes from late and means “coming” to signify the period of preparations before the arrival of baby Jesus that arrived on Christmas day.

In the lead-up to the 25th of December, children go from house to house dressed as shepherds, performing Christmas songs or poems, in exchange for sweets or money. A highlight is the midnight mass at the Vatican, but many people also enjoy skiing during this period.

Did you know that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus? What do you like best about Christmas?

The epiphany: (When the wise men found baby Jesus)

The good children are excited well beyond Christmas day because on the evening of the 5th of January, the legend of the old Befana will bring them gifts. If they were good, she fills their Christmas stockings for them with sweets and candies but, if they were bad, they will get a lump of coal.

She is a good housekeeper and will sweep the floors before leaving the children’s houses. She sweeps away all the problems of the previous year. Families leave a glass of wine out, and Panetone (Christmas cake) for her. They also leave out red or sand colour stockings for her to fill.

Angelo and Angela listen carefully as papa tells them for the first time that La Befana used to live in the empty cottage next door, and that she is gone out to look for baby Jesus and will bring gifts to the children. The kids listen on as mamma explains that a long time ago, she was sweeping in front of her house, and then suddenly the 3 wise men stopped to talk to her.

She offered them food and shelter. They asked for directions to baby Jesus and asked her to join them. She was too busy so she refused. That night she saw a bright light and took it as a sign to follow the wise men. She had the urge to go to Bethlehem to bring the newborn baby gifts, so she took freshly baked goodies with her, and off she went with her broom in her hand.

She went off to see him for herself, and to help the new mother with housework. Although she followed the same star, she got lost and did not find him, so legend has it that she is still searching for baby Jesus today. Sometimes the children see her flying through the sky on her broomstick. She enters the houses through the chimneys, so is covered in soot. The twins know they have been good, so mamma and papa help them to write letters to the Bafana. They also learn poems about her.

Would you like to learn one? Try to repeat this one, first in Italian and then in English.

La Befana vien di notte /Con le scarpe tutte rotti/Con vestito alla romana /Viva viva la Befana.

The Befana comes at night/with her shoes, all tattered and torn/She comes dressed in a Roman way/Long live Befana.

Have you seen an old woman flying through the sky at night on a broomstick?

La Befana is back!!!!

The next day the children went out to play and saw an old woman sweeping in front of the house next door. “Befana,” they shout out excitedly. “Grazie per I bel regali” (Thank for the gifts).

“Piacere,” (Pleasure) responded the old Befana. She then entered the house and came out with some freshly baked biscuits for them. They could not wait to tell their cousins and friends about their special neighbour, and her delicious biscuits.

Do you have a special neighbour?

Santo and Santina’s Onomastico (Name Saints Day)

Children’s story written by Grazia Martienssen

Good day children, Flyer the seagull here, today let me tell you about:

Santo and Santina are cousins named after their Nonno (grandfather) Santo. They have been waiting a long time to celebrate their name day. Most of their friends, family and relatives have already celebrated theirs. Their friend Sebastian celebrated his in January. Their cousin Agata’s in February. Santo’s friend Giovanni has his in June, and Rosalia’s was in September. Others celebrate theirs on various dates throughout the year. The festivities usually include fireworks and carrying icons or statues from the saint’s church in procession. Some of their older cousins have been confirmed and celebrate their confirmation saint’s day as well.

What’s your name? Do you know if you are named after someone special?

All Saints and All Souls Day
Finally, it is the 1st of November and it’s Santo and Santin’s Onomastico. They celebrate with their Nonno Santo and all the saints. It is a public holiday. Those who do not have saints’ names celebrate with them as well. Nonno reads to them and teaches them more about the saints. They learn that their feast day started sometime in the year 609 AD (Anno Domino). This refers to the number of years after Jesus passed on. Originally it was celebrated in springtime, which is in March, April and May, but later it was changed to November (winter).

They remember the saints at mass in the Eucharist. After mass family and friends visit them and bring them gifts. Nonno gets a calendar for the following year with the saints for each month on it. It also shows the patron saints of each Town. Along with other gifts, the children get a book with big pictures and some writing on each page explaining about the saints.

Everybody wishes them ‘buon onnomastico’ (happy name day). The family and relatives all come around and have a special meal together on Nonno’s farm where they spend the day after mass. Mom makes some long homemade pasta called maccheroni for the 1st course. The second course is meat with sauce (carne al sugo). She also makes cannoli for dessert (a sweet treat). Their cousins in North Italy send photos of their day, they are eating risotto (a rice dish) and snacking on roasted chestnuts (In different parts of Italy, traditions and cultures change). They set an empty place at the table for those in heaven.
The next day is tutti i morti (all souls day).

They remember their family and relatives and friends who have gone to heaven. They go to the graves to bring flowers especially chrysanthemums (In Italy different flowers are used for different occasions). They clean the graves and spend time with those in heaven. They light candles to pay their respect to them. Their friends in Rome sent a video of their picnic at the graveside to share a meal with those in heaven. They talk to their Nonna, Bisnonno (great-grandfather), and other families in heaven. Santo and Santina miss their Nonna and Bisnonno very much, but they know they can talk to them and they will be listening from heaven, so they tell them everything. They tell them all about preschool, their friends, their new puppies, absolutely everything.

Do you know anyone in heaven? Do you visit them at the grave and bring flowers?
Do you talk to them?

Hidden sweets
Later in the day they finally look around the house for sweets and luxuries hidden by their loved ones from heaven. It is so much fun looking for special treats. They find them all over the house and enjoy them.

Which special treats and sweets do you like?

Anna’s New Life

Children’s story written by Grazia Martienssen

Good day children, Flyer the seagull here, today let me tell you about:

Anna‘s family have recently immigrated to a new country. They were living with granny but have now moved to a new house. They are also learning a new language because they do not always understand what people are saying, nor do they always have the right words for what they want to say.

Are you learning a new language?
Do you know the right words to use when you want to say something?

Mommy’s Funny Shopping Experience

Their relatives help by interpreting and translating words for them when they are around. They are not always available when needed though, so sometimes Anna and her family say funny things by mixing up words. Here is a funny story that happened to Anna’s mom one day when she went shopping.

One day Anna’s mom went shopping for soap, but some words got mixed up in her mind, so she was asking all the shop assistants for rope.

“Do you sell rope?” she was asking.

They all said “No.”

Poor mommy, she was getting so frustrated. Finally, she walked into a small shop and saw soap on the shelf. She got so excited she took one of each type. Later they went to visit granny and mommy said,
“I cannot believe only one shop sells soap.” Granny looked puzzled and replied,
“No they all sell soap dear.”
“What word were you using, are you sure you were saying it right,” asked granny.
“Yes I was saying rope,” said mom.
Granny started laughing and explained to mom she had made similar mistakes many times.

Anna also misunderstood her friends and teachers at times, and her friends would laugh at her. So, Anna came up with a bright plan.

She soon started teaching them her language so that when they misunderstood her, or could not pronounce words, she could be the one to laugh instead. They were soon all laughing together. When she told her family her plan, and that she was teaching her friends their language, they all said what a clever plan it was.

Dad also misunderstood things at times but as he worked with his brother uncle Angelo, it was easier for him because uncle Angelo was always there to translate what people said.

What is your home language?
Do you know someone who struggles with the language?
Which language do they speak?

Trying New Things

Anna also goes to her friend’s houses at times and tries new delicious foods. She then invites them to eat at her house to try her country’s delicious food. She is learning about her new country’s traditions and customs and shares her traditions and customs with her friends.

Every time she tells granny about her new experiences or the new food she tried granny says,
“That is what makes the world beautiful and interesting, if we all ate the same food and did everything the same way it would be boring.” Granny continued on to say “Although we are all the same in some ways, we all need and have a right to food, shelter, acceptance and love.”
Anna and her parents also share their experiences with their family, relatives and friends in their home country through social media.

Have you tried new foods?
What foods have you tried from a different country?
What’s your country’s food?
What’s your favourite food?

The Little Immigrant

Children’s Story written by Grazia Martienssen

Good day children, Flyer the seagull here; Today let me tell you about Anna’s immigration

We’re Moving:

At supper time Anna’s mom announced that they would soon be moving to a new country.
“What about my friends, cousins, and granny?” asked Anna.
“You will make new friends and some of your cousins and your other granny are already there,” said Anna’s dad.
“What about school?” asked Anna.
“You will go to a new school,” replied dad.
“We are flying in an aeroplane,” said mom as she tried to steer the conversation to make Anna happy. Anna was excited as she had always wanted to fly but sad and confused about leaving friends and relatives behind. She had so many mixed emotions.

Have you and your family emigrated from a different country?
Which country are you from?

The Farewell Party:

The next day mom showed Anna the photos of her relatives in the country they were moving to.
“This is your other granny,” she said.
“Oh, you showed the photo when granny sent it,” Anna replied.
“These are your cousins and your aunt and uncle. Uncle Angelo is dad brother, and he can offer dad a better job once we are all there,” said mom.
That weekend they had a farewell party for all the relatives and friends they were going to leave behind. Mom and dad told Anna they could not take everything with them and had to give some things away, so they gave each person something to remember them by.
Anna sorted out her toys, clothes and books she was not taking with her.
“Here Archie,” she said to her friend next door, as she gave him her colourful ball that he loved playing with so much.
“Here Maria you can have my pink bear,” she said to her cousin. Anna loved playing with that bear.
Anna and her parents gave a lot of things away. Each person got something they needed or liked. Her parents also sold some of their things, and some of their friends and relatives also bought a few bits from them.
Granny was very emotional. “I understand you going to have a better future, and I am happy for you, but I am going to miss you all so much,” exclaimed Granny.
Some of the other relatives were also emotional. They wished them well and a safe journey. Anna’s parents promised to keep in touch.
Do you know who you and your family left behind when you immigrated?
Do you remember the emotions you went through?

Arriving at the Destination:

That Monday they left for the airport. Their relatives and friends saw them off. Two hours later they were flying.
Anna watched some cartoons on the plane. She had a window seat and watched the clouds floating by as they flew through them. The air hostesses were all very friendly and she loved the food on the plane. That night she dreamt of floating through the clouds, and the next morning she woke up at an airport.
“Have we arrived?” she asked. ‘’No, we need to catch another plane,” said dad.
Soon they were on another plane. They flew high and she saw a beautiful rainbow in the sky.
Some hours later they arrived at a large airport. As they got off the plane, Anna saw a lot of people waiting for their loved ones.
Then she saw a banner on which was written, “Welcome Anna” in big red letters being held by her granny. Everyone was very emotional to see them. They lived with granny for a while. Soon dad started his new job and Anna started at her new school and made new friends.

Have you made new friends? Did you start at a new school?

Mario’s Special Holiday

Children’s Story Written by Grazia Martienssen

Good day children, Flyer the seagull here, let me tell you about…

August in Italy:
In August it is summer in Italy, and extremely hot. Mario and his family live in Taormina, a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. Today is the 15th of August, which is a special holiday called Ferragosto, and is named after the Roman emperor Feriae Augusti who ruled even before Jesus was born.

Ferragosto is also the day that Mother Mary went to heaven, and is celebrated on the same day. Like most Italians, Mario’s family is catholic and believes that Mother Mary was taken into heaven, body and soul.

Do you have any special holiday you enjoy with your family?
Do you know the history behind your special holiday?

La Vara

Mario’s parents run a small business from home and it will be closed for 2 weeks over Ferragosto. Some friends and relatives join them for the big festivities on the 15th, others work in supermarkets, so have to work half day before joining them.

At 10am Mario goes to Mass with his family and there is a special procession through the streets of Taormina. It is the celebration of la Vara which started in the first half of the 1500s.

La Vara is a large pyramid-shaped structure that symbolizes the assumption of Mary into heaven. The base is the tomb of Mary with the apostles around it. On top, there are statues of Jesus, angels, the sun, the moon and a starry globe.

It is carried by the faithful dressed in blue, in honour of the Madonna (Mary). It is moved by pulling ropes which have been blessed and are later cut into small pieces and given out to the people.

They all go to Giovanni’s house, where the women prepare pasta al forno (pasta bake) while the men braai the meat for the second course. Some of his cousins have come from north Italy where they eat different varieties of food. They tell him about their dishes, but they also enjoy the pasta and meat.

Do you go to church with your family?
If so, which church do you go to?
What special celebrations do you enjoy?

Palio Del Assunta

They go have a picnic up the mountain overlooking a beautiful view of the sea. There are lots of people as everyone is at the sea or the mountains.

At their picnic, Mario met some tourists from England. The next day his parents took them to a museum, where there is air conditioning. With this excuse, they learned a bit about the history of Italy.

In full Italian spirit, Mario’s parent’s offered to take the tourists to Siena in north Italy by train the next day.
This special trip involves a famous horse race called the Palio Del Assunta, which takes place at the central piazza (square).

On the way there the older relatives explain that as they were poor in their younger days, their parents used to take advantage of the cheap holidays and train travel organized on a large scale by the government in the 1920s.

Have you ever travelled by train?
If yes, where did you go?
Did you enjoy the ride?

Horse ride:
In Siena they book at a guest house run by one of dad’s friends. Nonno (grandfather) knows some of the horse owners. He speaks to them and arranges for the children to go on a short horse ride in the evening when it’s cooler. The children enjoy the ride and take lots of photos and videos to remember the special occasion.

Have you ever been on a horse?

The 3 Sillies

Written by Grazia Martienssen

Goodday children, Flyer the Seagull here, today I will tell you a funny story that Hopper told me about one of his adventures…

Kitten and Puppy:
Felix was a greyish/brown kitten, and Teddy was a golden puppy. They were best friends and played together chasing each other around the garden.

Do you have pets? What are your pets’ names?

Having fun:
One day they met a frog named Jumper.

”Do you want to play with us?” asked Felix.

“I have been watching you two run around the garden and it looks like fun. But it’s much more fun to jump onto a Lilly leaf in the pond and sing,” said the frog.

The kitten and puppy started laughing.

“You can’t jump on leaves,” they said.

“Yes, you can, like this,” said the frog. While jumping onto a leaf and croaking.

“I think we are too heavy for those leaves,” they said while laughing.

“Don’t laugh,” said the frog crossly.

“My name is Jumper because I jump so well and it’s much more fun than running around.”

“No, jumping on leaves and croaking is silly,” they both said.

Soon all 3 of them were having a big argument about which games were the most fun. My brother couldn’t help laughing at how silly they were being. He laughed till he almost fell off the roof that he was watching them from.

Suddenly an owl flew down from a nearby tree.

“You 3 sillies have been disturbing my sleep,” he said while yawning.
“Puppies and kittens cannot jump on leaves and croak, and frogs cannot run around the garden. You are both good at what you do, and you each have your own talents.
I love watching you all do your thing.”

They all looked at each other and started laughing. “We are being silly,” they all said.

The Owl replied, “Just look at the children, Paul is a fast runner, Lucy is good at playing ball, and each of them have different talents. Their parents are also all good at different things. Their dad makes furniture, mommy sews, and they don’t fight; they work together, as should you, 3 sillies.

“Yes, you are all silly, now let me have a peaceful sleep,” laughed the owl.

And on that note, he flew back into the tree.

Do you think the owl was right? What would you have said to them?

The next day:
The next day Teddy and Felix played together nicely. Hopper played nicely with the other frogs jumping from leaf to leaf. The owl watched them for a short while and then fell asleep and slept soundly.

Which games do you enjoy playing? Are you a kitten, a puppy or a frog?

Gina’s Italy

Children’s story was written by Grazia Martienssen

Good day children, Flyer the seagull here, let me tell you about:

Ginas Italy:

Gina lives in Messina, on the Italian island of Sicily. Today she’s very excited because it’s the 2nd of June, and there’s no school today because it’s Italy’s national day (La Festa della Repubblica). Her teacher recently taught the class all about its meaning through poetry. She learned that Italy used to be a monarchy, which means they had a king and a queen and became a republic in 1946. That was also the year that her bis nonna (great granny) was born! This was also a very important year for women because they voted for the first time that year.

Did you know Italy is shaped like a boot?
Do you know that Sicily is at the bottom of Italy?
Do you know what an island is?

The Festivities:

Gina’s dad’s office is also closed today. Her zia (aunt) works half day and joins them later with her cousin Vito. Zia and mamma prepare food using the colours of the Italian flag.

Do you know which colours are in the Italian flag?
(Green, white and red).

Gina’s learning to make food from these colours and helps with making the Caprese salad, which is made from fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and yes, you guessed it, fresh mozzarella cheese.
Dad gets the Italian flags and musical instruments ready because they going to play at the street parades. He always makes sure they are super clean and polished. Gina and Vito dress up in the national Italian costumes that bis nonna and nonna made for them. The adults teach them short poems, telling the story of Italy. It’s really fun reciting poems with the family. Gina and Vito also fly little flags as they recite the poems

Do you know any special poems?
Later at the carnival, the children all have little flags, and join in the festivities singing Italian national songs. They join their older cousins in playing music and dancing. Gina’s uncle flies one of the nine planes that let out smoke in the Italian colours. They enjoy the street parades and take part in all the concerts. Everyone claps at their performance. Then they all go to a piazza (public square) from where they watch the president of the republic place a ceremonial wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier in Rome, at the Altare della patria (The altar of the fatherland). After that a military parade goes out. It really is spectacular. The colosseum is decorated with the Italian flag and lights up in the colours of the flag at night. The grandest festivities are held in Rome.

Have you ever been to Rome?
Gina’s best friend Rosa recently moved to Rome, and Gina wishes next year they can go there to take part in the festivities, because they are very grand in comparison to Messina. Later they all go to the beach for a picnic. The children run around saying the different poems such as;

White alps, green hills, red for bravery
1946 was the year Italy had victory
Woman voted no one stopped them
Italy was free.

They had been taught this and other poems to learn about Italy’s history.
Did you know that Rome is the capital of Italy?
Do you know anyone who lives in Italy?

The meaning of the colours:

Granny and great granny teach the children poems about the colours of the flag having religious meaning. Green stands for hope, white for faith and red for charity, but their older cousins tell them that is outdated. Green stands for the hills and plains, white for the snowy Alps and other mountain regions, and red for the wars of independence.

Do you know the colours of your country’s flag?
Do you know what they represent?

Flyer the Seagull

Written by Grazia Martienssen

Hello, I am Flyer

Flying around:
Goodday children, my name is Flyer, the talking seagull. I fly around the world bringing you stories of the fun and exciting things that children do. Sometimes I look in widows, sit in trees, or on the roofs of houses to watch them play; all this so I can tell their stories. On rare occasions, I also make special trips underwater, so I can bring you stories about mermaids and other mysterious underwater creatures.

Do you like seagulls?
Have you seen me at the beach, or fly past your house?

About us seagulls:
Let me tell you a little bit about us seagulls. We build our nests on sand dunes, sea cliffs, anywhere close to the beach really. Many people don’t know this, but we are very smart; when there is no fish to catch, I drop shellfish on rocks, so it opens and then I eat it. I also trick earthworms to come to the surface by stamping my feet which sounds like rainfall. When this doesn’t work, we make cute noises and hand movements, so you throw us bread. I was one of three chicks born on Robben Island; luckily, we all know the same tricks to get food, so we never go hungry.

Do you remember the sounds that we make to get food? Give it a go!

One day I saw some children playing on the beach having so much fun, so I followed them home and saw them sitting around a fire while their granny told them a story. They seemed to enjoy it so much that I decided to tell stories as well. Sometimes my friends tell me what they saw, so I will bring you those stories as well. I do hope you will enjoy my stories. Maybe one day I will also get to watch you play, then I will bring your stories to other children as well.

Have you ever seen one of our nests?
Can you name three things that nests can be made of?

Till next time:

Time for me to fly now so I can watch some children having fun, then I can tell you their stories again. Till next time. Goodbye.

The Toy Truck

Children story was written by Grazia Martienssen

Hello children, Big Bear here, gather round as I tell you about the Toy Truck

Chrissy’s toy:

Chrissy is Ben’s neighbour and friend. Every day they play together, and his favourite toy is a big dump truck. It’s big enough for him to sit inside, ride, and load all his toys in the back. He loads his toys in it and journeys off to unload them outside. His dad used some cement slabs to build him a little road around the garden, and it is so much fun! It has a circle, a stop street and a robot with colourful lights that really work!

Do you have any friends next door? What’s your favourite toy?


Ben and his friends love going over to Chrissy’s to play, and they take their toy vehicles along with them. To make the trip easier, they also load the toys they want to take onto toy wagons and trucks. Those who don’t have a wagon or truck just pull them along in a box. Sometimes their cousins come over and sit at the back of the truck and go for a ride, other times they take the puppy or other toys for a joyride. Even I go with at times, and I love it! When they feel competitive, sometimes they also have races on the track. They play other games on the track as well, but I can’t remember what they are.

Chrissy is Ben’s neighbour and friend. Every day they play together, and his favourite toy is a big dump truck. It’s big enough for him to sit inside, ride, and load all his toys ........

Maybe you know?

When Chrissy and his friends finish playing, they load all the toys back on the toy truck, and his friends load theirs on whatever they brought with them and go pack them back in the toy box. One of his parents or older siblings then walks the other children back home.

Do you go play at a friend’s house at times?

Do your friends come to play at your house?

What games do you and your friends play?

He also helps his dad in the garden with his truck. Loading all the refuse, plants, or sand, and takes it where his dad tells him to take it. Sometimes he even helps mom in the house, especially on rainy days when he must play indoors. He loads things at the back of his truck and goes to pack them away in their place, or goes around driving, while he dusts and polishes the furniture. Other times he helps his older sister or brother by delivering things for them in his truck.

Do you help your family? How can you make it fun to help at home?


Chrissy and his friends have also started school, so they have homework to do sometimes. They usually don’t get to play until after they have done their homework.

Do you go to school?

When you are at school, do you do your homework?