Christmas Eve rushed down on the little hill town and Neroni found himself eating tidbits from the early evening meal before midnight mass began. It had been snowing here, as it had all over Europe, and all the family cheerily agreed that going down the big hill to the town below earlier in the week for needed items and gifts was good because now the road was a ribbon of snow and ice, too treacherous for the little car to travel. Everyone pulled out the heaviest coats, scarves, gloves, and boots for the march to San Nicolo Chiesa for the beloved service. Papa wanted Nonni to remain at home, but she scolded him, “Aldo, I have nevered missed this service, and I do not intend to miss it now. Just hold on to me, and the angels will protect us as we walk to the church.” She took his arm, and following Mama, Pietra, Simone, and Cecelia, Nonni and Papa began their walk to church. Neroni scooted out the door as it was opened for the family's slippery troop up the hill, with all hoping they could safely enter the church doors with no falls.
Mama called after him, "Neroni, get back in this house. That snow will sting your paws!" But Neroni just turned around and looked at her with a sly little grin and scampered off. He knew another way to the church, where he was headed after he called for Mr. Gray Gatto to join him. These two cats loved the midnight mass. They usually sneaked in around the entering worshipers as they pulled the heavy doors open to the candlelit church. The two cats peered into the dim light to check to be sure that Mary, Joseph, shepherds, sheep, and other participants had not moved from their places, and suddenly they noticed that Bambino Gesu seemed missing.
Neroni then remembered and reminded Mr. Gray, "Always He is brought in by some of the bambini picoli. Just hold your breath so that they do not drop him." The two cats sat on the side close to the old organ as it began to sing out the old, old carols that began the service, and they hummed along in their cat voices, not too loudly for fear of being run out. How they loved the songs.
Finally the priest, along with altar boys dressed in white albs and red cassocks carrying the cross, the choir holding their candles and song sheets, and the children with Baby Jesus processed in to the notes of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and all took their places. Watching, listening, and sniffing, the cats grew sleepy after the incense spread up and down through the stone building,as the human voices prayed,the"Holy, holy, holy" rang out, the kneelers creaked as the Christmas people whispered their prayers after the special food they always ate, that Bread and Wine, and finally the lighting of each individual candle as "Silent Night" floated up to the angels hovering over the whole scene, which only Neroni and Mr. Gatto could see as they flutterd their wings. Then, the resounding "Joy to the World," ended this heavenly, once-a-year celebration that had taken place in the hill town for more than 1000 years. Neroni and Mr. Gatto made sure to rub their whiskers and face sides against the manger as the Christmas believers and church comers turned in their coats to face the cold and snow outside. Bambino Gesu always smiled at them as they left their gift of love on his bed. Quickly, before they could be seen, they ran out the big, wooden door as the priest closed it shut. The sounds of, “Buon Natale” that the humans shared made the cats smile and turn down the lane. Home was waiting.