Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Credo at Christmas

At Christmas time I believe the things that children do.

I believe with the English children that holly placed in windows will protect our homes from evil.

I believe with Swiss children that the touch of edelweiss will charm a person with love.

I believe with Italian children that La Befana is not an ugly doll but a good fairy who will gladden the hearts of all.

I believe with Greek children that coins concealed in freshly baked loaves of bread will bring good luck to anyone who finds them.

I believe with German children that the sight of a Christmas tee will lessen hostility among adults.

I believe with the French children that lentils soaked and planted in a bowl will rekindle life in people who have lost hope.

I believe with Dutch children that the horse Sleipner will fly through the sky and fill the earth with joy.

I believe with Swedish children that Jultomte will come and deliver gifts to the poor as well as to the rich.

I believe with Finnish children that parties held on St. Stephen's Day will erase sorrow.

I believe with Danish children that the music of a band playing from a church tower will strengthen humankind.

I believe with Bulgarian children that sparks from a Christmas log will create warmth in human souls.

I believe with American children that the sending of Christmas cards will build friendships.

I believe with all children that there will be peace on earth.

Monday, 23 December 2013

It's A Wonderful Life

My favouritest part of my favouritest Christmas movie...I can't help it, I'm a sucker for happy endings.

Dear George,

Remember no man is a failure who has friends.

Thanks for the wings!


Zuzu: Look Daddy, teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

George: That's right. That's right. Atta boy, Clarence.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Gift of the Magi

I read this as a kid in one of those comic book editions and loved it then. I love any story about presents, especially Christmas presents. But it was only as an adult, and one twice as old as protagonists in this simple story, that I could really appreciate. I take a lot of trouble with gifts. But some things cannot be bought with mere money.

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Oh all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus

Newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, who wrote the response to Virginia.

A colleague asked me when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I told him I hadn't. Yes, down to the red suit and beard, sleigh bells, reindeer, and all.

This is one of my favourite Christmas stories...OK, next to the Christmas Carol, that is. I love featuring in, during the Season...and lookie here, it gets airplay on Christmas Adam, no less...

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Young Lucretia

By Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

"Who's that little gal going' by?" said old Mrs. Emmons.

"That-why, that's young Lucretia, Mother," replied her daughter Ann, peering out of the window over her mother's shoulder. There was a fringe of flowering geraniums in the window; the two women had to stretch their heads over them.

"Poor little soul!" Mrs. Emmons remarked. "I pity that child."

"I don't see much to pity for," Ann returned, in a voice high-pitched and sharply sweet; she was the soprano singer in the village choir. "I don't see that she isn't take care of as well as most."

"Well, I don't know but she's taken care of, but I guess she don't get much coddlin'. Lucretia and Maria ain't that kind - never was. I heard the other day they was goin' to have a Christmas-tree down to the schoolhouse. Now I'd be willin' to venture that child don't have a thing on it."

"Well, if she's kept clean and taught to behave, it amounts to a good deal more'n Christmas presents, I suppose." Ann sat down and turned a hem with vigour; she was a dressmaker.

"Well, I s'pose it does, but that little gal ought to have somethin'. Do you remember those little rag babies I used to make for you, Ann? I s'pose she'd be tickled with one. Some of that blue calico would be just the thing to make a dress of."

"Now, Mother, don't you fuss. She won't think anything of it."

"Yes, she would too. You used to." Old Mrs. Emmons, tall and tremulous, rose and went out of the room.

Ann began smoothing out some remnants of blue calico on her lap. She selected one piece she thought would do for the dress.

Meanwhile young Lucretia went to school. It was quite a cold day, but she was warmly dressed. She wore her Aunt Lucretia's red and green plaid shawl which Aunt Lucretia had worn to meetings when she herself was a little girl, over her Aunt Maria's black cloth coat.

Young Lucretia wore, also, her Aunt Maria's black alpaca dress, which had Lucretia's purple scarf over her head. She had mittens, and her Aunt Maria's thick wool stockings drawn over her shoes to keep the snow from her ankles.

If young Lucretia caught cold, it would not be her aunts's fault. She went along rather clumsily but quite merrily, holding her tin lunch box very steady.

Here and there along the road were sprigs of evergreen and ground-pine and hemlock. Lucretia glanced at them. She was nearly in sight of the schoolhouse when she reached Alma Ford's house, and Alma came out and joined her. Alma was trim and pretty in her fur-bordered winter coat and her scarlet hood.

"Hullo, Lucretia!" said Alma.

"Hullo!" responded Lucretia. Then the two girls trotted on together; the evergreen sprigs were growing thicker. "Did you go with the others to pick out the tree?" asked Lucretia.

"Yes, we went way up to the crossroads. They wouldn't let you go, would they?"

"No," said Lucretia, smiling broadly.

"I think it was mean," said Alma.

"They said they didn't approve of it," said Lucretia, in a voice which sounded like an echo of someone else's.

When they got to the schoolhouse it took her a long time to unroll herself from her many wrappings. There was not another child there who was dressed like her. Seen from behind, she looked like a small, tightly-built old lady.

Her sandy hair was braided in two tight tails, fastened by a green bow. Young Lucretia was a homely little girl, although her face was always radiantly good-humoured. She was a good scholar, too, and could spell and add sums as fast as anybody in the school.

In the hall, where she took off her things, there was a great litter of evergreen and hemlock; in the farthest corner, lopped pitifully over on its side, was a fine hemlock tree. Lucretia looked at it, and her smiling face grew a little serious.

"That the Christmas tree over there?" she said to the other girls when she went into the schoolroom. The teacher had not come, and there was such an uproar and jubilation that she could hardly make herself heard. She had to poke one of the girls two or three times before she could get her question answered.

"What did you say, Lucretia Raymond?" the girl asked.

"That the Christmas tree out there?"

"Course 'tis. Say, Lucretia, can you come and help us trim this evening? The boys are going to set up the tree, and we're going to trim. Can't you come?"

The other girls joined in: "Can't you come, Lucretia?"

Lucretia looked at them all, with her honest smile. "I don't believe I can," said she.

"Won't your aunts let you?"

"Don't believe they will."

Alma Ford stood back on her heels and threw back her chin. "Well, I don't care," said she. "I think your aunts are awful mean - so there!"

Lucretia's face grew pinker, and the laughter died out of it. She opened her lips, but before she had a chance to speak, Lois Green, one of the older girls and an authority in the school, added her testimony, "They are two mean, stingy old maids," she proclaimed.

"They're not neither," said Lucretia, unexpectedly. "You shan't say such things about my aunts, Lois Green."

"Oh, you can stick up for 'em if you want to," returned Lois, "If you want to be such a little gump, you can, an' nobody'll pity you. You know you won't get a single thing on this Christmas tree."

"I will, too," cried Lucretia, who could be fiery for all her sweetness.

All through the day it seemed to her, the more she thought of it, that she must go with the others to trim the schoolhouse, and she must have something on the Christmas tree. A keen sense of shame for her aunts and herself was over her; she felt as if she must keep up the family credit.

"I wish I could go to trim this evening," she said to Alma, as they were going home after school.

"Don't you think they'll let you?"

"I don't believe they'll approve of it," Lucretia answered with dignity.

"Say, Lucretia, do you s'pose it would make any difference if my mother should go up to your house and ask your aunts?"

Lucretia gave her a startled look. A vision of her aunts' indignation at such interference shot before her eyes. "Oh, I don't believe it would do a mite of good," she said fervently. "But Alma, you might come home with me while I ask."

But it was all useless. Alma's pretty pleading little face as a supplement to Lucretia's, and her timorous "Please let Lucretia go" had no effect whatever.

"I don't approve of children being out nights," said Aunt Lucretia, and Aunt Maria supported her. "There's no use talking," said she. "You can't go, Lucretia. Not another word. Take your things off, and sit down and sew your square of patchwork. Alma, you'd better run right home; I guess your mother'll be wanting you to help." And Alma went.

"What made you bring that Ford girl in here to ask me?" Aunt Lucretia asked of young Lucretia.

"I don't know," stammered Lucretia over her patchwork.

"You'll never go anywhere any quicker for taking such means as that," said Aunt Lucretia.

"It would serve you right if we didn't let you go to the Christmas tree," declared Aunt Maria severely, and young Lucretia quaked. She had had the promise of going to the Christmas tree for a long time. It would be awful if she should lose that. She sewed very diligently on her patchwork.

Half an hour after supper she had the square all done and she carried it over to her Aunt Lucretia.

Aunt Lucretia put on her spectacles and looked closely at it. "You've sewed it very well," she said, finally. "You can sew well enough if you put your mind to it."

"That's what I've always told her" chimed in Aunt Maria. "There's no sense in her taking the kind of stitches she does sometimes. Now, Lucretia, it's time for you to go to bed."

Lucretia went lingeringly across the sitting-room, then across the dining room, into the kitchen. It was quite a time before she got her candle lighted and came back, and then she stood about hesitantly.

"What are you waiting for?" Aunt Lucretia asked sharply. "Take care; you're tipping your candle over; you'll get grease on the carpet."

"Why don't you mind what you're doing?" said Aunt Maria.

"They're going to have lots of presents on the Christmas tree," she remarked, tipping her candle again.

"Are you going to hold that candle straight or not?" cried Aunt Lucretia. "Who is going to have lots of presents?"

"All the other girls."

"Well, the other girls can have lots of presents. If their folks want to get presents for 'em they can," said Aunt Lucretia. "There's one thing about it, you won't get anything and you needn't expect anything. I never approved of this giving presents Christmas, anyways. It's a foolish piece of business."

Young Lucretia's lips quivered so she could hardly speak. "They'll think - it's - so funny if I don't have anything," she said.

"Let 'em think it's funny if they want to. You go to bed, and don't say any more about it. Mind you hold that candle straight."

Young Lucretia tried to hold the candle straight as she went upstairs, but it was hard work, her eyes were so misty.

It was a long time before she went to sleep that night. She cried first, then she meditated. After a while her lively imagination hit upon a plan for keeping up the family honour, hers and her aunts', before the eyes of the school.

The next day everything favoured the plan. There was no school. In the afternoon both her aunts went to the sewing society. They had been gone about an hour when young Lucretia trudged down the road with her arms full of parcels. She stole so quietly and softly into the schoolhouse, where they were arranging the tree, that no one thought about it. She laid the parcels on a settee with some others, and stole out and ran home.

The Christmas Eve festivities at the schoolhouse were to begin at seven o'clock. There were to be some exercises, some recitations, and singing, then the presents. Right after supper that evening young Lucretia went up to her own room and came down in a surprisingly short time all dressed.

"Are you ready?" said Aunt Lucretia.

"Yes ma'am," replied young Lucretia. She had her hand on the door.

"I don't believe you are half-dressed," said Aunt Maria. "Did you get our bow on straight?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"I think she'd better take her things off and let us be sure," said Aunt Lucretia. "I'm not goin' to have her down there with her clothes on any which way, and everybody making remarks. Take your jacket off, Lucretia."

"Oh, I got my bow on straight, honest," protested young Lucretia. She clutched the plaid shawl tightly together, but it was no use - off the things had to come. And young Lucretia had to put on her dress wrong side before; she had buttoned it in the back. There she stood, very much askew and uncomfortable, about the shoulder seams and sleeves, and hung her head before her aunts.

"Lucretia Raymond, what do you mean, putting your dress in this way?"

"All the other girls wear theirs buttoned in the back."

"All the other girls! Well, you're not going to have yours buttoned in the back, and wear holes through that nice coat every time you lean back against a chair. I've a good mind to not let you go out at all. Stand around here!"

Young Lucretia's dress was sharply unbuttoned. She was jerked out of it, and it was turned around and fastened as Aunt Lucretia thought it should be. When she finally started, she felt sad and doubtful; but soon she was her own merry self.

There was no one more radiant than she all through the opening exercises. She listened to the speaking and the singing with the greatest appreciation and delight. She sat up perfectly straight in her prim stiff dress. She folded her small red hands before her, and her face was all smiles.

When the distribution of presents began, her name was among the first to be called. She arose eagerly and went with a gay little prance down the aisle. She took the parcel the teacher handed to her and had begun her journey back when she suddenly saw her Aunt Lucretia and her Aunt Maria.

She had never dreamed of such a thing as her aunts coming; indeed, they had not thought it themselves. A neighbour had come in and persuaded them, and then had agreed to come against their principles.

Young Lucretia's name was called again and again. Every time she slunk more reluctantly and fearfully down to the tree; she knew her aunts' eyes were surveying her with more and more amazement.

After the presents were all distributed she sat perfectly still with hers around her. They lay on her desk, and the last was in her lap. She had not taken off a single wrapping. They were done up neatly in brown paper and Lucretia's name was written on them.

Lucretia sat there. The other girls were in a hubbub of delight all around her, comparing their presents, but she sat perfectly still and watched her aunts coming. They came slowly; they stopped to speak to the teacher. Aunt Lucretia reached young Lucretia first.

"What are those packages you have there?" she demanded. "Why don't you undo them?" Young Lucretia just gazed miserably at her aunt and shook her head helplessly. "Why, what makes you act so, child?" cried Aunt Lucretia, getting alarmed. Then Aunt Maria came up, and there was quite a little group around young Lucretia. She began to cry.

"What on earth ails the child?" said Aunt Lucretia. She caught up one of the parcels and opened it; it was a book bound in red and gold. She held it close to her eyes; she turned it this way and that; she examined the fly-leaf. "Why, " said she, "it's the old gift-book Aunt Susan gave me when I was eighteen years old! What in the world!"

Aunt Maria had undone another. "This is the Floral Album," she said tremulously, "the one we always keep in the north parlour on the table. Here's my name in it. I don't see - "

Aunt Lucretia speechlessly unmuffled a clove apple and a nautilus shell that had graced the parlour-shelf. Finally, there appeared a little daintily dressed rag doll, its cheeks stained pink with cranberry juice. When Lucretia spied this last she was so surprised she made a little grab at it.

"Oh," she sobbed. "somebody did hang this on for me! They did! It's mine!"

It never seemed to young Lucretia that she walked going home that night; she had a feeling that only her tiptoes occasionally brushed the earth as she went on rapidly with a tall aunt on either side. Not much was said. Once, in a lonely place in the road, there was a volley of severe questions from her aunts, and young Lucretia burst out into a desperate wail.

"Oh!" she cried, "I was going to put 'em right back again. I haven't hurt 'em any. I was careful. I didn't s'pose you'd know it. They said you were cross and stingy and wouldn't hang anything on the tree for me, and I didn't want 'em to think you were. I wanted to make 'em think I had things like other children."

After they got home not much was said. The aunts were still too bewildered for many words. Lucretia was bidden to light her candle, and go to bed. And then came a new grief. They took her new doll, and put it away in the parlour with the clove apple, the nautilus shell, and the gift-book. Then the little girl's heart failed her; terror and the loss of the only comfort that had come to her on this pitiful Christmas Eve were too much.

"Oh," she wailed, "my rag doll! I want my-rag baby. Oh! oh! oh! I want her, I want her!"

Scolding had no effect. Young Lucretia sobbed out her complaint all the way upstairs, and her aunts could hear the pitiful little wail of "My rag baby, I want my rag doll," after she was in her room.

The two women looked at each other. They sat uneasily down by the fireplace.

"I must say I think you're rather hard on her, Lucretia," said Maria, finally.

"I don't know as I've been any harder on her than you have," returned Lucretia. "I shouldn't have said to take away that rag doll if I'd said just what I thought."

"I think you had better take it up to her then, to stop that crying," said Maria.

Lucretia hastened into the parlour without another word. She carried the rag doll upstairs to young Lucretia; then she came down to the pantry and got her a cookie, and told her to eat it and go right to sleep. The little girl hugged her rag doll and ate her cookie in bliss.

The aunts sat a while longer by the fire. Just before they left it for the night, Lucretia looked hesitatingly at Maria and said, "I s'pose you have noticed that wax doll down at White's store?"

"That big wax one with the pink dress?" asked Maria.

"Yes. There was a doll's bedstead there, too. I don't know as you noticed it."

"Yes, I think I did, now you speak of it. I noticed it the day I went for the gingham. There was a doll's baby carriage there, too."

The aunts looked at each other. "I s'pose it would be dreadful foolish," said Lucretia.

"She'd be most too tickled to live," remarked Maria.

"We can still buy 'em tonight if we hurry," said Lucretia. And that is exactly what they did.

The next day was Christmas. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when old Mrs. Emmons went up the road to the Raymond house. She had a little parcel. When she came into the parlour there was young Lucretia in a corner, so that the room should not get in a mess, with her wealth around her. She looked forth, a radiant little mother of dolls, from the midst of her doll's housekeeping.

"My sakes!" cried old Mrs. Emmons, "Isn't that complete! You've got a big wax doll, and a bedstead, and a baby carriage, and a table and a bureau. I declare! I don't know what I'd have thought when I was a little girl. And I've brought some pieces for you to make some dressed for the rag baby if you want to."

Young Lucretia's eyes shone.

"You were real kind to think of it," said Aunt Lucretia, "and she'll take real comfort making the dresses. I'm glad you came in, Mrs. Emmons. I've been wanting to go to see you for a long time. I want see Ann, too; I thought I'd see if she hadn't got a pattern of a dress that buttons up the back for Lucretia."

Young Lucretia's eyes shone more than ever, and she smiled out of her corner like a little star. Her world was a beautiful place and she loved everybody in it.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Cherry Tree (An Old English Miracle)

One cold winter's day, hundreds of years ago, Joseph and Mary were journeying towards Jerusalem, eager to reach the city before nightfall.

Mary, weary and faint, stopped for breath and said gently to her husband, "Is that not a cherry tree I see on yonder hillside?"

"It is indeed a cherry tree, dear Mary," replied Joseph, "and if there were fruit on it, you might have some to stay your hunger. But trees do not bear fruit in winter."

"But see!" exclaimed Mary, her eyes aglow at the vision of the tree shiny with fresh green leaves and ripe red cherries.

"A lovely sight, my sweet Mary," replied Joseph. "But we must hurry on or we shall not reach the city gates before nightfall."

Then Mary, meek and mild, beseeched him, "For my sake, my good Joseph, will you not pluck some of the cherries for me? I fear I shall not otherwise be able to travel farther."

"Gladly I would do so, dear Mary," answered Joseph, "but the tree is so tall and the cherries are at the top too high for me to reach."

Mary closed her eyes and whispered a little prayer. "Kind Father," she prayed, "if it be Thy will, may I be given of the cherries?"

And lo! a wonderful thing happened. The cherry tree, rising green and red with leaf and fruit from the snow-blanketed winter earth, bent down its laden branches to Mary. And Mary stretched forth her hands and plucked the luscious cherries which were now within her reach.

A star was shining brighter than the rest in the sky, and though it shone for miles on glistening snow, the little circle of the earth around the cherry tree where Mary and Joseph stood blossomed suddenly with tender grass and little star-eyed flowers, even as the cherry tree itself bloomed in the frozen snow.

Joseph fell on his knees in wonder at the miracle Mary's prayer had wrought. Humbly, he kissed the hem of her gown.

"Forgive me, Mary," he murmured, And as he did so there seemed to be a holy light around her head, and angels could be heard like stars singing together: "On this night, blessed Mary, will be born unto you a Holy Child."

Ad so it came to pass. And of the many miracles attending the birth of Christ, this one has been known ever since as the miracle of the cherry tree.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

How Old Mr. Long-Tail Became a Santa Claus

(By Harrison Cady)

No Sir-ree, you don't catch me giving anything to Christmas charity. No, sir-ree! It's all nonsense anyway," said old Mr Long-Tail as he slammed his door shut with a great bang right in the face of a startled snowbird who had called to ask for a contribution for the Christmas fund for the poor and needy.

Then with a frown he turned, drawing his old dressing gown more closely about him, and hobbled over to his easy-chair before the fire. Seating himself among its cushions, he proceeded to pour out a steaming bowl of broth from a copper pot and to help himself to a bit of toast from a trivet before the fire.

"Ha, ha!" he squeaked, "This is pretty snug." And his lips curled into a satisfied smile as he glanced over to where the boisterous snowflakes were dashing against the window pane.

"Who-o-o! Who-o-o!" whistled the cold North Wind as it rattled the shutters.

"Crackety-crackety," answered the leaping flames in the grate, with a merry shower of sparks.

Mr. Long-Tail was very snug. His comfortable little house fairly glowed with warmth, and its pantry shelves sagged under their weight of good things. So, on this cold winter's day, the Day-Before-Christmas, he of all the many forest folk could afford to scoff and shoo away unwelcome callers. Why should he worry about the needy and the cold? His shelves were full and his fire was warm. Besides, did he not have many storehouses filled to overflowing?

But many in the great world were not as free from worry as Mr. Long-Tail. Many days of heavy storms and cruel winds had drifted the snow and covered fields and forests alike with a thick white mantle which, freezing, had made it almost impossible for many little creatures to reach their hidden stores to find a stray berry.

For weeks they had been watching and waiting in the hope of better weather. Christmas was drawing near, and they had planned a celebration around a great fir tree which grew on a lofty knoll at the edge of the forest. They had planned to trim it with long garlands of holly, while myriads of blazing candles would glisten and sparkle upon boughs laden with presents.

Then one day came a great blizzard which howled and shrieked and added huge drifts of snow. The little forest people looked out from their windows to see the blizzard imps dancing in glee, and as days went by they slowly gave up hope of the great Christmas celebration. Many tiny creatures watched their storehouses of provisions gradually disappear under the snow, and each day saw the list of the needy increase.

So the Day-Before-Christmas found every little eye carrying a look of worry, and every little voice sobbed, "We can do but little for this Christmas, and that only for the very poor." All but old Mr. Long-Tail. His eyes held no look of worry. He was in a class by himself, for, as sometimes happens, not any of his storehouses were buried and every snowflake that fell before his door seemed to be instantly whisked away by the North-Wind.

So he sat by his fire and drank his broth and wheezed in his most disagreeable voice, "Christmas! I'll have none of it!"

To explain: Old Mr Long-Tail was a rat, and a very miserly one at that. In fact, he belonged to the great family of Miser Rats who had a habit of gathering away in funny little storehouses where one could find everything from an old button to a bit of brightly coloured glass, along with queer dried roots and vegetables. Old Mr. Long-Tail had lived a long time and, as he had inherited the family traits, his storehouses were many.

He sat all alone the Day-Before-Christmas, buried in his great armchair, and thought only of how very comfortable he was--he, the very richest creature in the great forest. But old Mr. Long-Tail was not happy, for all his great riches there was one thing more he longed for - a certain kind of yellow corn that was hidden away in a certain old barn a goodly distance away.

"Ah! If I only had a little of that fine corn for my Christmas dinner," sighed old Mr. Long-Tail, for secretly he did intend to celebrate Christmas Day, but all by himself.

Finally he went to the window and peered out. "Whew! It's a pretty rough day, but I believe I might make it," he exclaimed as he drew on his big coat and wound his woolen scarf about his neck. Then he threw an empty sack over his shoulder and, buckling on a pair of snowshoes, headed for that distant barn.

Reaching it after a very long and difficult trip, he removed his snowshoes and crawled under the old building until he came to a convenient crack in the floor. Raising himself carefully he crept noiselessly within. Everything was silent and deserted except for the groaning of the wind about the eaves. Mr. Long-Tail lost not time in getting across the floor to a large wooden bin beside the wall, and he sped quickly along its side until he came to an opening, and then, with a hurried look over his shoulder, he stepped inside - not inside the bin, but right into a large box trap. The cover dropped with a thunderous clap, and old Mr. Long-Tail found himself a prisoner.

It was all so sudden and unexpected that it quite took his breath away. He tried to find a way of escape, but there was no escape for old Mr. Long-Tail. Exhausted, he crouched down and moaned, "Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I'm caught! I'm caught!" and his falling tears splashed on the floor of his prison.

Yes, he was caught, and caught so well that unless something unforeseen happened he was doomed to spend his Christmas Day in that box trap. Poor old Mr. Long-Tail, who had planned to celebrate all alone with a delicious feast!

One hour passed; then another; then many more followed, and Mr. Long-Tail commenced to feel cold and hungry - yes, hungry right that terrible trap in that well-filled corn bin. He shivered and shivered until the old box trap fairly made the corn rattle.

"Hush! Hush! What's that?" whispered one little snowbird to another as they huddled under the eaves of the old barn. "I hear something."

Just then old Mr. Long-Tail gave a low moan.

"Whew! Someone is in distress," cried the little snowbirds together as they cocked their heads and listened.

Again came a moan.

"Whew! Some poor soul is in distress and we must help him."

Then those two little snowbirds spread their wings and went whirling down to a windowsill, and finding a broken pane they poked their heads in and listened until they heard the sob again.

Then they both peeped loudly, "Who's there?"

Faintly from the bin came a plaintive cry: "Help! Help! It's me, poor Mr. Long-Tail."

The two little snowbirds without hesitation flew right into the old barn and investigated.

"It's old Mr. Long-Tail all right," said one as he spied the tip of the rat's tail protruding fro the end of the box.
"Oh! so you are the crabbed old fellow who shooed us away from your door this morning," said the other.

Mr. Long-Tail sobbed, "Set me free and anything I own is yours."

"We are going to set you free all right," cried the little birds, "but we don't want anything of yours. No sir. We only accept presents from willing givers, and just to show you, we are going to return good for evil."

They began to dig those yellow ears of corn from under the old box trap until it fell on its side and the cover opened enough for Mr. Long-Tail to slip out. He didn't stop, and he didn't even thank the snowbirds for saving his life! He only ran just as fast as his legs would carry him straight for his home.

"My! That was a narrow escape," he puffed as he bolted his heavy door. "You don't catch me leaving this snug little house again." And he stirred the fire and dropped into his big easy-chair.

For a long time he sat and looked into the crackling flames as they danced and leaped up the chimney. Then gradually old Mr. Long-Tail commenced to see strange shapes. Curious visions appeared; and along with them came troubling thoughts.

As the flames danced they shaped themselves into weird pictures of huddled creatures bent with cold and hunger drawing their thin coats about them. He could hear the roar of the winter tempest; he saw lines of empty stockings and heard plaintive calls for food.

Then he saw a score of rich storehouses filled to overflowing, with doors heavily barred, while before them walked a grotesque figure turning away groups of starving forest folk. And last of all, he saw two tiny snowbirds helping someone out of a trap, someone who whined and whimpered and cried, "Help! Help! It's me, poor Mr. Long-Tail."

This was too much for him. He jumped suddenly to his feet and cried "That's me, a mean old miser, who does nothing for anyone but himself. The poor and needy I turn away, and I don't even thank those who save my life!"

Ashamed and humbled, he sat down again and remained motionless for a long time. Then, with a sudden cry of joy, he jumped to his feet and looked at the clock.

"Hurrah! There's yet time. There are still a few hours left," he cried as he drew on his coat and gathering a pile of empty bags together, disappeared into the night.

The Night-Before-Christmas! That magic hour of all the year when Santa Claus, behind his team of reindeer steeds, rides from one chimney top to another. But on this particular night the little creatures of the great forest had given up all hope of any Christmas visitor and were huddled in their beds for warmth. They were fast asleep, dreaming their troubled dreams of empty shelves and stockings.

Outside, the great world lay covered with ice and snow, for the blizzard had gone on its way and a cold winter moon shone on the hanging icicles.

Then suddenly there came, at the exact hour of twelve, the ringing of a bell. The little people awoke with a start and cried "It's a Christmas bell! It's a Christmas bell!"

In a flash, they were out of their beds and, hurriedly dressing, they scampered towards the echoing bell. And what do you suppose they saw?

A smiling old long-tailed rat ringing the bell! Before him on the ground were spread thousands of wonderful Christmas gifts, and above them was the sign:

Good will toward men.
Merry Christmas to All!
From Mr Longtail

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Lights On The Christmas Tree

(By Florence Page Jaques)

Once the Christmas Tree lights were not lights at all. They were the colours in the rainbow. Just a perfectly good rainbow - the kind you see in the sky after a rain! And when Santa Claus made the very first Christmas tree, it was easy to see that he needed a rainbow for a decoration. Because all the decorations he had were white. He lived in the North Pole then, you know, as he does now, and when he had powdered the tree with snow and hung icicles all over it and tied snowballs on the ends of the branches, he looked at it and said,

"No - it's pretty, but it ought to have some colour on it. It needs some red and green and blue and gold -"

"Oh, Santa Claus," said the Littlest White Bear. "Let's put a rainbow on it!"

"That's just what it needs," Santa Claus agreed. "I'll send the Biggest White Bear to get one."

"Oh," said the Littlest White Bear. He was so disappointed that the tears came to his eyes. "I was the one who thought of the rainbow. I think you might let me find it!"

"All right, then," Santa Claus said kindly. "But you must be very careful. Rainbows are easy to break, you know, and really you are the clumsiest funny little bear."

"Oh, I will be careful," promised the Littlest Bear, and he ran and ran on his fat little legs till he found the most beautiful rainbow. Then he picked it, and hung it over his back and went home to Santa Claus, walking very carefully. He walked safely past the snow fields and safely past the slippery slides, and at last he came to Santa Claus' steps, and saw Santa Claus in the door, waiting for him.

"Hurray!" he laughed, waving his little front paws in triumph. "Here it is!"

And just then both his back feet slipped and - boom!He fell on his back, and the rainbow broke into a thousand pieces.

"Don't cry, don't cry," said Santa Claus, hurrying down the steps. "You aren't hurt!"

"No, but the rainbow is," sobbed the Littlest White Bear, "and I tried so hard to be careful."

"Never mind," said Santa Claus and patted him gently. "We'll put the pieces of the rainbow on the tree."

So they picked up a blue piece and put it here, and they picked up a red piece and put it there, and the Christmas Tree was prettier than if the rainbow had been all together.

"Oh," said the Littlest White Bear, "I'm glad I feel down!"

And ever since then we have had beautiful rainbow-coloured lights on the Chrismas Tree.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Golden Cobwebs

And Old German Folk Tale

The Christmas tree was all trimmed and ready. It stood safely out of sight in a locked room so the children would not see it before it was time.

Just the same many eyes had seen it, standing there all a-glitter. The great green eyes of the black cat had seen it. The blue eyes of the white kitten had seen it. The brown eyes of the brown dog had seen it. And the bright eyes of the canary had seen it.

But all around the house, in the warm corners of the attic, and the dark cool corners of the cellar, and behind the basket of wood near the fireplace, and under the leaf of the plant on the window-sill, and in a crack in the floor behind the umbrella-stand in the hallway - were many, many eyes that had not seen the Christmas tree.

They were the eyes of the little gray spiders, and the little black spiders, and the medium-size brown spiders, and one large orange-and-black spider - a friendly fellow who had gotten into the house by mistake one day last summer and liked it so well he decided to spend the winter.

For a long time now, the spiders had been looking forward to seeing the Christmas tree. But suddenly a great cleaning-up had started all over the house. The big hard broom came flying into corners. The dustcloth flicked furiously everywhere. The scrub-brush went in wet circles across the floor, dripping water into all the cracks. The house was being made clean and shining for the birthday of the Christ Child. And the spiders had to run for their very lives!

The spiders huddled together behind a rafter to talk the whole thing over. Now spiders, as you know, like to see everything, and know just exactly what is going on. Most especially they wanted to see the beautiful Christmas tree.

Suddenly, the little black spider had an idea:

"Let's ask the Christ Child to help us," he said.

"Do you think...?" said the little gray spider.

"Might it be...?" said the medium-sized brown spider.

"But of course He will," said the big orange-and-black spider who knew more about the outside world than the others did.

So the spiders went together to see the Christ Child.

"Dear Christ Child," they said, the little voices and the big voices speaking all at once. "You have seen our webs. You know we love beautiful things. More than anything in the world we want to see the Christmas tree. But we dare not go into the room. The broom and the mop and the dustcloth would be after us if we went anywhere near."

The Christ Child felt sorry for the spiders. So when the family was all away on the day before Christmas, He called to them and told them to go on and look and look and look as long as they liked.

Down the stairway from the attic they came creeping. Up the stairway from the cellar they came creeping. Out of the cracks in the floors, and from under the leaves of the plants, and from behind the woodbasket near the fireplace, and along the walls, and down the halls, they came creeping.

Ever so quietly they came - the little gray spiders, and the little black spiders, and the medium-sized brown spiders. (The big orange-and-black spider had to roll around in some soot in the cellar before he could join the procession, for the other spiders were afraid he was so big and so bright someone might see him coming or going)

When all the spiders came to the Christmas tree, they stood around it in a circle and looked and looked and looked. They had never seen anything half so lovely. Then, altogether they went toward it. They had to see every single bit, every green branch, every tiny sparkling twig, every decoration.

Up and down, in and out, the spiders crept. From trunk to starry tip they went, looking, so that as lon gas they lived they would never forget. They stayed until they had seen all there was to see, you may be sure.

Then, quietly, happily, they went away - back to all their little hiding places.

In the still darkness just before the dawn of Christmas day the Christ Child came to bless the tree for the children. Bit when He looked at it - WHAT DO YOU SUPPOSE? It was covered from its highest branch to its lowest twig with COBWEBS! The silken threads were everywhere, looped in and out and all over the Christmas tree. What could the Christ Child do?He knew that the mother would be very unhappy to see the Christmas tree covered with cobwebs. So He lifted His hand...and turned the cobwebs to gold. Though it was still dark outside it was as if a thousand sunbeams glittered among the branches. And that is the way the Christmas tree came to have golden cobwebs on it.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Under the Little Fir

By Elizabeth Yates

A little fir tree stood on the edge of the woods. It was trimmed - not with tapers and tinsel, but with coconut shells and lumps of suet, while under it were not toys but grains and nuts, greens and crumbs. All day the children had been trimming it, running back and forth between the tree and the house.

Chatting together, they put fingers on their lips for silence as a rustling at the edge of the woods told of furry creatures that might be watching. But perhaps it was only the wind, they whispered, and with a last laughing look ran home across the meadow.

No one came to the little tree until the kind cloak of twilight fell over the world. Then there was a stirring in the bushes. Shy animals, whose tiny movements were muffled by the light snow, stole from their secret places and came hastening to the dark shelter of the little fir.

The rabbit was the first to arrive. Hopping over the snow, he sat on his haunches under the tree and looked around him, whiskers twitching as he saw a long carrot hanging from a branch and a bundle of crisp green spinach.

"Hello," he said quickly, as a squirrel leaped over the snow to chuckle with delight at a pile of nuts. Then a stately pheasant approached the grain. A sound of small twigs snapping caused the creatures to look up, interested but not alarmed.

"Is there anything for me?" the deer asked, wide eyes peering from the screen of brush.

"Some hay," the squirrel said, jumping from a low branch into the sweet prickly mound.

Gracefully the deer stepped out of the wood and thrust her nose into the hay, giving the squirrel a playful toss.

Munching and stamping, chuckling and clucking, the animals feasted while the stars came out in the sky and shone through the branches of the little fir tree.

Then the wind brought a sudden scent.

The deer shot her nose into the air and stood quivering, tiptoe to run. The squirrel darted higher up the tree. The pheasant rustled his wings for flight. The little rabbit sat with ears and nose trembling - while a dark low form moved out of the forest, crouching low to the ground. Nearer and nearer the fox came to the tree while the little creatures' hearts beat fast with fear.

Scurrying over the snow from the house came the mouse. "I'm sorry to be late," he cried in a high voice quite out of breath, "but the children were telling stories by the fire and I crept from my hole to listen - why, what's the matter?"

"It's Fox," the rabbit whispered. "She wants to join us, but if she comes any nearer we must run."

The mouse looked startled, then he smiled, showing his little fine white teeth. "I'm not afraid - nor need any of you be."

"But, Mouse," the squirrel chattered from safety at the top of the fir, "we've always run from Fox. Our fathers and grandfathers did, too," he added a bit proudly.

"Oh, but not on Christmas Eve," the mouse answered quickly, flicking his ears and his wiry tail.

"What's Christmas Eve?" the creatures cried.

"A time when everyone loves and no one fears," the mouse replied, while Fox crept closer and closer, her long tail dragging over the snow.

"Tonight we should wish each other good cheer and show each other our love. For, on this same night long ago, a baby was born in a stable - " Mouse spoke very slowly, - "a baby who was the King of Love. A great ox stood near, warming the air with his breath, and a little gray ass who had carried the mother all that day, while high in the rafters white doves cooed softly." The mouse hesitated. No sound came from the group around him but eyes grown big with wonder were fast upon him.

"Out on the hillside," he went on, "there were shepherds watching over their sheep. Far away, three kings rode on their camels through the night. They had seen a star in the east, a star that had come to rest over a stable. Following it, they knew they would find one who was a King of kings. From the starry sky angels sang their joyous song. 'Fear not,' they said, while men and animals trusted one another.

"The shephers came to the stable and knelt before the babe. And the kings came, kneeling before him and spreading the rich gifts they had brought upon the yellow straw. The ox and the ass bowed their heads, while out in the dark the gray sheep clustered together, dropping on their knees as had the camels on their.

"Then a little boy came to the stable. In his arms he carried a tiny lamb. Creeping close to the babe, he laid the lamb in the straw beside him. The baby smiled and put forth his hand, stroking the wrinkled face of the little lamb. More than all the gifts the kings had brought, he loved the small creature who was gentle and harmless as himself."

"Why was the baby a King?" the squirrel questioned.

Mouse looked puzzled. "I don't quite know." Then he smiled. "But I think it must have been because he brought love to the world, and shepherds and kings and all creatures knew that one day Love would rule the world. So they bowed to the child. And on that night when he was born, no living thing knew fear."

"Never have I heard such a story. How did you come to know it, Mouse?" the deer asked softly.

"It is the Christmas story," the mouse answered simply. "I peeped from my hole and heard them tell it in the house and if it is true for children around a fire, it must also be true for animals under the stars."

Heads began to nod and small paws flutter in cheerful agreement when a low, lonely voice quite close by said, "And if it is true on one night, can't it be true eery night?"

"Oh, Fox!" the creatures cried, love and sympathy for the sad, hunted animal suddenly welling up in their eager hearts. Quickly they made an opening in their circle that the dark one might slip in among them.

Deer made the first move. Thrusting her nose into the tree, she nibbled free the lump of suet and tossed it to the fox. Squirrel dashed down the trunk and sat watching Fox eat. Pheasant walked around Fox, admiring her lovely red coat, while Rabbit hopped over and drew Fox into conversation, and Mouse sat under the tree nibbling one crumb, then another.

Chattering and crunching, the animals took their fill, then Fox said suddenly, "I shall make a mark in the snow to tell the children how grateful I am for all this night has meant."

"So shall I," the others cried, "so shall I."

Forming a circle with Fox, leading, the animals made their marks on the snow - marks of paw and claw and hoof and sweep of bushy tail, while Mouse ran about them, tying them together with the lacy imprint of his tiny feet.

Off in the house across the meadow, the children looked from their window and wondered if the forest creatures had come to the tree for their Christmas.

Under the low-hanging branches they thought they almost saw dark forms moving. But perhaps it was only the wind.

The children drew the curtains and ran off to bed, while over the snow the animals raced to burrow and forest brush and secret hole. And the stars shone through the fir on the little marks on the snow under its dark branches.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

In the Bleak Midwinter

What then can I give Him
Empty as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would know my part
What then can I give Him
I must give my heart....

Friday, 6 December 2013

Christmas at Plum Creek

When I was little, we loved Little House on the Prairie. And this has to be hands down, one of my favourite Christmas specials.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

What Katy Did At Christmas

"What are the children all doing to-day?" said Katy laying down "Norway and the Norwegians," which she was reading for the fourth time; "I haven't seen them since breakfast."

Aunt Izzie, who was sewing on the other side of the room, looked up from her work.

"I don't know," she said, "they're over at Cecy's, or somewhere. They'll be back before long, I guess."

Her voice sounded a little odd and mysterious, but Katy didn't notice it.

"I thought of such a nice plan yesterday," she went on. "That was that all of them should hang their stockings up here to-morrow night instead of in the nursery. Then I could see them open their presents, you know. Mayn't they, Aunt Izzie? It would be real fun."

"I don't believe there will be any objection," replied her aunt. She looked as if she were trying not to laugh. Katy wondered what was the matter with her.

It was more than two months now since Cousin Helen went away, and Winter had fairly come. Snow was falling out-doors. Katy could see the thick flakes go whirling past the window, but the sight did not chill her. It only made the room look warmer and more cosy. It was a pleasant room now. There was a bright fire in the grate. Everything was neat and orderly, the air was sweet with mignonette, from a little glass of flowers which stood on the table, and the Katy who lay in bed, was a very different-looking Katy from the forlorn girl of the last chapter.

Cousin Helen's visit, though it lasted only one day, did great good. Not that Katy grew perfect all at once. None of us do that, even in books. But it is everything to be started in the right path. Katy's feet were on it now; and though she often stumbled and slipped, and often sat down discouraged, she kept on pretty steadily, in spite of bad days, which made her say to herself that she was not getting forward at all.

These bad days, when everything seemed hard, and she herself was cross and fretful, and drove the children out of her room, cost Katy many bitter tears. But after them she would pick herself up, and try again, and harder. And I think that in spite of drawbacks, the little scholar, on the whole, was learning her lesson pretty well.

Cousin Helen was a great comfort all this time. She never forgot Katy. Nearly every week some little thing came from her. Sometimes it was a pencil note, written from her sofa. Sometimes it was an interesting book, or a new magazine, or some pretty little thing for the room. The crimson wrapper which Katy wore was one of her presents, so were the bright chromos of Autumn leaves which hung on the wall, the little stand for the books—all sorts of things. Katy loved to look about her as she lay. All the room seemed full of Cousin Helen and her kindness.

"I wish I had something pretty to put into everybody's stocking," she went on, wistfully; "but I've only got the muffetees for Papa, and these reins for Phil." She took them from under her pillow as she spoke—gay worsted affairs, with bells sewed on here and there. She had knit them herself, a very little bit at a time.

"There's my pink sash," she said suddenly, "I might give that to Clover. I only wore it once, you know, and I don't think I got any spots on it. Would you please fetch it and let me see, Aunt Izzie? It's in the top drawer."

Aunt Izzie brought the sash. It proved to be quite fresh, and they both decided that it would do nicely for Clover.

"You know I shan't want sashes for ever so long," said Katy, in rather a sad tone, "And this is a beauty."

When she spoke next, her voice was bright again.

"I wish I had something real nice for Elsie. Do you know, Aunt Izzie—I think Elsie is the dearest little girl that ever was."

"I'm glad you've found it out," said Aunt Izzie, who had always been specially fond of Elsie.

"What she wants most of all is a writing-desk," continued Katy. "And Johnnie wants a sled. But, oh dear! these are such big things. And I've only got two dollars and a quarter."

Aunt Izzie marched out of the room without saying anything. When she came back she had something folded up in her hand.

"I didn't know what to give you for Christmas, Katy," she said, "because Helen sends you such a lot of things that there don't seem to be anything you haven't already. So I thought I'd give you this, and let you choose for yourself. But if you've set your heart on getting presents for the children, perhaps you'd rather have it now." So saying, Aunt Izzie laid on the bed a crisp, new five-dollar bill!

"How good you are!" cried Katy, flushed with pleasure. And indeed Aunt Izzie did seem to have grown wonderfully good of late. Perhaps Katy had got hold of her smooth handle!

Being now in possession of seven dollars and a quarter, Katy could afford to be gorgeously generous. She gave Aunt Izzie an exact description of the desk she wanted.

"It's no matter about its being very big," said Katy, "but it must have a blue velvet lining, and an inkstand, with a silver top. And please buy some little sheets of paper and envelopes, and a pen-handle; the prettiest you can find. Oh! and there must be a lock and key. Don't forget that, Aunt Izzie."

"No, I won't. What else?"

"I'd like the sled to be green," went on Katy, "and to have a nice name. Sky-Scraper would be nice, if there was one. Johnnie saw a sled once called Sky-Scraper, and she said it was splendid. And if there's money enough left, Aunty, won't you buy me a real nice book for Dorry, and another for Cecy, and a silver thimble for Mary? Her old one is full of holes. Oh! and some candy. And something for Debby and Bridget—some little thing, you know. I think that's all!"

Was ever seven dollars and a quarter expected to do so much? Aunt Izzie must have been a witch, indeed, to make it hold out. But she did, and next day all the precious bundles came home. How Katy enjoyed untying the strings!

Everything was exactly right.

"There wasn't any Sky-Scraper," said Aunt Izzie, "so I got
'Snow-Skimmer' instead."

"It's beautiful, and I like it just as well," said Katy contentedly.

"Oh, hide them, hide them!" she cried with sudden terror, "somebody's coming." But the somebody was only Papa, who put his head into the room as Aunt Izzie, laden with bundles, scuttled across the hall.

Katy was glad to catch him alone. She had a little private secret to talk over with him. It was about Aunt Izzie, for whom she, as yet, had no present.

"I thought perhaps you'd get me a book like that one of Cousin Helen's, which Aunt Izzie liked so much," she said. "I don't recollect the name exactly. It was something about a Shadow. But I've spent all my money."

"Never mind about that," said Dr. Carr. "We'll make that right. 'The Shadow of the Cross'—was that it? I'll buy it this afternoon."

"Oh, thank you, Papa! And please get a brown cover, if you can, because Cousin Helen's was brown. And you won't let Aunt Izzie know, will you? Be careful, Papa!"

"I'll swallow the book first, brown cover and all," said Papa, making a funny face. He was pleased to see Katy so interested about anything again.

These delightful secrets took up so much of her thoughts, that Katy scarcely found time to wonder at the absence of the children, who generally haunted her room, but who for three days back had hardly been seen. However, after supper they all came up in a body, looking very merry, and as if they had been having a good time somewhere.

"You don't know what we've been doing," began Philly.

"Hush, Phil!" said Clover, in a warning voice. Then she divided the stockings which she held in her hand. And everybody proceeded to hang them up.

Dorry hung his on one side of the fireplace, and John hers exactly opposite. Clover and Phil suspended theirs side by side, on two handles of the bureau.

"I'm going to put mine here, close to Katy, so that she can see it the first fing in the mornin'," said Elsie, pinning hers to the bed-post.

Then they all sat down round the fire to write their wishes on bits of paper, and see whether they would burn, or fly up the chimney. If they did the latter, it was a sign that Santa Claus had them safe, and would bring the things wished for.

John wished for a sled and a doll's tea-set, and the continuation of the Swiss Family Robinson. Dorry's list ran thus:

"A plum-cake,
A new Bibel,
Harry and Lucy,
A Kellidescope,
Everything else Santa Claus likes."

When they had written these lists they threw them into the fire. The fire gave a flicker just then, and the papers vanished. Nobody saw exactly how. John thought they flew up chimney, but Dorry said they didn't. Phil dropped his piece in very solemnly. It flamed for a minute, then sank into ashes.

"There, you won't get it, whatever it was!" said Dorry. "What did you write, Phil?"

"Nofing," said Phil, "only just Philly Carr."

The children shouted.

"I wrote 'a writing-desk' on mine," remarked Elsie, sorrowfully, "but it all burned up."

Katy chuckled when she heard this.

And now Clover produced her list. She read aloud:

"'Strive and Thrive,'
A pair of kid gloves,
A muff,
A good temper!"

Then she dropped it into the fire. Behold, it flew straight up chimney.

"How queer!" said Katy; "none of the rest of them did that."

The truth was, that Clover, who was a canny little mortal, had slipped across the room and opened the door just before putting her wishes in. This, of course, made a draft, and sent the paper right upward.

Pretty soon Aunt Izzie came in and swept them all off to bed.

"I know how it will be in the morning," she said, "you'll all be up and racing about as soon as it is light. So you must get your sleep now, if ever."

After they had gone, Katy recollected that nobody had offered to hang a stocking up for her. She felt a little hurt when she thought of it. "But I suppose they forgot," she said to herself.

A little later Papa and Aunt Izzie came in, and they filled the stockings. It was great fun. Each was brought to Katy, as she lay in bed, that she might arrange it as she liked.

The toes were stuffed with candy and oranges. Then came the parcels, all shapes and sizes, tied in white paper, with ribbons, and labelled.

"What's that?" asked Dr. Carr, as Aunt Izzie rammed a long, narrow package into Clover's stocking.

"A nail-brush," answered Aunt Izzie. "Clover needed a new one."

How Papa and Katy laughed! "I don't believe Santa Claus ever had such a thing before," said Dr. Carr.

"He's a very dirty old gentleman, then," observed Aunt Izzie, grimly.

The desk and sled were too big to go into any stocking, so they were wrapped in paper and hung beneath the other things. It was ten o'clock before all was done, and Papa and Aunt Izzie went away. Katy lay a long time watching the queer shapes of the stocking-legs as they dangled in the firelight. Then she fell asleep.

It seemed only a minute, before something touched her and woke her up. Behold, it was day-time, and there was Philly in his nightgown, climbing up on the bed to kiss her! The rest of the children, half dressed, were dancing about with their stockings in their hands.

"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" they cried. "Oh, Katy, such beautiful, beautiful things!"

"Oh!" shrieked Elsie, who at that moment spied her desk, "Santa Claus did bring it, after all! Why, it's got 'from Katy' written on it! Oh, Katy, it's so sweet, and I'm so happy!" and Elsie hugged Katy, and sobbed for pleasure.

But what was that strange thing beside the bed! Katy stared, and rubbed her eyes. It certainly had not been there when she went to sleep. How had it come?

It was a little evergreen tree planted in a red flower-pot. The pot had stripes of gilt paper stuck on it, and gilt stars and crosses, which made it look very gay. The boughs of the tree were hung with oranges, and nuts, and shiny red apples, and pop-corn balls, and strings of bright berries. There were also a number of little packages tied with blue and crimson ribbon, and altogether the tree looked so pretty, that Katy gave a cry of delighted surprise.

"It's a Christmas-tree for you, because you're sick, you know!" said the children, all trying to hug her at once.

"We made it ourselves," said Dorry, hopping about on one foot; "I pasted the black stars on the pot."

"And I popped the corn!" cried Philly.

"Do you like it?" asked Elsie, cuddling close to Katy. "That's my present—that one tied with a green ribbon. I wish it was nicer! Don't you want to open 'em right away?"

Of course Katy wanted to. All sorts of things came out of the little bundles. The children had arranged every parcel themselves. No grown person had been allowed to help in the least.

Elsie's present was a pen-wiper, with a gray flannel kitten on it. Johnnie's, a doll's tea-tray of scarlet tin.

"Isn't it beau-ti-ful?" she said, admiringly.

Dorry's gift, I regret to say, was a huge red-and-yellow spider, which whirred wildly when waved at the end of its string.

"They didn't want me to buy it," said he, "but I did! I thought it would amoose you. Does it amoose you, Katy?"

"Yes, indeed," said Katy, laughing and blinking as Dorry waved the spider to and fro before her eyes.

"You can play with it when we ain't here and you're all alone, you know," remarked Dorry, highly gratified.

"But you don't notice what the tree's standing upon," said Clover.

It was a chair, a very large and curious one, with a long-cushioned back, which ended in a footstool.

"That's Papa's present," said Clover; "see, it tips back so as to be just like a bed. And Papa says he thinks pretty soon you can lie on it, in the window, where you can see us play."

"Does he really?" said Katy, doubtfully. It still hurt her very much to be touched or moved.

"And see what's tied to the arm of the chair," said Elsie.

It was a little silver bell, with "Katy" engraved on the handle.

"Cousin Helen sent it. It's for you to ring when you want anybody to come," explained Elsie.

More surprises. To the other arm of the chair was fastened a beautiful book. It was "The Wide Wide World"—and there Was Katy's name written on it, 'from her affectionate Cecy.' On it stood a great parcel of dried cherries from Mrs. Hall. Mrs. Hall had the most delicious dried cherries, the children thought.

"How perfectly lovely everybody is!" said Katy, with grateful tears in her eyes.

That was a pleasant Christmas. The children declared it to be the nicest they had ever had. And though Katy couldn't quite say that, she enjoyed it too, and was very happy.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Let All The World Be Still

What would Christmas be without my favourite boy band? Just watch this...the cathedral, the soft candlelight, their voices rising like angels... the words.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Christmas Apple

Once upon a time there lived in the city of Tyrol a little clock-maker by the name of Hermann Joseph. He lived in one little room with a bench for his work, and a chest for his wood, and his tools, and a cupboard for dishes, and a trundle bed under the bench. Besides these there was a stool, and that was all, excepting the clocks.

There were hundreds of clocks: little and big, carved and plain, some with wooden faces and some with porcelain ones – shelf clocks, cuckoo clocks, clocks with chimes and clocks without and they all hung on the walls, covering them quite up. In front of his one little window there was a little shelf, and on this Hermann put all his best clocks to show the passer-bys. Often they would stop and look and someone would say, “See, Hermann Joseph has made a new clock. It is finer than any of the rest!”

Then if it happened that anybody was wanting a clock he would come in and buy it.

I said Hermann was a little clockmaker. That was because his back was bent and his legs were crooked, making him very short and funny to look at. But there was no kinder face than his in all the city, and the children loved him. Whenever a toy was broken or a doll had lost an arm or a leg or an eye its careless mother would carry it straight to Hermann’s little shop.

“The little one needs mending,” she would say. “Can you do it now for me?”

And whatever work Hermann was doing, he would always put it aside to mend the broken toy or doll, and never a penny would he take for the mending.

“Go put it by till Christmas-time,” he would always say.

Now it was the custom, in that long ago for those who lived in the city to bring gifts to the great cathedral on Christmas and lay them before the Holy Mother and Child. People saved all through the year that they might have something wonderful to bring on that day; and there was a saying among them that when a gift was brought that pleased the Christ Child more than any other He would reach down from Mary’s arms and take it.

This was but a saying, of course. Old Mr Graff, the oldest man in the city could not remember that it had ever really happened; and there were many who laughed at the very idea. But children often talked about it, and poets made beautiful verses about it; and often when a rich gift was placed beside the altar the watchers would whisper among themselves, “Perhaps now we shall see the miracle.”

Those who had no gifts to bring went to the cathedral just the same on Christmas Eve to see the gifts of the others and hear the carols and watch the burning of the waxen tapers. The little clockmaker was one of these. Often, he was stopped and someone would ask, “How is it that you never bring a gift?” Once the Bishop himself questioned him: “Poorer than thou have brought offerings to the Child. Where is thy gift?”

Then it was that Hermann had answered: “Wait; you shall see. I, too, shall bring a gift someday.”

The truth of it was that the little clockmaker was so busy giving things away all the year that there was never anything left at Christmas-time. But he had a wonderful idea on which he was working every minute that he could spare from his clocks. It had taken him years and years; no one knew anything about it but Trude, his neighbour’s daughter, and Trude had grown from a baby into a little house-mother, and still the gift was not finished.

It was to be a clock, the most wonderful and beautiful clock ever made; every part of it to be fashioned with loving care. The case, the works, the weights, the hands, and the face had all taken years of labour. He had spent years carving the case and hands, years perfecting the works; and now Hermann saw that with a little more haste and time he could finish it for the coming Christmas.

He mended the children’s toys as before, but he gave up making his regular clocks, so there were fewer to sell, and often his cupboard was empty and he went supperless to bed. But that only made him a little thinner and his face a little kinder; and meantime the gift clock become more and more beautiful.

It was fashioned after a rude stable with rafters and a small crib. The Holy Mother knelt beside the manger in which a tiny Christ child lay, while through the open door the hours came. Three were kings and three were shepherds and three were soldiers and three were angels; and when the hours struck, they knelt in adoration before the sleeping Child, while the silver chimes played the “Magnificat.”

“You see,” said the clock-maker to Trude, “it is not just on Sundays and holidays that we should remember to worship the Christ Child and bring Him gifts – but every day, every hour.”

The days went by like clouds scudding before a winter wind and the clock was finished at last. So happy was Hermann with his work that he put the gift clock on the shelf before the little window to show the passers-by. There were crowds looking at it all day long, and many would whisper, “Do you think this can be the gift Hermann has spoken of – his offering on Christmas Eve to the Church?”

The day before Christmas came Hermann cleaned up his little shop, wound all his clocks, brushed his clothes, and then went over the gift clock again to be sure everything was perfect.

“It will not look bad beside the other gifts,” he thought happily. In fact he was so happy that he gave away all but one penny to the blind beggar who passed his door and then, remembering that he had eaten nothing since breakfast, he spent that last penny on a Christmas apple to eat with a crust of bread he had. He was putting them in a cupboard to eat after he was dressed, when the door opened and Trude was standing there crying.

“Child, child, what is the matter?” And he gathered her into his arms.

“’Tis father. He is hurt, and all the money that was put by for the tree and sweets and toys has gone to the doctor. And now, how can I tell the children? Already they have lighted the candle at the window and are waiting for Kris Kringle to come.”
The clock-maker laughed merrily.

“Come, come, little one, all will be well. Hermann will sell a clock for you. Some house in the city must need a clock; and in a wink we shall have enough money for the tree and the toys. Go home and sing.”

He buttoned on his greatcoat and, picking out the best of the old clocks, he went out. He went first to the rich merchants, but their houses were full of clocks; then to the journeymen, but they said his clock was old fashioned. He even stood on the corner of the streets and in the square, crying, “A clock – a good clock for sale,” but no one paid any attention to him. At last he gathered up his courage and went to the richest man in the city.

“Will your Excellency buy a clock?” he said, trembling at his own boldness. “I would not ask, but it is Christmas and I am needing to buy happiness for some children.” The rich man smiled.

“Yes, I will buy a clock, but not that one. I will pay a thousand dollars for the clock you have had in your window these four days past.”

“But, your Excellency, that is impossible!” And poor Hermann trembled harder than ever.

“Poof! Nothing is impossible. That clock or none. Go home and I will send for it in half an hour, and pay you the thousand dollars.”

The little clock-maker stumbled out.

“Anything but that – anything but that!” he kept mumbling over and over to himself on his way home. But as he passed the neighbour’s house he saw the children at the window with their lighted candle and he heard Trude singing.

And so it happened that the servant who came for the rich man carried the gift clock away with him. But the clockmaker would take but five of the thousand dollars in payment. And as the servant disappeared up the street the chimes commenced to ring from the great cathedral, and the streets suddenly became noisy with the many people going thither, bearing the Christmas offerings.

“I have gone empty-handed before,” said the little clockmaker, sadly. “I can go empty-handed once again.” And again he buttoned up his greatcoat.

As he turned to shut his cupboard door behind him his eyes fell on the Christmas apple and an odd little smile crept into the corners of this mouth and lighted his eyes.

“It is all I have – my dinner for two days. I will carry that to the Christ Child. It is better, after all, than going empty-handed.”

How full of peace and beauty was the great cathedral when Hermann entered it! There were a thousand tapers burning and everywhere the sweet scent of the Christmas greens – and the laden altar before the Holy Mother and Child.

There were richer gifts than had been brought for many years: marvelously wrought vessels from the greatest silversmiths; cloth of gold and cloth of silk brought from the East by the merchants; poets had brought their songs illuminated on rolls of heavy parchment; painters had brought their pictures of saints and the Holy Family; even the King himself had brought his crown and sceptre to lay before the Child. And after all these offerings came the little clockmaker, walking slowly down the long, dim aisle, holding tightly to his Christmas apple.

The people saw him and a murmur hummed a moment indistinctly through the church and then grew clear and articulate:

“Shame! See, he is too mean to bring his clock! He hoards it as a miser hoards his gold. See what he brings? Shame!”

The words reached Hermann and he stumbled on blindly, his head dropped forward on his breast, his hands groping the way. The distance seemed interminable. Now he knew he was past the seats; his feet touched the first step, and there were seven to climb to the altar. Would his feet never reach the top?

“One, two, three,” he counted to himself, then tripped and almost fell. “Four, five, six.” He was nearly there. There was but one more.

The murmur of shame died away and in its place rose one of wonder and awe. Soon the words became intelligible:

“The miracle! It is the miracle!”

The people knelt in the big cathedral; the Bishop raised his hands in prayer. And the little clockmaker, stumbling to the last step, looked up through dim eyes and saw the Child leaning towards him, far down from Mary’s arms, with hands outstretched to take his gift.

-Ruth Sawyer-

Monday, 2 December 2013

Donde Esta Santa Claus

You would have had to be a kid in the 70s to recognise this song. We used to play it on the car radio on the way back from Johor, after Christmas, when we were going to KL and school, trying to squeeze out the last few Christmassy feelings. Reminds me of my Mum. Everything does.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Christmas Tree in the Woods

So it's that time of the year again, when I update this blog every day for a month. Because I love Christmas. My mother died this year, which makes me remember Christmases of times past, actually, Christmases when I was a little kid, running in and out of the big house in Johor (where we always went for holidays), smelling the cookies baking, the smells I came to link with Christmas and that excitement, just the freshness deep down everything. I couldn't know of course that that freshness had more to do with age, and less to do with smells. I tried to recreate those feelings by filling my one and only apartment with the smells of baking (and did I bake me up a storm). No cigar. I guess, some things are lost in the fastnesses of time. But, there are the stories...and this month, I will try to have one children's Christmas story every day. Let's see how long I last, hey?

By Susan Smith

It had begun to snow the very first day of the holidays. Mark and Margot, sitting in the train with their father and mother, on the way up to their farmhouse in Maine, jumped up and down with joy. The white smoke blew out over the frosty fields as the train made its way through dark, quiet woods of pine and hemlock and fir, and past frozen streams where brown oak leaves whirled along the edge of the shore in the snow eddies.

"Now we can slide on the long hill," said Mark.

"Mr. Simpson will meet us with the red sleigh," said Margot, "and the sleigh bells will make that nice cold noise."

Mr. Simpson ran the farm for the family in the summer and took care of all the farm animals for them in the winter. He knew how to do all sorts of wonderful things, like transplanting big apple trees, with the earth frozen hard around their roots so that they never knew they had been moved.

There he was at the station, with the red sleigh and the two big black farm horses. Mark and Margot got in and sat beside him on the front seat; their father and mother sat behind. The two dogs, Miranda, a very old Airedale, and Sailor, a very curly sheepdog, ran along beside the sleigh and fell into the snow drifts.

"We'll have snow for the Christmas tree," said Mark to Mr. Simpson.

"Looks like it," said Mr Simpson. "We've got a lot of brush to burn before then."

"We'll help you," said the children.

When they drove up to their house which stood on the top of a high hill, it was just getting dark. The snow was blowing past the lighted window panes,and all the fields where Mr. Simpson and the other men had cut the hay and oats and wheat and barley in summer were now drifted smooth and white. The path to the house, that had been shovelled only an hour before, was blurred with fresh snow. Indoors, a big birch log fire was burning in the living room; the flames were clear and bright because the wood had been cut the year before and dried in the shed.

All night it snowed, and the wind piled the drifts over the fields like big white waves. But in the morning the sun was bright in a blue sky, and a chickadee sang in the whitened twigs of the bare lilac bush at the kitchen door. Mr Simpson was shovelling the path again and Mark and Margot got their shovels from the woodshed and helped him.

They shovelled a path from the house to the barn and then they rested awhile and sat in a sunny patch on the barn floor with the dogs Miranda and Sailor. The barn smelled very good of hay and animals. Jim and Nellie, the two black farm horses, were eating their breakfast. In the next stalls, Star and Bright, the big red and white oxen, where whiffling and munching. Caesar, the goat, and Major, the little gray donkey with the black cross on his back, came clattering through the barn doorway when they heard the children talking. Caesar stood up on his hind legs and butted them with his curly horns to show how glad he was to see them, and Major poked his little black wet nose into their hands.

"Get your skis on now," said Mr. Simpson. "We're going to the woods."

He walked ahead with an axe over his shoulder, Mark and Margot came next, on their skis, and Caesar and Major followed on behind them. Sailor thought they might find a rabbit. Miranda, although she knew perfectly well they wouldn't, ran ahead with him, just to show him that she wasn't so old after all.

"I picked out the best tree this year that we've ever had," said Mr. Simpson. "It's straight as a mast, and every branch is even all around."

Mark and Margot stood looking at the tree, while Mr. Simpson began clearing away the small dead trees and the fallen branches near it. It was so tall and straight and beautiful that they could hardly wait for Christmas Eve to see it covered with shining gold and silver balls and lighted candles.

Mr. Simpson had a huge fire going now, and Mark and Margot dragged dead branches from everywhere and piled them on it. The hot yellow flames shot up crackling, and the smoke was pale blue against the dark tree tops. The snow melted around the edges of the fire, and Sailor dug a deep hole in the wet pine needles there. He put his nose into it and blew and puffed so much that he made Miranda believe he had found a woodchuck, though of course he had not.

It was noon before they knew it, and time for Mr. Simpson to go home to dinner. The children stayed by the fire for their mother had promised them a snow picnic. Soon they heard her coming along the path, and Miranda and Sailor rushed out to meet her and fell over her skis and nearly tripped her up they were so glad to see her.

It was a wonderful picnic - sausages and fried apples cooked in an iron skillet over the fire, and hot chocolate and jam sandwiches made with some of Mrs. Simpson's delicious plum jam. and a dog biscuit apiece for Sailor and Miranda.

Every day of the week before Christmas the children went out on their skis and helped. The big tree stood at last in the center of a cleared circle and its long even branches swept the ground. The day before Christmas was mild and sunny and the snow melted just enough to show the little green spikes of princess pine and the gray moss with red blossoms.

Mark and Margot worked all the afternoon, helping trim the great tree. Their mother stood on a tall farm ladder, and hung the shining balls and stars on the tree. Mr. Simpson was the only one who was tall enough to put the big blue-and-silver star on the very tip top.

In the depths of the woods, where the snow had not melted, the fir trees, their branches heavy with white fans of snow, stood like great white birds sleeping with their heads under their wings. But the fires had melted all the snow from the beautiful green branches of the Christmas tree in the center of the circle. Mr. Simpson had dragged out the great pine roots that had been drying all summer in a new field he had ploughed, and now he threw them on top of the blazing pine and hemlock branches, so that the fires would burn for hours.

All the way out to the wood and along the path through them, the children had hung Chinese lanterns. When it was really dark, at five o'clock, and the first stars were coming out, they lighted the lanterns. Some were pink, some yellow, and some green, and there were some beautiful white melon-shaped ones. Then the children and their father and mother walked in from the woods to the barn where the guests were beginning to arrive. The barn smelled richly sweet of hay and animals, and the light of the stable lanterns hanging from the beams shone on the fragrant golden hay that brimmed over from the filled lofts above.

When all the guests were there, everyone started out for the tree. Mark and Margot came last of all with the two dogs and the donkey and Margot's pet lamb, who had grown very big since summer but who followed her just as he used to when he was tiny.

In the circle around the tree the seven great fires were blazing, and the smoke, which had looked so blue against the trees in daylight, was pink and orange now, with gold sparks that shot up to the sky like fireworks. The flames were reflected in the silver balls on the Christmas tree and on the glittering tinsel stars. Lighted candles burned on every branch and in the open space of sky above the tree, a bright star shone.

Everyone stood in the bright warm circle of firelight around the tree and sang carols. They began with "Good King Wenceslaus:"

Good King Wenceslaus looked out,
On the even of Stephen,
When the snow lay all about,
Deep and crisp and even.

After singing all the stanzas of that they sang "We Three Kings of Orient Are" and "Silent Night!"

Silent night, holy night,
All is still, all is bright.

As they were singing, there was a sound of something coming slowly through the woods. The branches of the trees along the wide path shook and parted, and a yoke of oxen swayed into the circle. They were pulling a big sledge covered with green branches and red berries, and the sledge was piled high with packages in the bright-colored papers. The beautiful red and white oxen looked like fairy cattle. Their yoke was silver, and the big ring that hung down from it was silver too. Between their broad shining silver horns glittered big star-shaped tinsel flowers, shining like magic against the dark trees. Good St. Nicholas with his long white beard walked beside them, his red cloak trimmed with white fur.

"Gee his," said St. Nicholas, sounding very much like Mr. Simpson who had been at the party a moment before but now was nowhere to be seen. The big oxen stood quietly in the firelight looking about with their gentle dark eyes and nudging each other with their moist pale pink noses.

"Let's sing one more carol before we open the presents," said the children's mother. They all stood near the tree, facing the shining oxen. But suddenly, before they began another song, they saw a guest who had come last of all.

"It's the baby from the next farm!" cried the children.

On the farm next to theirs a family had settled the year before, a man and his wife and a tiny little boy. No one knew where they came from; they were shy and kept to themselves, for they spoke very little English. When they were asked to come to the Christmas tree, they only smiled and shook their heads.

But when Mr. Simpson had run back to hitch up his silver-horned oxen, he had found the little boy, with his father, waiting at the barn to speak to him. He had picked up the baby and put him on the sledge to drive out and see the tree, and just as they got there, the child climbed down to walk beside him. Now, at the sound of singing, he came out of the shadows and stood in front of the oxen, his blue eyes laughing and his curly rumpled hair like a light around his head in the warm golden firelight with the black trees and the shining dark-eyed cattle behind him. In the sky overhead hung the bright steady star.

The lamb and the donkey came and stood by the child and he put a hand on each of them.

"What's your name, little boy?" asked Margot's mother, as people always ask children. She smiled at him, but he did not answer, and Margot's father lifting him up on the sledge, said:

"We are called by His name,
Thou a child, and I a lamb."

"We must find him some presents," cried the children. They brought him peppermint sticks and colored balls and a white wooly lamb that he liked so much that he laughed out loud when he saw it. And a music box that made a lovely tinkly sound like icicles. The oxen were unhooked from the sledge and stood behind him, their breath white in the frosty air, and the donkey and the lamb nuzzled against him. The baby sat smiling in the sledge while they all brought him their gifts.

They sang a carol just for him - the Christmas hymn that Martin Luther wrote so long ago for his own children:

Away in a manger
No crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head.

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus
No crying he makes.

I love thee, Lord Jesus,
Look down where I lie,
And stay by my cradle,
To watch lullaby.

Then everyone had a cup of hot soup from the big kettle that was steaming over one of the fires, and they hooked the oxen to the sledge again and drove back to the house. At the big barn the little boy's father was waiting for him. The moon had risen over the long white hills now and hung huge and golden in the blue night sky.

"Let's drive him back to his house," said the children. Then with St. Nicholas guiding the oxen, they walked along the white road, singing:

The first Noel, the angels did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay,
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel - Born is the King of Israel.

So they took the child home to his mother, who was waiting at the door of their little house. Candles were lighted in all the little square window panes, and smoke rose straight up from the big chimney in the middle. Above the wild bare branches of the elm tree by the door stood the bright steady star.

They wished their neighbors a Merry Christmas and left all the baby's presents for him in a big basket wound with ribbons. He sat in the crook of his mother's arm, with his father standing beside them in the brightly lighted door, and watched them as they went home down the snowy road. As they walked behind the silver-horned oxen in the soft moonlight they sang the gay old Christmass carol that sounded like sleigh bells:

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day.

The moon was very bright now, and the sky so blue that only the star over the little house was still golden. As they turned into their own dooryard from the road, the last words welled joyously from their hearts:

O tidings of comfort and joy-
Tidings of comfort and joy.