December 22

What It Means to be a Christian on Christmas Eve

Ezra Taft Benson

Being a Christian means to do what Christ would do, even when it is not convenient.

There was a little crippled boy who ran a small newsstand in a crowded railroad station. He must have been about twelve years old. Every day he would sell papers, candy, gum and magazines to the thousands of commuters passing through the terminal.
On night two men were rushing through the crowded station to catch a train. One was fifteen or twenty yards in front of the other. It was Christmas Eve. Their train was scheduled to depart in a matter of minutes.
The first man turned a corner and in his haste to get home to a Christmas party plowed right into the little crippled boy. He knocked him off his stool, and candy, newspapers and gum were scattered everywhere. Without so much as stopping, he cursed the little fellow for being there and rushed on to catch the train that would take him to celebrate Christmas in the way he had chosen for himself.
It was only a matter of seconds before the second commuter arrived on the scene. He stopped, knelt, and gently picked up the boy. After making sure the child was unhurt, the man gathered up the scattered newspapers, sweets and magazines. Then he took his wallet and gave the boy a five dollar bill. “Son,” he said, “I think this will take care of what was lost or soiled. Merry Christmas!”
Without waiting for a reply, the commuter now picked up his briefcase and hurried on his way. As he did, the little crippled boy cupped his hands together and called out, “Mister, Mister!”
The man stopped as the boy asked, “Are you Jesus Christ?”
By the look on his face, it was obvious the man was embarrassed by the question. But he smiled and said, “No, son. I am not Jesus Christ, but I am trying hard to do what He would do if He were here.”
And that, my friend, is what it means to be a Christian, even on Christmas Eve.

Stubby Pringle’s Christmas

December 21

Stubby Pringle’s Christmas

Jack Schaefer

I first read this story in the Readers’ Digest about 1982. It stuck with me over the years. Originally published in 1964, it was picked up by the Readers’ Digest and since has been re-published twice in Boys’ Life, the magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. I have searched to no avail to find a verbatim copy. This version is true to the original, though not all the words are the author’s.

Over a century ago, in the 1890s, the west was still a pretty wild place. Settlers had followed the frontiersmen, but the land was sparsely occupied and towns were few and far between. Cowboys still worked on ranches, driving cattle in the summer over well-worn trails to the stockyards where they were loaded on trains to Chicago, Oklahoma City and other cattle towns. During the winter, these same cowboys lived a life of isolation on the ranches, tending to the cattle through the cold snows, only rarely going to town.
One of these cowboys was Stubby Pringle, a young man of 18 or so. He was called Stubby because he was short. Stubby was one of those perpetually happy people, always a smile on his face and the first to offer a hand to a stranger. Despite his short stature, Stubby had a way with the girls and loved to go to town every chance he got. But Stubby was also a good cow hand. He never shirked his duties and would help another cowboy even after his own chores were finished.
One cold, lonely December on the plains of central Wyoming, Stubby was looking forward to December 24. The town always put on a Christmas Eve dance and Stubby had been planning to go for several weeks. It was the highlight of Christmas for him. Christmas day was just another day to cowboys. The cattle still needed to be watered and fed, calves got lost and had to be found, and there was plenty to do. For a few hours, though, Stubby could forget all that and twirl a young lady or two at the dance. He had his eye on one in particular, and, truth be told, she was looking forward to seeing Stubby as much as he was looking forward to seeing her.
“What d’ya wanna go to town, fer?” Jake teased him. Jake was one of the old cow hands, a rough man who had spent many more than his share of years in the saddle and sleeping on the ground. “You know you can’t leave here till your chores are done,” Jake went on. “And by the time you get to town, it’ll be near 9:00. You’ll have a couple, maybe three hours then you got a long ride back here. You won’t be gittin’ to bed till near 3:00 a.m. and tomorrow’s another day, just like any other. You got to be up by 6:00.”
“I know,” Stubby grinned, “but it’ll be worth it.”
“No woman, nor no number of women, is worth that,” Jake snorted.
“You’re wrong, Jake,” Stubby answered. “The one I have in mind is.”
“Ahh, yer just a young fool,” Jake replied. “One day you’ll come to your senses. While you’re out there in the dark and cold on the back of a horse, I’ll be snug in my bed.”
But Stubby knew that secretly Jake was a softie. Stubby had tried to get Jake to go to the dance with him, but Jake begged off, choosing instead to needle Stubby and sleep.
On December 24, Stubby hurried through his chores so that he had time to take a cold bath and shave. Then, bundling himself up as best he could, he walked out to the stable for his horse, who looked at him quizzically. Why on earth was Stubby going out, the horse seemed to ask. We’ve done our work and it’s time for a warm stall and a bucket of oats. But Stubby swung his leg up over the saddle, dug his heels into the horse’s ribs and pulled hard on the reins. Obediently, the horse turned into the wind and moved slowly west, toward town.
Stubby hunkered down in the saddle, pulled the hat farther over his eyes and tucked his chin into the collar of his sheepskin jacket. Even with his woolen muffler wrapped around his hat, over his ears and under his chin, the wind stung his face. He patted his coat pocket one more time to make sure his Christmas gift to his young lady was there. It wasn’t much, just a piece of calico that he had crudely fashioned into a handerchief, but it was all he had. He had wrapped it in some colored paper he had managed to scrounge up and tied it with a piece of dyed yarn. He knew she would be pleased at the thought.
As Stubby rode on, the sky darkened to a deep blue and finally black. The stars twinkled overhead, the cold, crisp air making them seem even closer. Now the wind had died down somewhat and he could hear the snow crunch under the horse’s hooves. Stubby sunk into his own thoughts, faraway thoughts of Christmases past with his family back east. Stubby had left when he was 15 to find work in the West and to escape the mines. He hadn’t seen his family for over three years. He got letters only occasionally. He knew, though, that his parents and younger brothers and sister would be gathered around the tree this night, waiting until they could open their gifts. For Stubby, there would be no gift beyond the dance that lay before him. To Stubby, it would be the best Christmas present he could receive. Silently, he urged the horse on and she seemed to understand, picking up her feet just a little faster.
Now the air was almost still. How long he had been able to hear the sound, Stubby didn’t know, but suddenly he became aware of the dull thud of someone chopping wood.
“Not much of an ax-man,” Stubby thought. The blows were irregular and, to his trained ear, glancing. He could tell it was coming from just behind a rise to his right.
“Best check,” he thought. “Someone is going to cut a foot off if that keeps up.” He pulled on the reins and his horse swung right. As he crested the rise, he could see a figure awkwardly swing an ax. As he moved closer, he could see it was a woman in a long coat. She stood in the light coming from the open door of a sod house, a small pile of wood beside her. She would take a couple of half-hearted strokes, then put the ax down and lean on the handle.
“At that rate, she’ll take all night,” Stubby thought. “Maybe I should stop and help her. Won’t take but a minute.”
“Evening, ma’am,” Stubby called out, so as not to frighten her. Still, she jerked at the sound of his voice and turned sharply. He could see some concern, perhaps a bit of fear, in her face, so he smiled brightly and tipped the brim of his hat.
“Can I lend a hand?” he asked, swinging his leg off the saddle without waiting for an answer. He walked to the woman and reached for the ax before she could protest.
“Well, yes, that would be nice,” she finally answered, hesitantly handing the ax to him.
Stubby hefted the ax and swung it expertly. The log gave a sharp crack and split neatly down the middle. In less than five minutes Stubby had a pile of wood that would last through Christmas day for the woman.
He handed the ax back. So far, she had said nothing. Now, as he turned to leave, she spoke. “Thank you,” she said. “We’ve been sick here, me and my two boys, and haven’t been able to chop any wood for about a week.”
“What about your husband?” Stubby asked.
She paused. Then, “He died last spring. Pneumonia, the doctor said.”
“I’m sorry,” Stubby answered. An embarrassed pause followed.
“We’re doing fine now,” the woman smiled weakly. A fit of coughing took her and Stubby knew that they weren’t doing fine.
“Why don’t you let me chop a bit more wood?” he asked. “It won’t take long and there’s plenty of time for me to get where I’m going.”
“That would be nice,” the woman replied. “I still haven’t gotten the Christmas decorations up and I can do that while you chop. That would be very nice,” she repeated.
Stubby took off his coat and laid it carefully aside. He picked up the ax and for about thirty minutes he methodically attacked the woodpile. When he was finished, there was a pile of wood that would last the family through a week of howling plains blizzard. By then the woman would be strong enough to make it. Stubby stepped inside the rude hut to say his goodbyes. There was but one room. In the far corner was a crude bunk bed. Two young boys slept peacefully under thin covers. The younger, on top, had fine, straw-colored hair. The older, on the bottom, had dark hair tousled by sleep.
As he entered, the woman turned and he could see her face clearly for the first time. Her eyes were tired but filled with gratitude. Her skin was lined with hard work and long days in the sun and wind. She held a few strands of colored paper that she was stringing over the fireplace. In a basket were a few ornaments. He saw no tree. The woman seemed to read his thoughts.
“We didn’t have time to get a tree. With the sickness and all, there just wasn’t. . . .” Her voice trailed off and she turned to hide a tear. Stubby could imagine the boys waking in the morning to no tree.
“Ma’am, it would please me if you would let me get you a tree,” he offered. “There’s a fine stand of pines about a mile back. I know I could find you a tree in no time.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t let you do that,” she protested. He could tell she was more determined than when he had offered to cut the wood, but still she wanted him to get them a tree.
“It’s no trouble at all,” he said. “You can’t have Christmas without a tree.” Without another word Stubby turned and walked out the door, picking up the ax as he left.
It took him longer than he had planned to get a tree, but finally he found the perfect one, not too big, but nicely shaped. With a few swift strokes he felled the tree and tied it to his saddle, then began the trip back to the hut.
He knocked but got no answer. Quietly he opened the door. The woman was asleep in an old rocking chair by the fire. He could see that she had brought in a supply of the wood he’d chopped and built a nice fire. Then, no doubt exhausted, she sat down to wait for him. Now she was asleep, the ornaments untouched. The boys didn’t look as if they had moved.
Stubby looked closer at the boys. The older one seemed to be about nine, the younger maybe five or six. He shook his head in wonderment. This little family, alone here on the plains, trying to hew a living out of the earth. Farmers, most likely, he surmised, for he had seen no cattle or other livestock. Their situation made his own childhood seem like one of princely riches.
Stubby didn’t know what time it was. He guessed it to be after 10:00, maybe close to 11:00. He was still an hour from town. By the time he got there, the dance would be over. He might as well turn around and head back to the bunkhouse. At least he could get a little more sleep.
But he couldn’t go, at least not yet. He knew what had to be done. As quickly and quietly as he could, he brought in the tree and set it up in the corner. Then, taking the few decorations there were, he decorated the tree, placing a shiny star on top. He stood back and surveyed his work. A smile spread across his face, then was quickly replaced by a frown. There were no gifts! Well, he had no use for that piece of calico now. Taking it out of his pocket, he lay it softly in the woman’s lap. Then, by the light of the fire, he took his pocketknife, the one his grandfather had given him, and skillfully carved a piece of wood into a wolf, the head thrown back, howling defiance at the moon. He set that on the bunk by the younger boy.
What about the older boy? He had nothing else, nothing except. . . . Stubby took the knife out of his pocket again and held it lovingly in his hand. He watched the flames from the fire dance over the shiny blade. Stubby kept this knife in perfect condition, cleaning and oiling it after every use. It was sharpened to a razor’s edge. He ran his thumb over the keen edge, feeling it cut every so slightly into his skin. He ran his fingers over the carved wood body, feeling the familiar ridges and grooves. Quietly, slowly, he closed the blade, hearing and feeling it snap home one last time. Then, tenderly, he laid it next to the older boy. Now it was perfect. Stubby turned and crept out of the room, closing the door softly behind him.
The moon was low on the horizon. Stubby walked to his horse and rubbed her nose. She turned and nuzzled him. “Let’s go home, girl,” he said, climbing back into the saddle.
Stubby didn’t remember much about the ride back to the ranch, other than the warm glow that seemed to surround him as the horse plodded on. The wind started up again, portending a Christmas morning storm. He knew, though, that the woman and her boys would have enough wood no matter how long the storm lasted.
As Stubby came up on the final rise he could see the bunkhouse far below in the fading moonlight. In the distance he heard the familiar ring of a cow bell. Surely, the horse picked her way down the hill right to the stable.
As Stubby slipped into the cold blankets, old Jake rolled over and spoke to him groggily. “Well, was it worth it?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Stubby replied. “It was worth every minute.”
The wind picked up. You know, I know, any darn fool knows, that wind does strange things to tired ears and cow bells in the distance can sound like sleigh bells, but Stubby swore that, as he drifted off to sleep, he heard sleigh bells and a faint voice calling to him, “Merry Christmas, Stubby, and thanks for the help.”

The Gift

December 20

The Gift

Author Unknown

All that is known of this poem is that it was written by a Marine in Okinawa.  That would lead one to believe that it was written during World War II, but when it was written is of no matter, for soldiers have always spent Christmases far from home.  Particularly at this time in our nation’s history, we should pause to think of those who are willing to leave their families and friends to assure the survival of liberty.
T’was the night before Christmas,
he lived all alone,
in a one bedroom house made of
plaster and stone.

I had come down the chimney
with presents to give,
and to see just who
in this home did live.

I looked all about,
a strange sight did I see,
no tinsel, no presents,
not even a tree.

No stocking by mantle,
just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures
of far distant lands.

With medals and badges,
awards of all kinds,
a somber thought
came through my mind.

For this house was different,
it was dark and dreary,
I found the home of a soldier,
once I could see clearly.

The soldier lay sleeping,
silent, alone,
curled up on the floor
in this one bedroom home.

The face was so gentle,
the room in such disorder,
not how I pictured
A United States soldier.

Was this the hero of whom I’d just read?
curled up on a poncho, the floor for a bed?
I realized the families
that I saw this night,
owed their lives to these soldiers
who were willing to fight.

Soon round the world
the children would play,
and grownups would celebrate
a bright Christmas Day.

They all enjoyed freedom
each moment of the year,
because of the soldiers,
like the one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder
how many lay alone
on a cold Christmas Eve
in a land far from home.

The very thought
brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees
and started to cry.

The soldier awakened
and I heard a soft voice,
“Santa, don’t cry,
this life is my choice;

I fight for freedom,
I don’t ask for more,
My life is my God,
my country, my corps.”

The soldier rolled over
and soon drifted to sleep.
I couldn’t control it,
I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours,
so silent and still
And we both shivered
from the cold night’s chill.

I didn’t want to leave,
on that cold, dark night,
this guardian of honor
so willing to fight.

Then the soldier rolled over,
with a voice soft and pure,
whispered, “Carry on, Santa,
it’s Christmas Day, all is secure.”

One look at my watch and I knew he was right.
“Merry Christmas, my friend, and to all a Good Night.”

Hanukkah Hymn

December 19
Hanukkah Hymn

Hanukkah is the Jewish Feast of Lights. In 165 B.C., after a three-year struggle, the Jews defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV and re-took the Temple in Jerusalem. They cleansed the Temple of Syrian idols but found only one cruse of oil with which to light their holy lamps. Miraculously the oil lasted for eight days. In memoriam of this event, the eight candles of the menorah are lit, one candle every day. During Hanukkah, gifts are exchanged and contributions made to the poor. Hanukkah begins on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and usually falls in December. This Hymn expresses the praise, joy and hope that accopanied the cleansing of the Temple. It is also appropriate to express the praise, joy and hope that accompanies the celebration of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rock of Ages, let our song
Praise Thy saving power;
Thou, amidst the raging foes,
Wast our sheltering tower.
Furious, they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us,
And Thy word
Broke their sword
When our own strength failed us.

Kindling new the holy lamps,
Priest approved in suffering,
Purified the nation’s shrine,
Brought to God their offering.
And His courts surrounding,
Hear, in joy abounding,
Happy throngs
Singing songs
With a mighty sounding.

Children of the martyr race,
Whether free or fettered,
Wake the echoes of the songs,
Where ye may be scattered.
You’re the message cheering
That the time is nearing
Which will see
All men free
Tyrants disappearing.

Old City Bar

December 18

Old City Bar

Trans Siberian Orchestra

This is a new entry on my list of Christmas stories. A few years ago our children gave us tickets to the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s concert in Salt Lake City and gave me a CD for Christmas. This song was on the playlist. As with many songs I listened to the music and rhythm without really paying attention to the words. This year I listened to the words and was touched. Here’s a YouTube link if you’d like to hear it performed.

In an old city bar
That is never too far
From the places that gather
The dreams that have been

In the safety of night
With its old neon light
It beckons to strangers
And they always come in

And the snow it was falling
The neon was calling
The music was low
And the night
Christmas Eve

And here was the danger
That even with strangers
Inside of this night
It’s easier to believe

Then the door opened wide
And a child came inside
That no one in the bar
Had seen there before

And he asked did we know
That outside in the snow
That someone was lost
Standing outside our door

Then the bartender gazed
Through the smoke and the haze
Through the window and ice
To a corner streetlight

Where standing alone
By a broken pay phone
Was a girl the child said
Could no longer get home

And the snow it was falling
The neon was calling
The bartender turned
And said, not that I care
But how would you know this?
The child said I’ve noticed
If one could be home
They’d be already there

Then the bartender came out from behind the bar
And in all of his life he was never that far
And he did something else that he thought no one saw
When he took all the cash from the register draw

Then he followed the child to the girl cross the street
And we watched from the bar as they started to speak
Then he called for a cab and he said J.F.K.
Put the girl in the cab and the cab drove away
And we saw in his hand
That the cash was all gone

From the light that she had wished upon
If you want to arrange it
This world you can change it
If we could somehow make this
Christmas thing last

By helping a neighbor
Or even a stranger
And to know who needs help
You need only just ask

Then he looked for the child
But the child wasn’t there
Just the wind and the snow
Waltzing dreams through the air

So he walked back inside
Somehow different I think
For the rest of the night
No one paid for a drink

And the cynics will say
That some neighborhood kid
Wandered in on some bums
In the world where they hid

But they weren’t there
So they couldn’t see
By an old neon star
On that night, Christmas Eve

When the snow it was falling
The neon was calling
And in case you should wonder
In case you should care
Why we’re on our own
Never went home
On that night of all nights
We were already there







The Christmas Guest

December 16
The Christmas Guest
By Helen Steiner Rice

It happened one day at the year’s white end,
Two neighbors called on an old-time friend
And they found his shop so meager and mean,
Made gay with a thousand boughs of green,
And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine
And said, “Old friends, at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me
And said, ‘I am coming your guest to be’.
So I’ve been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir,
The table is spread and the kettle is shined
And over the rafters the holly is twined,
And now I will wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear
His step as He nears my humble place,
And I open the door and look in His face. . .”
So his friends went home and left Conrad alone,
For this was the happiest day he had known,
For, long since, his family had passed away
And Conrad has spent a sad Christmas Day.
But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas guest
This Christmas would be the dearest and best,
And he listened with only joy in his heart.
And with every sound he would rise with a start
And look for the Lord to be standing there
In answer to his earnest prayer
So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,
But all that he saw on the snow-covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn.
So Conrad was touched and went to the door
And he said, “Your feet must be frozen and sore,
And I have some shoes in my shop for you
And a coat that will keep you warmer, too.”
So with grateful heart the man went away,
But as Conrad noticed the time of day
He wondered what made the dear Lord so late
And how much longer he’d have to wait,
When he heard a knock and ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more,
A bent, old crone with a shawl of black,
A bundle of faggots piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest,
But that was reserved for Conrad’s Great Guest.
But her voice seemed to plead, “Don’t send me away
Let me rest awhile on Christmas day.”
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup.
But after she left he was filled with dismay
For he saw that the hours were passing away
And the Lord had not come as He said He would,
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.
When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
”Please help me and tell me where am I.”
So again he opened his friendly door
And stood disappointed as twice before,
It was only a child who had wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day. .
Again Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad,
But he knew he should make this little child glad,
So he called her in and wiped her tears
And quieted her childish fears.
Then he led her back to her home once more
But as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew that the Lord was not coming today
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.
So he went to his room and knelt down to pray
And he said, “Dear Lord, why did you delay,
What kept You from coming to call on me,
For I wanted so much Your face to see. . .”
When soft in the silence a voice he heard,
”Lift up your head for I kept My word—
Three times My shadow crossed your floor–
Three times I came to your lonely door—
For I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet,
I was the woman you gave to eat,
And I was the child on the homeless street.”

The Year Without a Santa Claus

December 15
The Year Without a Santa Claus
By Phyllis McGinley

In 1975, Nancy and I were celebrating our second Christmas together. Our first had come only three weeks after we were married and had been filled with the excitement of being newlyweds, finishing the fall quarter at school and a delayed honeymoon. So 1975, though it was our second holiday season, was, in many ways, our first. Our first Christmas really on our own. Our apartment could barely hold the three-foot tree we bought, and a single strand of lights was almost too much for its tiny limbs to hold. Nancy found some unpainted ceramic decorations and went spent many hours together painting our first Christmas tree ornaments. As we painted, we watched TV on our little black and white set. One night we came across an animated special called The Year Without a Santa Claus. Some years later, Nancy found this on video. It has become a staple of our Christmas Eve tradition. Here is the story.

Have you been told? Did you ever hear?
Of the curious, furious, fidgety year
When Santa Claus unhitched his sleigh
And vowed he was taking a holiday?

How did it happen?
This way –
It was long ago, before you were living,
Not yet Christmas, but past Thanksgiving,

Though I can’t give you the very date
Santa got up that morning, late;
Pulled on one boot, and then its twin,
Ruffled the whiskers on his chin
And sat back down on the sid of the bed.
“Great North Star, but I’m tired” he said.
“Painting wagons red and bright
Sharpening ice-skates half the night,
Wrapping presents in ribbons and gauze,
Has worn me weary,” said Santa Claus.

“Crick in my back, cold in my nose,
Aches in my fingers and all ten toes,
And a sort of a kind of a kink inside
Whenever I think of that Christmas ride.”

Into his workroom limped the Saint
He sniffed the varnish, he smelled the paint.
And a reeling feeling came over him stealing
The see things crammed from floor to ceiling;
Rocking horses with shaggy manes,
Balls, dolls and electric trains,
Gloves, mitts, doctor’s kits,
Rubber boots, cowboy suits,
Kites for flying in the parks,
Bicycles and Noah’s Arks.
And he started to shake and he started to shiver
At the thought of the load he must soon deliver.
And he sighed, “Oh dear!” as he buttoned his vest,
“I wish ONE YEAR I could take a rest.”

When the words were out, he stood stockstill
And then he whispered, “I think I will!
I will!” he cried with his eyes a-blaze
“Everyone else gets holidays!
“Sailors and tailors and cooks do
Policemen and writers of books do;
Tamers of lions and leopards,
Preachers and teachers and shepherds;
Watchmen, Scotchmen, Spaniards, Turks;
Butchers and bakers and grocery clerks –
They all take time off as Christmas nears.
All except me, so it appears.
Saint or not, it’s time I got,
My first vacation in a thousand years.”

Out in the stable, nuzzling hay,
The reindeer dreamed of Christmas day.
But Santa phoned to the reindeer groom,
“Hang up the harness, in the big storeroom.”
He called to the elves, he told each gnome,
“Cover up the shelves, we’re staying home.”

“What! Cover the shelves?”
Cried the gnomes and elves.
“Cover the dolls and electric trains
And the rocking horses with shaggy manes
And the rubber boots for splashing in parks
And the cowboy suits and the Noah’s Arks?
Alas! Alack!”
For they couldn’t believe
He wouldn’t go riding on Christmas Eve.

“Put ‘em away,” roared Santa, vexed.
“This year’s presents will do for next.
Warn the people, tell the papers
I’m much too old for Christmas capers.
Crick in my back, a cold that lingers,
Aches in my toes and all ten fingers,
Bit of lumbago, touch of gout,
Climbing down chimneys is simply out.
I may be the saint of the children’s nation,
But this is the year of my first vacation.”

Well, you can imagine, more or less
What happened when that news hit the press.
Headlines screamed, wires went humming,

And as the word flashed far and wide
You should have heard how the children cried!
So violently they sobbed their griefs
The shops ran out of handerchiefs.
Their tears filled up the kitchen sinks
And cellars and empty skating rinks.
They wept in school, at play they wept
They dampened their pillows while they slept.
Before those darlings’ eyes got drier
The rivers rose three feet higher.

And I don’t know what would have happened, quite,
Except for Ignatius Thistlewhite.
Ignatius Thistlewhite was a boy
In Texas (or what it Illinois?)
Six years old, but brave for his years,
He sobbed no sobs, he wept no tears,
But stood up tall in his class to say,
“Santa deserves a holiday!”

“No, no, no!” came the children’s plaint
What is Christmas without our saint?
“Shucks, now fellows! Gosh, goodness gracious!
Christmas is Christmas!” cried Ignatius
“And everyone tells me, whom I’ve met,
It’s a day to give as well as get.
Since all these years in the children’s cause
Santa’s been giving without one pause,
Let’s pull together in the Christmas weather
And give this year to Santa Claus!”
“Hooray,” his classmates said, “he’s right!
Three cheers for Ignatius Thistlewhite!”

Fast as a hurricane, children hurled
That happy message around the world,
Over each continent, isle and isthmus,
“Let’s give Santa a Merry Christmas!”

With snow the earth was already whit’ning
But they rolled up their sleeves and worked light lightning.
They opened their piggy banks, racked their brains,
They chartered buses and special trains
And ships and sledges and hydroplanes,
To reach the Pole by the 24th
Was all their goal. East, south, west, north
Came gifts and gifts and gifts to spare
From clever children everywhere:

Slippers with zippers to zip on;
Soap for his bath, or to slip on;
Geraniums pink in a pot;
One guppy, a puppy named Spot;
Balsam pillows, strawberry jam
Dressing gowns with his monogram.
Ten harmonicas for him to play on,
Handpainted pictures done in crayon.
Mufflers, pipes, an easy chair,
And lots of winter underwear.
In New York State, a boy called Pudge
Cooked him a plate of home-made fudge.
And little Girl Guides of Britain
Each made him a scarlet mitten,
While a boy in Siam sent a Siamese kitten.
They sent him lemon-drops by the carton;
Ashtrays modeled in kindergarten;
Jack-knives, pen-wipers, cakes and crullers,
And magic pencils that wrote three colors.
Tots who hadn’t a penny to send
Wrote him letters signed, “A FRIEND”

And they had more fun that strange December
(They said) than any they could remember.

Up at the Pole, in the fragrant hay,
The idle reindeer dreamed at play.
Comet nickered for oats and corn,
Dancer brandished his velvet horn,
While sadly, sorrily, lounged at home
Each idle elf and gnome.
Santa sat poking the fire, and blinking,
But nobody knew what he was thinking.

Then suddenly from the sky
There came the sound of planes
He heard the hoot and cry
Of ships and special trains.
“Noel!” tootled the sledges
“Honk!” the buses said
And out of his study window
Santa put his head.

He looked to the left, he stared to the right.
He didn’t trust his own eye-sight,
So many, so merry, so more and more
Packages were rolling to his front door.
Smack at his doorstep they thundered.
A million! A thousand! A hund’erd!
Flat ones and fat ones and lean ones;
Crimson and silver and green ones,
Broad ones
Odd ones
Plain and romantic ones,
Little and big and GIGANTIC ones;
Parcels from London, Rome, Atlanta
And each addressed alike: “TO SANTA.”

Atop them all a banner glinted
Where Ignatius Thistelwhite had printed
These words: “Good luck and holiday mirth
From all the children upon the earth.”

With toots and hoots
And honks light-hearted
The buses turned and trains departed,
Leaving the Saint surrounded by
Parcels piled to the Polar sky.

Santa was silent for a minute.
His eye looked bright but a tear stood in it.
Then he blew his nose like a trumpet blast.
“God bless my soul,” he said at last.
“By the Big Borealis! By my maps and charts!
I didn’t know children had such kind hearts.
How could a man feel gladder, prouder?”
He turned to his staff and his voice got louder
“Gnomes! Elves! Every mother’s son!
Don’t stand staring; there’s work to be done.
Bring in the barrels, fetch in the boxes,
Carry in those packages
And don’t break one!”

Where to put them?
There wasn’t space
In parlor or study or any place
They overflowed bureau, couch and table
Filled the house, the sheds the stable;
Slid from mantels, jammed the casement,
Bulged from the attic and burst from the basement.

“There’s nothing to do,” exclaimed the elves,
“Except to empty some workshop shelves.”

Off those shelves, then, Santa’s forces
Whisked the painted rocking horses.
When the presents wouldn’t fit
Down came kite and doctor’s kit.
Still there wasn’t room for all
So away went basketball
Cowboy suit, rubber boot,
Bicycle and talking doll.
Till by the time that twilight reigned
Not a single toy on the shelves remained,
All were sacked and packed away
In the one place left –
The Christmas sleigh.

Then Santa gazed from floor to rafter
And gave his mightiest shout of laughter;
Laughed loud ho-ho’s, laughed vast ha-ha’s
“What a joke,” he chortled, “on Santa Claus.
“You might as well phone the reindeer groom
To take down the harness in the big store room.
Get me my gloves, the robe for my lap.
And my coat and my warmest stocking cap.
There sits the sleigh with the toys inside.
So what can I do tonight, but ride?”

“What about your gout?”
The gnomes cried out.
“What about your aches and the crick in your spine?”
“Pooh!” laughed Santa, “My back feels fine!
Never felt younger, never felt stronger.
Haven’t got a symptom any longer.
And before the midnight bells go chiming
I’d like to do some chimney climbing.
So harness up the reindeer, let ‘em rip!
It’s time to begin my favorite trip.”

With flurry and scurry and chatter and hurry
They brought him his cap and his laprobe furry.
They roused up Cupid, they rubbed down Vixen
They polished the bells on Donner and Blitzen.
There were cheers from the gnomes, from the elves applause
Then off through the night flew Santa Claus.

And I’ve heard old people often say
There NEVER was such a Christmas Day.
Never such joy after Santa’d swirled
From rooftop to rooftop around the world.
While at the home of a sleepy boy
In Texas (or was it Illinois?)
A special letter left that night
It was clipped to the hndlebars (like a medal)
Of the best two-wheeler a boy could pedal.

“Dear Sir,” was written in Santa’s hand,
“Please tell the children in every land.
Tell them I’ll take good care, I hope,
Of the guppy, the puppy
And the slippery soap.
I like my pipes, I love my chair,
I do appreciate the underwear.
And I pledge this promise on my sled and pack:
Year after year, I’ll be coming back.
Vacations I guess weren’t meant for me
I’ll never want another one.
Yours, S.C.”

And that’s one reason, you may believe,
Why children are merry on Christmas Eve.
You know, yourself, as you hang your stocking
It doesn’t matter if the winds are knocking.
Though the storm falls heavy,
Though the great gale roars,
Though no one else would budge outdoors,
Snug in your bed while the tempest drums
You can count your blessings on fingers and thumbs,
For yearly, newly, faithfully, truly,
Somehow Santa Claus ALWAYS COMES.

The Little Match Girl

December 14
The Little Match Girl
By Hans Christian Anderson

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, whose compassion and love for us brought Him to earth so that we could be redeemed. This story helps us feel anguish and pain for a lost and abandoned soul. To feel that is the essence of compassion.
It was dreadfully cold; it was snowing fast, and was almost dark, as evening came on – the last evening of the year. In the cold and the darkness, there went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded and with naked feet. When she left home she had her slippers on, it is true; but they were much too large for her feet – slippers that her mother had used till then, and the poor little girl lost them in running across the street when two carriages were passing terribly fast. When she looked for them, one was not to be found, and a boy seized the other and ran away with it, saying he would use it for a cradle some day, when he had children of his own.
So on the little girl went with her bare feet that were red and blue with cold. In an old apron that she wore were bundles of matches, and she carried a bundle also in her hand. No one had bought so much as a bunch all the long day, and no one had given her even a penny.
Poor little girl! Shivering with cold and hunger she crept along, a perfect picture of misery.
The snowflakes fell on her long flaxen hair, which hung in pretty curls about her throat; but she thought not of her beauty nor of the cold. Lights gleamed in every window, and there came to her the savory smell of roast goose; for it was New Year’s Eve. And it was of this which she thought.
In a corner formed by two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sat cowering down. She had drawn under her little feet, but still she grew colder and colder; yet she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches and could not bring a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; and besides, it was cold enough at home, for they had only the house roof above them, and though the largest holes had ben stopped with straw and rags, there were left many through which the cold wind could whistle.
And now her little hands were nearly frozen with cold. Alas! a single match might do her good if she might only draw it from the bundle, rub it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. So, at last she drew one out. Whisht! How it blazed and burned! It gave out a warm, bright flame like a little candle, as she held her hands over it. A wonderful little light it was. It really seemed to the little girl as if she sat before a great iron stove with polished brass feet and brass shovel and tongs. So blessedly it burned that the little maiden stretched out her feet to warm them also. How comfortable she was! But lo! The flame went out, the stove vanished and nothing remained but the little burned match in her hand.
She rubbed another match against the wall. It burned brightly, and where the light fell upon the wall it became transparent like a veil, so that she could see through it into the room. A snow-white cloth was spread upon the table, on which was a beautiful china dinner service, while a roast goose, stuffed with apples and prunes, steamed famously and sent forth a most savory smell. And what was more delightful still, and wonderful, the goose jumped from the dish, with knife and fork still in its breast, and waddled along the floor straight to the little girl.
But the match went out then, and nothing was left to her but the thick, damp wall.
She lighted another match and now she was under a most beautiful Christmas tree, larger and far more prettily trimmed than the one she had seen through the glass doors at the rich merchant’s. Hundreds of wax tapers were burning on the green branches, and gay figures, such as she had seen in shop windows, looked down upon her. The child stretched out her hands to them; then the match went out.
Still the lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher. She saw them now as stars in heaven, and one of them fell, forming a long trail of fire.
“Now someone is dying,” murmured the the child softly; for her grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that whenever a star falls a soul mounts up to God.
She struck yet another match against the wall, and again it was light; and in the brightness there appeared before her the dear old grandmother, bright and radiant, yet sweet and mild, and happy as she had never looked on earth.
“Oh, grandmother,” cried the child, “take me with you. I know you will go away when the match burns out. You, too, will vanish, like the warm stove, the splendid New Year’s feast, the beautiful Christmas tree.” And lest her grandmother should disappear, she rubbed the whole bundle of matches against the wall.
And the matches burned with such a brilliant light that it became brighter than noonday. Her grandmother had never looked so grand and beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and both flew together, joyously and gloriously, mounting higher and higher, far above the earth; and for them there was neither hunger, nor cold, nor care – they were with God.
But in the corner, at the dawn of day, sat the poor little girl, leaning against the wall, with red cheeks and smiling mouth – frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and cold she sat, with the matches, one bundle of which was burned.
“She wanted to warm herself, poor little thing,” people said. No one imagined what sweet visions she had had, or how gloriously she had gone with her grandmother to enter upon the joys of a new year.

Christmas at Sea

December 13

Christmas at Sea

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Christmas brings visions of families and friends together, snug, warm, happy.  But not all Christmases are that way.  Instead of happy greetings, Christmas can be a time of sad farewells.  This poem by Robert Louis Stevenson shows Christmas from a different perspective.

 The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;

The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ’twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘longshore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
“All hands to loose topgallant sails,” I heard the captain call.
“By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,” our first mate, Jackson, cried.
. . . “It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Christmas Is for Love

December 12

Christmas is for Love

Author unknown

It is for joy, for giving and sharing, for laughter, for reuniting with family and friends, for tinsel and brightly decorated packages. But mostly, Christmas is for love. I had not believed this until a small elf-like student with wide-eyed innocent eyes and soft rosy cheeks gave me a wondrous gift one Christmas.

Mark was an 11 year old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter middle aged woman greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister’s son. She never failed to remind young Mark, if it hadn’t been for her generosity, he would be a vagrant, homeless waif. Still, with all the scolding and chilliness at home, he was a sweet and gentle child.

I had not noticed Mark particularly until he began staying after class each day (at the risk of arousing his aunt’s anger, I later found) to help me straighten up the room. We did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but enjoying the solitude of that hour of the day. When we did talk, Mark spoke mostly of his mother. Though he was quite small when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman, who always spent much time with him.

As Christmas drew near however, Mark failed to stay after school each day. I looked forward to his coming, and when the days passed and he continued to scamper hurriedly from the room after class, I stopped him one afternoon and asked why he no longer helped me in the room. I told him how I had missed him, and his large gray eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, “Did you really miss me?”

I explained how he had been my best helper. “I was making you a surprise,” he whispered confidentially. “It’s for Christmas.” With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from the room. He didn’t stay after school any more after that.

Finally came the last school day before Christmas. Mark crept slowly into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back. “I have your present,” he said timidly when I looked up. “I hope you like it.” He held out his hands, and there lying in his small palms was a tiny wooden box.

“Its beautiful, Mark. Is there something in it?” I asked opening the top to look inside. ”

“Oh you can’t see what’s in it,” He replied, “and you can’t touch it, or taste it or feel it, but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights, and safe when you’re all alone.”

I gazed into the empty box. “What is it Mark,” I asked gently, “that will make me feel so good?” “It’s love,” he whispered softly, “and mother always said it’s best when you give it away.” And he turned and quietly left the room.

So now I keep a small box crudely made of scraps of wood on the piano in my living room and only smile as inquiring friends raise quizzical eyebrows when I explain to them that there is love in it.

Yes, Christmas is for gaiety, mirth and song, for good and wondrous gifts. But mostly, Christmas is for love.