For those who treasure the spirit of Christmas and have a challenging time discussing the existence of Santa with your children, and for those who experience a conflict between the idea of Santa and the religious significance of Christmas day, here is a story for you.
Once upon a time there was a wonderful village in the northern part of the country where there were rolling hills and wide open valleys, surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains, alongside a beautiful flowing stream. The days would end with a rainbow of color in the sky, as the deer could be seen nibbling on the grass at sunset.
As you walked along the road, you could see the subtle flow of smoke rising from the chimneys, and the wonderful smell of dinners cooking, that would fill the air. Nearly every house had a huge tree in the front yard to provide shade and to give adventurous young children, something to climb!
You would frequently hear laughter from various homes, as families gathered to share their day's adventures. The church bells would ring as it ticked away each hour, and on Sundays, the music from the choir could be heard for miles.
It was a friendly town where everyone knew each other and people would wave and smile as they walked by. Many families had lived there for generations.
In the center of one of their many parks was a discrete statue of the founder of this lovely village, Mr. Kringle, and the last member of the Kringle family still lived there, in a modest little cabin, just beyond the trees, at the top of the hill. His name was Nicholas.
There were always many exciting things going on in town. The special smells and sounds of each season were very distinct. In the spring and summer, the scent of strawberries and apples would fill the air. You could hear the mills grounding the finest grain that would then be made into delicious bread and pastries. Amongst the golden colors of fall, the farmers would be harvesting some of the largest vegetables available anywhere! Another local delight was the huge number of sheep that would graze the hillside and produce the finest wool you have ever seen. Summers were filled with outdoor adventures and winters were celebrated with snowmen, ice skating, hot chocolate, skiing, good food, and fireside family fun.
One of the most unique aspects of this village occurred in the winter, when villagers would dye the sheep's wool into a most amazing scarlet red color, and then knit it into lovely stockings and very warm, fur-lined jackets. Merchants would travel from around the world just to buy one of these fine woolen treasures. This became the town's legendary trademark. People could be seen around the world wearing these beautiful red jackets with white furry collars and cuffs. Many people called this village the happiest place in the world.
This happy life continued for many, many years, but in nature we have learned that things are cyclical and thus, they change. Nothing stays good all the time, but it is helpful to know that nothing stays bad all the time, either. And, now this wonderful little village was about to face a drastic change.
The weather currents were shifting and it was producing some extreme climate conditions. This lovely little village was facing a severe drought that would last for years. The weather became quite harsh, with winters getting colder and summers hotter. There was less and less rain to grow their wonderful fruits, vegetables, and grain, and since the ground was so dry, there was not enough grass for the sheep to graze. The nearby stream was beginning to dry up and the fish had all swam to more fertile areas.
Food and wool were becoming scarce, and the villagers were getting hungry and scared. Arguments were happening all the time, as people became more worried about their situation and the future of their families. The music and laughter had disappeared from this lovely little town.
Nicholas, who lived rather humbly, was getting very worried about his friends in the village. He noticed that things became much worse in the dark and cold of the winter season. Fewer people were smiling and many homes had no wood for a fire, nor food to eat.
Children were growing out of their clothes, and their families could not afford to replace them, so they would go to school in tattered bits of cloth that they would piece together from old worn out clothes. The town's people had no grain or fruit for bread, cereal, or pastries. Farmers had no hay for their animals and the ground was so dry that they couldn't grow much food. Even the sheep strayed away in search of better land to graze upon, so there was no wool to make their beautiful stockings and jackets.
After a while, everything began to look dark and dismal. No warm glowing fireplaces, no great smells of dinners cooking, no laughter coming from homes, and no warm red jackets being made. Visitors quit coming and sadness took over this wonderful place.
There were no jobs, no food, no money. Everyone's life had changed so much. People were very sad.
Mrs. Anderson, who was getting quite old, missed knitting the wool stockings she loved so much and her long chats with merchants and tourists.
Johnny, who loved playing with his ball, had it break one afternoon and he was unable to fix it, and now with no way to practice, his dream of becoming a football player was gone.
Jane's rag doll had lost its arm and now she cried herself to sleep every night, under her tattered little blanket.
Mr. Smith had to finally sell his favorite horse, the one that he had used for so many years to plow his fertile fields, which now lay barren. He missed his old friend who had helped him through many seasons of harvesting; he was now all alone.
There were stories like this all over town.
Nicholas wanted so much to help but did not know what to do, for he too, had little food or resources. What could he possibly do to help his friends in the village? He spent months thinking, researching, talking to people, trying to figure out an answer to this problem.
Then one day as he was walking through town, he noticed that the church bells had stopped ringing. He went inside and asked the minister what was wrong. The minister said that no one was coming to church anymore, that they had all lost faith because of everything that had happened. They no longer believed.
This made Nicholas very sad. He had to come up with something, but what?
He told the minister what he was trying to figure out, and the minister inquired, "Have you asked God for an answer?" You know, God always gives us answers, but sometimes you can only see it when you are very quiet, in prayer or meditation.
So, Nicholas decided at that very moment to go to church every single day and have a chat with God. He needed really big help!
Every day he prayed but did not hear an answer. He was beginning to have doubts, himself. Why is this happening? Why don't you fix this? We are good people, how can you make us suffer like this? I am here every day and you are doing nothing!
Just as Nicholas was leaving church and about to give up, he got an idea. Even though he could not fix everyone's problems... what if he could bring a little happiness to each person in the village, for even one day a year? Just a little something to remind people that God loves them and that things will get better. To bring a bit of hope to those who have lost faith. Maybe that might carry them through the rest of the harsh winter season and by spring, perhaps things would be much better.
When would be the best day to do this? It seemed that people were saddest in the middle of winter, when the food was most scarce, and homes were the coldest, and it was the darkest and what appeared to be the most hopeless time of the year. But, what day should it be? Then it occurred to him... what better day to celebrate God's love, than on Jesus' birthday, Dec. 25! Nicholas got to work.
Nicholas realized that he didn't have many things, but he figured that since this was God's plan, God would direct him to where he could find what he needed, to make this wonderful idea happen. He worked all year long, collecting bits of wood, food, cloth, and anything else he needed. He was getting excited at the thought of bringing a little joy into the hearts of his dear friends in the village.
Finally, after working all year, on Dec. 24 he gathered together everything he needed. Tonight was going to be special, indeed!
Nicholas was able to gather just enough things to help his neighbors start their fireplaces, make a warm meal, and the most fun part of all; he had been able to make some toys for the local children in hopes of bringing some joy into their lives. He knew that this was a special blessing from God, for he could never have done this by himself.
Yet Nicholas Kringle also knew that if people saw him delivering presents, they would think that it was from him and not understand that it was really a gift from God, and that he was just a person, like anyone else, who has been designated to carry out this special day's plan. So, he decided to deliver the presents very late at night when everyone was sleeping. It was important to the plan, that he not be seen.
As he looked around at all of the presents, he realized that he would not have much time to walk from house to house and how could he carry it all? He went into his barn and found an old red hay cart where he loaded all of the town's gifts, but the wheels could not move in the deep snow. He found some long pieces of metal that he was able to affix to the bottom of the cart, but he was still unable to move it.
Nicholas was beginning to worry. He was so close to making this plan come true, but after much pushing and pulling, he realized that there was no way he could move this cart filled with presents, out of his barn! He was so sad that he began to cry. Nicholas had worked so hard all year long, to make this day special and now it was past midnight and he had no idea of how he could deliver all of these gifts.
He kneeled down and sobbed. He asked God why he would let him work so hard to get everything ready and now not let him bring it to the people.
Just then he heard a thumping on the barn door, he thought it was the wind and ignored it but the thumping continued and Nicholas finally stood up and slowly walked over and opened the door. He was surprised to discover, standing in front of him, a huge caribou/reindeer that lived in the nearby forest. This reindeer had been thumping his nose against the door so hard, that it was bright red; it almost glowed like a light; and behind him, stood a herd of eight other reindeer.
What were they doing here? Maybe they were just seeking a warm place to spend the night. He swung open the barn door to let them in, but rather than lay down, they all surrounded him as if to say, "You asked for help, here we are!"
At that moment, he realized that if he hooked up the reindeer to the cart, they could pull it for him as he delivered the presents around town. He looked up and smiled, realizing that sometimes our prayers are answered in the most unusual ways. As he looked around for some leather straps to attach the reindeer to the cart, he noticed some old burlap bags from various merchants around town; many had gone out of business. He used a different piece of burlap to cover each of the reindeer to keep them warm.
When he was done, he admired his work. There was this lovely red cart, filled with presents, and led by nine reindeer. Eight were wearing burlap covers with the village merchant names of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. What a fitting tribute to his fellow villagers.
But he ran out of covers as he approached the head reindeer with the red nose. He then thought of a wonderful idea. Nicholas ran inside and grabbed an old coat that had belonged to his great-great grandfather Rudolph, who had founded this town. In his grandpa's honor, he named the lead reindeer, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
As Nicholas got dressed for this very chilly night, he took out his favorite red jacket with the white furry collar and cuffs. Somehow it had lasted generations, as an enduring reminder of this village's happiest times. It was the perfect outfit to wear on this magical snowy night.
As Nicholas rode into the dark, he noticed that between the clouds, the stars were shinning brighter than he had ever seen them. In fact, one in particular was so bright that it guided him towards town, it was known as the Star of Bethlehem. Nicholas knew that this was not a coincidence. He remembered that gifts had been brought to Jesus at his birth. This was truly a magical night.
His cart, turned sleigh, was gliding so fast, that he felt like he was flying! As he approached the village, he admired the trees which sparkled with snow, like tiny lights on every branch. He almost missed the first house because it was up against the mountain and buried in snow. He couldn't reach the front door; in fact, the only thing he could see was the chimney, which was cold from no wood.
He knew how much this family needed his help so he decided to squeeze down the chimney to deliver the presents. It was difficult getting back up, but he was so happy that he could bring them some joy in the morning. Later, word got out that no matter where you are presents will arrive, even if through the chimney. That legend continues today.
This was a truly blessed event, a celebration of our savior's birthday and a reminder that even during the darkest times, God is with you. At the end of the Christmas ride, Nicholas made one more stop at the church to thank God for this incredible blessing, and arrived home just as the sun was rising.
Mrs. Anderson, who had gone to bed feeling very lonely because she no longer had people coming to her home to pick up her wonderfully knitted stockings, noticed something red under the tree at her house. She opened the door to discover a huge basket of scarlet colored wool, and a lovely card that said, "Merry Christ Day"! Tears came to her face as she dressed to go to mass at church. For her, it was a Merry Christ-mass.
Jane, who had since lost her rag doll and had been crying herself to sleep, looked out her window to see her beloved doll sitting under the tree. She ran outside and hugged the doll that her mother had given her just before she became so sick, and had left to be with God. Somehow her doll had gotten a new dress and her arm was now all fixed! Next to her dolly was a matching red dress for Jane. This was the best day, ever! It was a dress just like the one her mommy had made her years ago.
Johnny, who had long given up on his dream of becoming a football player, went outside to shovel the snow and noticed what appeared to be a large mound of snow. He cautiously walked over to discover a wonderful new football! Where did this come from? Is this real? Just then he heard the bells tolling in the chapel. He quickly ran inside to get dressed for church. This was truly a day to be thankful, for it is a day of dreams-come-true. Johnny would go on to become a world-famous football player.
Mr. Smith bundled up in the few rags he had left, to go milk his cows. As he opened the door to the barn, he was shocked to see, standing before him, his favorite horse. As he ran towards his old friend, the horse kneeled down and Mr. Smith gave him a giant hug, as they both gave thanks for this very special moment. Around the horse's neck was the bright red coat that Mr. Smith had sold last winter, to buy food. Bundled warm and riding his dear horse, he headed to church with a smile on his face. Life was certainly good, today. Perhaps this would be a new beginning.
In addition to presents, at each home, there were bundles of wood left on the porch, which had fallen from trees located deep in the forest. It was enough to heat up homes across the village for the entire winter! Baskets of food and sweet treats accompanied these wonderful surprises.
Similar stories were spreading all over town. As everyone walked towards church, they marveled in the miracle of this special day, Christ's birthday. The church bells were once again ringing, the choir was singing. Hope and joy had spread across the village. Everyone felt blessed. Whoever did this was truly a saint. The kids began referring to him as Santa, even though no one knew for sure, how this all came about. Yet, it all seemed to center around this lovely church and the birth of Christ.
Nicholas knew that God had given him a very special mission, and after a snack of milk and cookies he took a long rest. Shortly afterwards, Nicholas began his preparation for the next Christ-mass day. Knowing what a huge job it was to make all of the holiday gifts, Rudolf, guided Nicholas to a hidden place deep in the woods where a secret group of little people lived who called themselves elves and who had heard about Nick's Christmas day surprise and wanted to help. Together, they worked all year and were ultimately able to spread this holiday tradition around the world, with beautiful red wool knit stockings becoming a favorite place to hide fun surprises.
Although no one knew who had been delivering these annual presents, many were excited to share in this joy of giving, and the spirit of Christmas grew. People would place candles in their windows indicating that they, too, were celebrating the birth of Jesus with holiday giving. Even those from other religions took part in this glorious celebration of giving.
Suddenly, there were stories of others dressing in red, making and delivering presents, and spending time with those in need. Nicholas was happy that God had brought him help, by selecting others to share in this miracle. Some made their gifts. Others would work hard to purchase gifts that were too difficult for them to make, but that were just as special.
While some non-believers would make fun of those who dress in red fur trimmed coats and give presents on this very special day, those who have been blessed by the spirit of Christmas know that this is indeed a true miracle and a celebration of life.
The presents are merely a way of sharing our love for one another and a reminder of God's love for us. It is also a time of appreciation of the good deeds of others and a special day to help those in need, just as it was on that first snowy day so long ago.
For the true meaning of Christmas is not limited to one day, and does not lie with only one person, but rather a collection of people who have been chosen to share love and happiness on this very important day.
Not everyone is selected to receive this blessing; only those who truly believe in the spirit of Christmas, will be chosen.
If you wake up one day with a strong desire to give to others, then you know that you, too, have been blessed by the spirit of Christmas.
Jacqueline Cartier lives in Eagle-Vail.