A Christmas Story
- adapted from Francois Coppee
It was so long ago that the whole world has forgotten the date and even the name of the little town in which lived a little boy whose name was Hans.
Little Hans lived with his aunt, who was quite an old lady. She was not always kind to Hans, but this made no difference to him. He loved her just the same, and forgot that she was ever cross and very unkind to him at times.
Hans went to school with many other boys, but he was not clothed as they were. He had to wear the same clothes both week days and Sundays; the same even in the summer that he wore in the winter.
It was now midwinter, when everything was wrapped in snow and glazed with ice, while the north winds sang loud and whistled down the chimneys, played very roughly with the bare trees, and crept through every crack and crevice of the house. The frost, too, was busy pinching the cheeks and biting the toes of the boys, and making them run, jump and dance to keep warm.
The children were wild with the excitement and the joy that was astir at this time. For there were secrets in the air. Every one was busy making gifts for some loved one.
It was the night before Christmas, the one great birthday on which the whole world rejoiceth and when all endeavor to make their fellow men happy.
The schoolmaster and all of his pupils started for the midnight worship and prayer at the church. All of the boys were well clothed, with heavy coats, fur caps, thick mittens, and very heavy and warm shoes. But little Hans had only a poor, plain, ragged suit, with no overcoat, no mittens, and his shoes were only wooden ones. It was a very cold night, and the boys and the schoolmaster had to walk very fast to keep warm. But little Hans did not mind the cold so much, because the stars smiled down upon him and seemed like so many diamonds set in a deep blue canopy, each one glittering and flashing in the darkness. The snow, too, was a sparkling mass, and Hans wondered if the stars could see themselves reflected in the tiny snow crystals which covered the earth.
At last they reached the church, whose windows were shedding forth a soft, golden light on the stillness and darkness of the cold winter night. This little group of worshipers quietly passed into the church and sank noiselessly into their pews. It was a beautiful place to Hans. He loved it dearly, and was always happy to come here. The candles were all lighted, and they burned steadily brighter and brighter, filling the church with a beautiful mellow light. The grand old organ softly and clearly sent forth its tones, each one growing richer, deeper and sweeter, and gradually the voices of the choir boys and the tones of the organ filled the old church with such beautiful music that little Hans's heart seemed to bound within him, and his whole soul was enraptured, while there shone from his face a radiance that only a divine inspiration could bring forth.
At length, after the people had sung, each one knelt and offered thanksgiving to the Heavenly Father, little Hans, too, knelt and offered thanks for the blessings which he had received during that year, and for the tender care of the Father of all.
The people then quietly passed out of the warm church into the cold of the night. Hans was the last one out, and as he carefully made his way down the icy steps he noticed a little boy no larger than himself sitting on the steps, with his head resting against the church. He was fast asleep. His face was beautiful, and seemed clothed in a golden light. Beside him, tied in a cloth, were a square, a hammer, a saw and other tools of a carpenter. He had neither shoes nor stockings on his feet, although his clothing was spotless and of the purest white. It grieved Hans that the child should have no shoes, not even one to place for the Christ-child to fill with gifts.
Hans stooped and took from his right foot the wooden shoe and placed it in front of the sleeping child, so that the Christ-child would not pass him by. Hans then limped along on the ice and snow, not feeling how cold it was, but only thinking of the poor child asleep out in the cold.
The other boys were talking of the good things awaiting them at home, of the feasts, the plum pudding, the Christmas trees, and the many drums, wagons and blocks the Christ-child would put in their shoes that night.
When Hans arrived home he found his aunt awaiting him, and when she saw that he had only one shoe, and he had told her all about the other one, she was very angry with him, and sent him to bed. Hans placed the wooden shoe from his left foot at the fireside, hoping that the Christ-child would remember him as he passed by.
The first sunbeam that crept into Hans's bedroom and kissed him the next morning awoke him, and he bounded downstairs, and flew to the great open fireplace to find his shoe.
Hans rubbed his eyes and caught his breath, for, to his great surprise, there were both of his wooden shoes, filled with beautiful toys; by the fireside he found warm clothing and many other things to make him comfortable and happy.
Hearing loud voices, Hans went to the door. The people were standing in a crowd about the priest, who was talking to them. He told Hans that where he had seen the child asleep on the church steps there was now in the window above a beautiful crown set with precious jewels. He said that the child was the Christ-child, whom the Heavenly Father had again sent among men on earth for that night, and that it was He with whom Hans had shared his wooden shoes.
The people bowed themselves before that miracle that the good God had seen fit to work, to reward the faith and charity of a child.