The Christmas Tree and the Wedding

In furtherance of our “31 Days of Christmas” series, here is a weird, but very deep short story written in 1848 by revered Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It has such a deep theme which is prevalent even in modern time, particularly in northern Nigeria. Read and let me know your thoughts on this.

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The other day I saw a wedding… But no! I would rather tell you about a Christmas tree. The wedding was superb. I liked it immensely. But the other incident was still finer. I don’t know why it is that the sight of the wedding reminded me of the Christmas tree. This is the way it happened:

Exactly five years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was invited to a children’s ball by a man high up in the business world, who had his connections, his circle of acquaintances, and his intrigues. So it seemed as though the children’s ball was merely a pretext for the parents to come together and discuss matters of interest to themselves, quite innocently and casually.

I was an outsider, and, as I had no special matters to air, I was able to spend the evening independently of the others. There was another gentleman present who like myself had just stumbled upon this affair of domestic bliss. He was the first to attract my attention. His appearance was not that of a man of birth or high family. He was tall, rather thin, very serious, and well dressed. Apparently he had no heart for the family festivities. The instant he went off into a corner by himself the smile disappeared from his face, and his thick dark brows knitted into a frown. He knew no one except the host and showed every sign of being bored to death, though bravely sustaining the role of thorough enjoyment to the end. Later I learned that he was a provincial, had come to the capital on some important, brain-racking business, had brought a letter of recommendation to our host, and our host had taken him under his protection, not at all _con amore_ (sic). It was merely out of politeness that he had invited him to the children’s ball. Continue reading

The Parable of the Person Who Couldn’t Find God*

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Once upon a time a certain East African country had many mountains and valleys, rivers and plains. All the people lived in one big valley. The large extended families included grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many children. These East African people were ordinary human beings with both good and bad qualities. They followed all the seasons of human life:

A time for giving birth … a time for dying.

A time for planting … a time for uprooting.

A time for knocking down … a time for building.

A time for tears … a time for laughter.

A time for mourning … a time for dancing.

A time for loving … a time for hating.

A time for war … a time for peace.

A man named John Shayo lived in this large valley. He was a faithful Christian who prayed every Sunday and regularly participated in his Amani Small Christian Community. He helped the poor and needy especially the lepers who lived on one slope. John tried to fulfill all his Christian responsibilities. From time to time he failed, but in general he was a very good Christian.

In this large valley there was jealousy, fighting, drunkenness and all kinds of discord. Thieves and tricksters walked about openly and regularly stole cows, goats and sheep. Families and villages lacked peace and harmony. Witchcraft and superstition were part of daily life. After patiently enduring this bad situation for a long time John Shayo decided to move somewhere else. He said, “Certainly God isn’t present here. He is the “All Peaceful One” who doesn’t like fighting and discord. He wants peace and harmonious relationships in his human family.”

John Shayo saw a very high mountain far in the distance. It rose majestically in the clear tropical air. John said, “Certainly God our “Great Ancestor” lives in peace and quiet on the top of that East African mountain. I will go there to find God who “Dwells on High With the Spirits of the Great.” So John set off on his long safari. At the end of the first day he reached the foot of this high mountain. The burning equatorial sun had drained his energy. He rested. Very early the next morning he started out again. After three hours of difficult climbing he was tired and sat by the side of the rough footpath.

After a few minutes John was startled to see a bearded man about 30-years-old making his way down the mountain. They greeted each other. “Jambo (‘Hello’). What is the news?” John told the traveler that he was climbing to the top of the mountain to find God our “Creator and Source.” The traveler said that his name was Emmanuel and that he was climbing down the mountain to live with the people in the large valley. After talking together for a few minutes they said good-bye to each other in the traditional African farewell: “Good-bye until we meet again.” As John continued his safari up the steep mountain he said to himself: “That man is a fine person. He is very intelligent and speaks well. I wonder why he wants to go down to my former valley?”

Soon John Shayo was engrossed in his arduous climb. The air grew thinner. He climbed more slowly. By late afternoon he reached the top of the mountain and said to himself: “There is peace and quiet here. Now I will surely find God.” He looked everywhere. No one was around. John was very disappointed and asked out loud, “Where is God?”

Suddenly a gaunt old man appeared and greeted John. “Welcome. Relax after your long, hard safari.” Shayo began to describe the arduous trip and his desire to meet God the “All Peaceful One.” The old man said, “I’m sorry, but God isn’t here on the top of this high mountain. I live alone here. Surely you met God on the mountain path. He was going down to the big valley to live with the people there and to help them with their problems and difficulties.” John was astonished and exclaimed out loud, “You mean the traveler I met on the path was God. I didn’t recognize him. I thought that I would find him here on the top of the mountain.”

The old man said, “I’m sorry. You see God doesn’t want to live here all by himself. He wants to join with the human beings he created. That’s the meaning of his name “Emmanuel. God is with us.” John Shayo exclaimed: “But in the valley there are arguments and fighting. Many of the people are thieves, tricksters, troublemakers and drunkards. Why does God want to live with them?”

Quietly the old man answered, “God knows the lives of his people and their problems and weaknesses. There is a myth about an East African hunter who disobeyed God’s command and shot an arrow into the clouds. The sky bled and God withdrew into the high heavens to get away from human beings. But God the “Great Elder” loved his human family and wanted to show his tender care. So God our “Great Chief” sent his Son to pitch his tent among us, to live with us, to share our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, our strengths and weaknesses in order to save us. We celebrate this mystery of salvation on the feast of Christmas — the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ our “Eldest Brother.” For this is how God loved the world: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

John Shayo was deeply moved by these words and listened intently as the old man continued. “Jesus Christ — Emmanuel” was born and lived among us human beings as an ordinary person. He surrounded himself with simple, needy people just like the farmers and herders in the villages of your valley. He helped the people with their daily problems. This is the meaning and mystery of Christmas — we learn to live like Jesus, Emmanuel our God and a person for others.

“John, from time to time you can come to this mountain top to rest and pray, but know, my friend, that the heart of Christmas is to live with the people in the valley and share their daily problems and difficulties.”

John suddenly felt that he had learned much wisdom on this East African mountaintop. Deeply touched he said, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to go back to the large valley and live with the people as Jesus Christ Himself does.” The wise old man put his hands on John’s head and gave him a blessing.

John Shayo turned slowly. Seeing the large valley stretched out below him, John began to walk down the mountain.”

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*”The Parable of the Person Who Couldn’t Find God” is a story by Rev. Joseph Healey, M.M., from Nairobi, Kenya.

Credit: Afriprov.org

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Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

The Night Before Christmas*

 

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It was the night before Christmas in Ghana and I was very sad because my family life had been severely disrupted and I was sure that Christmas would never come. There was none of the usual joy and anticipation that I always felt during the Christmas season. I was eight years old, but in the past few months I had grown a great deal.

Before this year I thought Christmas in my Ghanaian village came with many things. Christmas had always been for me one of the joyous religious festivals. It was the time for beautiful Christmas music on the streets, on radio, on television and everywhere. Christmas had always been a religious celebration and the church started preparing way back in November. We really felt that we were preparing for the birth of the baby Jesus. Christmas was the time when relatives and friends visited each other so there were always people travelling and visiting with great joy from all the different ethnic groups. I always thought that was what Christmas was all about. Oh, how I wished I had some of the traditional food consumed at the Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day dinner. I remembered the taste of rice, chicken, goat, lamb, and fruits of various kinds. The houses were always decorated with beautiful paper ornaments. The children and all the young people loved to make and decorate their homes and schools with colourful crepe paper.

All of us looked forward to the Christmas Eve Service at our church. After the service there would be a joyous procession through the streets. Everyone would be in a gala mood with local musicians in a Mardi Gras mood. Then on Christmas Day we all went back to church to read the scriptures and sing carols to remind us of the meaning of the blessed birth of the baby Jesus. We always thought that these were the things that meant Christmas. After the Christmas service young people received gifts of special chocolate, special cookies and special crackers. Young people were told that the gifts come from Father Christmas, and this always meant Christmas for us. They also received new clothes and perhaps new pairs of shoes. Meanwhile throughout the celebration everyone was greeted with the special greeting, “Afishapa,” the Akan word meaning “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Oh how I wish that those memories were real tonight in order to bring us Christmas.

However, this Christmas Eve things were different and I knew Christmas would never come. Every one was sad and desperate because of what happened last April when the so-called Army of Liberation attacked our village and took all the young boys and girls away. Families were separated and some were murdered. We were forced to march and walk for many miles without food. We were often hungry and we were given very little food. The soldiers burned everything in our village and during our forced march we lost all sense of time and place.

Miraculously we were able to get away from the soldiers during one rainy night. After several weeks in the tropical forest we made our way back to our burned out village. Most of us were sick, exhausted, and depressed. Most of the members of our families were nowhere to be found. We had no idea what day or time it was.

This was the situation until my sick grandmother noticed the reddish and yellow flower we call “Fire on the Mountain” blooming in the middle of the marketplace where the tree had stood for generations and had bloomed for generations at Christmas time. For some reason it had survived the fire that had engulfed the marketplace. I remembered how the nectar from this beautiful flower had always attracted insects making them drowsy enough to fall to the ground to become food for crows and lizards. We were surprised that the fire that the soldiers had started to burn the marketplace and the village did not destroy the “Fire on the Mountain” tree. What a miracle it was. Grandmother told us that it was almost Christmas because the flower was blooming. As far as she could remember this only occurred at Christmas time. My spirits were lifted perhaps for a few minutes as I saw the flower. Soon I became sad again. How could Christmas come without my parents and my village?

How could this be Christmas time when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace because since April we have not known any peace, only war and suffering. How could we celebrate as grandmother instructed us to do before she died? Those were the last words she spoke before she died last night. As I continued to think about past joyous Christmases and the present suffering, we heard the horn of a car and not just one horn but several cars approaching our village. At first we thought they were cars full of men with machine guns so we hid in the forest. To our surprise they were not soldiers and they did not have guns. They were just ordinary travellers. It seemed the bridge over the river near our village had been destroyed last April as the soldiers left our village. Since it was almost dusk and there were rumours that there were land mines on the roads, they did not want to take any chances. Their detour had led them straight to our village.

When they saw us they were shocked and horrified at the suffering and the devastation all around us. Many of these travellers began to cry. They confirmed that tonight was really Christmas Eve. All of them were on their way to their villages to celebrate Christmas with family and friends. Now circumstances had brought them to our village at this time on this night before Christmas. They shared the little food they had with us. They even helped us to build a fire in the center of the marketplace to keep us warm. In the middle of all this my oldest sister became ill and could not stand up. A short time after we returned to our village my grandmother told me that my oldest sister was expecting a baby. My sister had been in a state of shock and speechless since we all escaped from the soldiers.

I was so afraid for my sister because we did not have any medical supplies and we were not near a hospital. Some of the travellers and the villagers removed their shirts and clothes to make a bed for my sister to lie near the fire we had made. On that fateful night my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. This called for a celebration, war or no war. Africans have to dance and we celebrated until the rooster crowed at 6 a.m. We sang Christmas songs. Every one sang in his or her own language. For the first time all the pain and agony of the past few months went away. When morning finally came my sister was asked, “What are you going to name the baby?” Would you believe for the first time since our village was burned and all the young girls and boys were taken away, she spoke. She said, “His name is “Gye Nyame,” which means “Except God I fear none.””

And so we celebrated Christmas that night. Christmas really did come to our village that night, but it did not come in the cars or with the travellers. It came in the birth of my nephew in the midst of our suffering. We saw hope in what this little child could do. This birth turned out to be the universal story of how bad things turned into universal hope, the hope we found in the Baby Jesus. A miracle occurred that night before Christmas and all of a sudden I knew we were not alone any more. Now I knew there was hope and I had learned that Christmas comes in spite of all circumstances. Christmas is always within us all. Christmas came even to our Ghanaian village that night.

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*”The Night Before Christmas” is a short story by Rev. Peter E. Adotey Addo.

Source:  Afriprov.Org

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Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

The Gift Of The Magi*

I first read this Christmas story by William Sydney Porter (known by his pseudonym, O. Henry) some years ago and I fell in love with it. I got a muse from it and planned on writing an African version of it, but I never got the time and chance to do so. Luckily for me, I now have the opportunity of presenting the story to you in my “31 Days of Christmas” series, in unadulterated form. I hope you enjoy it like I did (and still do).

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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 pierglass 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. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

 

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*“The Gift of the Magi,” one of the best-known American short stories, was hurriedly composed in a few hours after its deadline had already passed. Celebrated American short-story writer William Sydney Porter, known by his pseudonym, O. Henry, wrote the story for New York Sunday World magazine in 1905. It was published in 1906 in a collection of his short stories, The Four Million. The story contains Porter’s characteristic ironic plot twists and surprise ending, and is set in New York City, Porter’s home from 1901 until his death in 1910. The city was a common backdrop for his stories. Today Porter is memorialized in the O. Henry Awards for short stories. These stories have been published annually in anthologies since 1918.

Source: Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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Would you like to feature your Christmas-themed short story on this blog? Kindly send a mail, attaching your short story to haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com . Each day of December, I shall publish a Christmas-themed short-story. You can write on any genre.

 

31 Days of Christmas

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Sometimes, I think I don’t give enough publicity to my blog posts or plans. I don’t know why. Maybe, I am sceptical about coming across as a pest. You know, maybe I don’t want to be that blogger who is always in your face with news about their posts/plans and all…

Anyway, if you like my page on Facebook [www.facebook.com/haroldwrites] , you would have probably seen my plan about publishing one Christmas-themed short story on each day of December. I had requested interested writers to send in their Christmas-themed stories if they would like to feature on the blog. Well, so far, I have a few entries. The plan is to have at least 31 stories. I don’t have that number yet. But I will still go ahead with the plan.

I know a couple of people who have signified interest in sending a story or two, but I am yet to receive their entries. [Hello Aunty Kiru Taye and Seyi and Karo]…. *clears throat* The initial deadline to send in entries was November 20, but I have decided to extend it.

So, are you a fiction writer and would like to share your Christmas-themed story on this blog? Please kindly send it to my email: haroldwrites.official @ gmail. com . Both established and aspiring writers are encouraged to partake in this. You can write on any genre: crime, fantasy, gothic, mystery, realism, romance…as long as it has a Christmas feel to it. Please include a short author bio to your mail as well. My email again is: haroldwrites.official @ gmail.com .

Thank you.