Sunday, December 20, 2015

Magic of Christmas

   Christmas is magic. Things happen that can not be explained in any other fashion. This is a true story. I know because it happened to me.
   Sometime during the 1960s, I'm not sure what year. I took my two young nephews to Hillinmeyer's Nursery, outside of Lexington, Kentucky to visit their living nativity scene on Christmas Eve.
   The local landmark was staged in a working stable with farm animals in their pens and the scene was built in a back stall. The human participants were mannequins. As we knelt before the slated door so the boys could see I noticed that a spider was weaving a web between the points of the crown of the wiseman nearest to us. I point it out to them and started telling my version of the following story.


   Once in the long ago when people went out to the back lot and cut their own cedar tree a strange thing happened that is true magic.
   When you bring a tree in from the wild buried deep in its branches are all the insects and critters who use the tree for their home during the winter. Where the temperature is warm they begin to hatch, much like the praying mantas nest brought home and put in a jar in your room.
   The tree was placed in a bucket of water to keep it fresh and green during the season. Every member of the family had been busy making strings of popcorn and cranberries, gingerbread men, balls of bright colored yarn, crochet snowflakes were starched and ironed, tubes to hold the candles were fitted with ruffled coasters to catch drips. The candles would be lighted on Christmas Day after the family returned from church. Gifts were wrapped in gay papers that had been ironed and carefully saved from holidays past.
   When all the decorations had been attached to the tree and the gifts laid around the trunk on a clean white sheet everyone was banished from the room and the housewife began to clean. The cat and dogs who'd watched from the hearth of the great fireplace were sent to the kitchen. The mother cat was reluctant to leave because she had spotted the pink nose of a brown mouse peaking out through the knot hole in the baseboard.
   The lady of the house took her broom to every nook and corner, polished the furniture, then rested from her labors. The family was ready to celebrate the Savior's birthday when family and friends would be stopping by to share their joy.
   The one place she never thought to sweep clean was deep in the boughs of the tree. A nest began to swell and cracks appeared, tiny grey bodies tumbled out each searching for food and a dark place to hide, like the corners under the eaves in the attic or in the cellar. They staggered out to the ends of the branches.
   Horrified, they confronted a little brown mouse with bright dark eyes staring up at them.
  "Hide, hide, she'll beat you with her broom."
   "The lady of the house. She doesn't want critters near when the baby comes, tomorrow is his birthday. Come down here and look. The gift tree is a sight to see."
   The spiders glided down on fine thin filaments from high in the tree to see why the mouse was so exited. It was hard for them to see until they'd scurried back against the wall.
   What a tree!
   It pointed to the heavens. At the very tip-top was a beautiful lady dressed in white with golden hair and she had wings. Wings like the birds that darkened the sky and ate little spiders. The spiders shook with fear. Where could they hide? Where would they go away from the danger of being devoured before they's had a chance to live? They were trapped in a closed room.
   "Don't be afraid," said the mouse. "Follow me and explore this wonderful tree while it is still dark. I will show you a place above my hole in the wall where it is safe.
   "Hurry. Don't waste my time. The child is almost here and I want a few nibbles of those tasty gingerbread men before I go."
   The spiders crept across the floor back to the tree where they were born, but it wasn't like the tree where their mother placed her nest. This was a brave new tree the likes of which they'd never seen.
   They climbed up the faint silver strands to begin creeping, creeping, and crawling along each branch. The bolder and braver ones took to swinging from branch to branch, delighting with all the exuberance of being alive. Few spiders had ever experienced the thrill of freedom away from fear of the swat of a broom or a heave from a gust of wind that would blow them from their home in the wild.
   "Hurry, follow me. Dawn is coming, we must hide." He gave a big belch and lumbered across the floor with his sides bulging.
   The spiders swiftly followed, dropping from loop to loop of the thin fine filaments. Leaving behind them the stark evidence of their explorations.
    The smallest grey spider turned back for one last look at the glorious tree. His cry of despair was heard by all and they hastened to look.
   Sharp rays of the rising sun struck the gift tree, but it wasn't even pretty. It was dull, bedraggled, and woebegone with branches drooping in shame covered with ugly cobwebs like something lost and forgotten.
   The little spiders shivered in fear and desperation. They never intended to spoil the tree, they only wanted to see what the mouse had proclaimed as so grand. They beseeched the heavens to save the tree for they had meant no harm to come to the child's birthday tree.
   Before their very eyes the beautiful lady began to glow and float from the tree on her pure white wings. She sailed toward them and they cowered against the wall.
   "Be not afraid. All creatures are important to me and have a treasure to give. I accept you gift with joy for this is a day to be shared through the ages."
   Each place she touched shimmered and glowed as the cobwebs turned to gold. She returned to her perch high in the tree and smiled down while the spiders curried to safety under the baseboard.

  As I finished telling the story and got up from the ground I looked up to face a large crowd. Everyone who'd come to visit the nativity were gathered around us watching the spider build its web and were listening to me tell the story.
   No one said a word, a path opened and we walked toward the entrance. There was an exhausted blatt from a pen inside the door. A ewe was giving birth to a black lamb.
   The bells were ringing midnight and it was snowing.

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