The heart of the Christmas holiday tends to get lost in the shuffle, especially for the bitter protagonist drowning his sorrows in the local pub. Plunge into the blizzard with him as encounters with unlikely characters help to restore the joy of his salvation. Written and performed by Trenton James Stephenson.
Christmas Bonus E.3
For Unto Us: A Christmas Tale
Hello everybody, and welcome back to Lost in the Woods Fairy Tales. Don't worry, you are in the right place. I know it has been a long time, but not that much has changed. My name is Trent Stephenson and I am Autumn's husband, and for the past few Christmas seasons you have been introduced to a couple of my own original stories. Not wanting to break with this tradition, I wrote another one for 2022. However, as I read it to Autumn, as she would usually be the one to narrate it, she shook her head and said I would have to be the one to read it this year. So here we are. She will be reading for a couple of characters as well, so don't be alarmed, you won't be stuck with me entirely. This story is a little different than my previous ones. It does not fall as deep into the fairy tale genre as my others, but does of course contain some wonderful and fantastic things that rest deep in the heart of this season. So without further ado, let's get lost as we read the story of (chimes)
"For Unto Us: A Christmas Tale" by...well me...Trenton James Stephenson.
I loathe this season. The stinging cold that makes bones so brittle. The solid precipitation threatening every step with the chance of a stumble or a slip. But more than anything, more than the cold, more than the wet, more than the added hours of darkness, I hate the joy. The songs and revelry surrounding me, molesting my ears, and battling my melancholy only seems to intensify my foul demeanor. I don’t wish to come across as bereft of all cheer and goodwill, mind you. In warmer parts of the year, I am the pinnacle of fellowship. It is only this yuletide humbuggery, if I may steal such a wonderful term, that affects me so. It is nothing but ridiculous fancy and foolery. Theologically speaking, December has little to do with the birth of our Savior. Philosophically speaking, it is a time of celebration steeped in conflicting ideologies. And psychologically speaking, it is infuriating to find that those brigands and miscreants, normally referred to as the general public, pretend that a few weeks of charity and smiles erase an entire annum of greed and vice. It is a time of avarice and false cheer that I for one count merely as increased annoyances to an already trying portion of the year.
This had been my interpretation of Christmas, complete and unwavering. That is until, and I regret the use of such banal and unoriginal language, that something remarkable occurred. It was Christmas Eve in the year of our Lord 1879 in merry old London, and I dipped into a pub to escape the torrential outpouring of wretched Christmas cheer. The weather itself wafted frigidly, but amiably with no snow or precipitation on the horizon. In this place I saw fellows of a similar banner. Others suffering from the same drab disdain for this odious season, and it provided me with some much-needed encouragement. I removed my mittens and scarf and stepped boldly to the bar to order something that would instill a sense of warmth within my person. Once equipped with said concoction, I took a seat at a nearby table and settled in with the intent of imbibing at least three more, which I did indeed do. It was after this fourth and final quaffing that a man I had never met before took the seat opposite mine. “Can I help you?” I inquired.
He smiled and settled into his seat, “You seemed a bit lonesome is all, I thought I would offer you some companionship.”
I scoffed, “That, my dear sir, is exactly what I am trying to avoid.”
“Oh?” He returned, “And why do you seek such avoidance on a night where others typically cling to their fellow man?”
I straightened myself up rather haughtily and leaned in on my answer, “Because it is false.” And as arrogantly as I leaned in, I sat back even more so. This man needed a lesson and by all the powers I possessed I would be the one to hand it down mightily. “This whole season stinks,” I continued, “of ungracious giving and veiled contempt. The songs, once joyful and true, ring dull and lifeless. The cakes and treats are over-sugared and dry. The smiles and laughter only serve to shadow the grief and delusion. And Christmas punches…well I do still enjoy those from time to time but hang the rest.”
With my tirade at a momentary pause, the stranger took his opportunity to interject. “But surely you must believe some sincerity exists? That some people give in earnest, and others sing the praises of Christmas with a truly merry heart? Certainly, you must have witnessed some of this?”
I raised my hand to him and stifled a quick belch before laying down my eloquent retort, “Rubbish. Have you heard of this new fable they are telling children now? Some fattened geezer named Father Christmas brings good little girls and boys gifts.”
The man chuckled, “I have, actually. It was something picked up in the Americas. Santa Claus, they call him. Though he has different names in different places.”
“But you see, that’s exactly what I’m referring to. We have a false religious holiday that is attributed to the birth of Christ, and what do we do? We conflict it even further by introducing a golden calf.”
The man was now laughing, “Well, I can see your point on that. But in the end, what does it matter? This Father Christmas is simply another symbol of giving and cheer. If it is a fabricated holiday, as you say, then what’s the great harm in a fairy tale?”
I grew irritated, “Haven’t you been listening? It’s false. It’s a figment. If the fabricated symbol is found out, then the meaning will be of no consequence.”
Now I could see my companion growing irritable as well in result of my stubbornness. His smile did not drop, but his eyes shown exasperation and cynicism. “I think, sir, that you forget the true meaning behind today, and that you don’t trust your fellow man to see it.”
“Truth? Ha.” I laughed at him. “I see little truth in this holiday. And as far as my fellow man is concerned, they wouldn’t know the truth if it struck them across their ears.”
He gave a slight, “Hmm?” He then uncrossed his legs and rose from his chair intending to leave. How did I not see until this point that he wore no coat? It was terribly cold outside, and though he was indeed a silly optimist, he didn’t deserve to freeze. “I say, my dear fellow, where is your coat.”
He examined himself in a sarcastic manner, knowing full well he did not wear one. “I suppose the cold did not phase me.”
“Do you live near here?”
“Not in the least.”
I rolled my eyes. A man so optimistic he would see himself freeze for refusing to admit it was even cold. “Here.” I handed him my outer coat. “I don’t live far from here, so I should be able to make it back without causing myself too much trouble.”
The glimmer in his eyes returned. “You would do that for me?”
“Well, you may be an annoyance, but that’s no reason for you to be found cold stiff in the gutter tomorrow morning. It’s an old raggedy thing anyway.” I lied. It was my favorite coat. I wore it every day, and I believe he could tell. “But don’t go thinking that this is some sort of Christmas benevolence. Just because I don’t want you to die doesn’t mean I am expressing any type of yuletide cheer.”
“I wouldn’t presume anything of the sort.” He said, slipping his arms through the sleeves. He looked straight at me as he began fastening the buttons. “At risk of offending you yet again, may I say something?”
“I believe you are going to have a very enlightening Christmas this year.” He stated. He then held out his hand to shake.
I somewhat begrudgingly took it, though not so much. As bothersome as he was, I enjoy a good verbal sparring, and I felt as though I came out on top. Would not want to seem the ungrateful victor after all. “I doubt it very much, but I wish you the best regardless.”
He turned, his jovial countenance still holding, and walked towards the door, before he was out of ear shot, I could hear him say, “Trust me. I’m rarely wrong.” With that, he and my favorite coat were gone.
What did he mean? He was obviously wrong. I mastered him at our exchange on Christmas, and I don’t know how enlightening the night could possibly be given that my plans consisted of one more round and retiring for the evening. It occurred to me then that that final statement might have been nothing more than that of an ungrateful loser. Never mind it. The exchange was done. I had my one final round and fastened my scarf tightly around my neck to fight off the cold as much as I could. At least my current intoxication might guard me against the frigid air just enough for me to get home and into my warm bed. I exited the pub with a wave to everybody and wished them a lovely evening and stepped out into the street.
Two realizations came to mind in that instant. The weather had turned very suddenly for it was now snowing and the wind had become quite turbulent. And despite my best efforts, I was no longer intoxicated. My eyes saw clearly, my movements were rigid and focused, and I could feel every bit of the damp freezing wind biting my skin. I hurried down the street as quickly as I could without stumbling to get indoors. I had almost rounded my street, when I heard a sound that penetrated through the wind coming from a nearby alley way. I turned my head and saw a small child whimpering and huddled. All thoughts of comfort went out of my head, and I immediately crossed the street to examine the situation. I escaped the wind in the alley way, but the cold was now settling to my bones. I looked down at the little urchin and saw a girl of about ten years sobbing. Her clothes were of fine material, so she couldn’t be a beggar. I knelt down and addressed her. “Oh, my goodness, deary, what are you doing here in the cold like this?”
She continued to sob uncontrollably, but through her tears and shivers I could hear her say, “I…I lost my mummy…and daddy.”
I instinctively held out my arms and covered her, though I don’t know how much warmth I could provide without my coat. “Don’t worry sweetheart. We’ll find them. As soon as this wind settles, I’ll take you straight to them.” I was near sobbing myself. I didn’t know how much longer I could last without my coat, and I couldn’t fathom stepping out into that tempest again.
Then, behind us, I heard a hearty voice cry out to us. “My good graces. Wut in the world do you two think yer doin’ out on a night like this? And you,” addressing me specifically, “without any proper coat. Now you aught to know betta than that. Come on you two, before you catch yer death.”
I only caught a silhouette of the man that called out to us as he stood in front of a door with light spilling out behind him. He gestured again, “Come on then.” I looked at the girl. I could tell by her eyes that, given her dire situation, she had submitted herself completely to my care and would follow me. I didn’t know who this man was, but there seemed precious little else at our disposal. I shook my head and lifted the poor frozen lass to her feet. I held her hand and we approached the shadowy figure and his light. At the entryway, I could now make out his features quite well. He was indeed a dirty and disheveled old tramp. At this first appearance, I hesitated to proceed, but then he smiled and spoke again. “Look at the state of you two. Come on then. We have us a roarin’ fire on downstairs, and some lovely eats to fill yer bellies.” His smile warmed me through, and his invitation, vulgar speech notwithstanding, gave me such a peace that I forgot the very meaning of the word fear.
We followed the poor grubby fellow down a corridor and proceeded even further down a flight of stairs. I had not the faintest clue of where we were. Though I lived but a few skips away from the alley we had originally found ourselves in, this underground tributary was alien to me. It could have been an old mine shaft, or a part of the sewer system, but the walls were of new brick hewn expertly all around, and lanterns paced every five meters or so providing light to every step we took. “I say. What is this place?” I asked the old tramp.
“Eden itself.” He answered directly. “Or it might as well be, for all I know of it. All’s I can tell you is that, once a year on Christmas Eve, this place comes about, and us folks without proper means is takin’ care of.” Upon this last statement, we arrived at the bottom of the stairs to a massive room filled with light and gaiety. The same expertly hewn stone surrounded us in arches covered with garland of magnificent green. Holly berries accentuated the festive adornments along with pinecones and acorns. In the middle of the great hall was a tremendous evergreen covered in cornucopias, berries, pears, and candles so bright you would swear that you were seeing heaven itself. Great tables lined the floor with luxuries indescribable. Dripping meats, steaming puddings, hot punches, a myriad of cakes and pies, some of which I had never seen the likes of, all lay out upon the communal planks with eagerly awaiting diners of varying wretchedness who, despite their obviously famished states, waited patiently.
“Good heavens.” I proclaimed.
“Go on then. Sit yerselves down.” The old tramp said. “It’s just about to start.”
We sat together at the end of one of the great tables. The aromas of the surrounding food drove me utterly mad, and I started to reach in, for I don’t know what, when the little girl’s hand swatted my own. “Not yet.” She stated.
“Quite right.” The tramp confirmed. “We has to wait for Gabe to give his customary greeting.”
I rubbed my hand and smiled at the tiny lass for her desire for decorum, then addressed our host, “This is remarkable.” (Sigh) I suppose sometimes there is no other word. “But you say this place only appears once a year? Why is that?”
“Why should it not?” the old man responded. “It don’t make any sense to me as to where or how this place comes about. But here it is. Why shouldn’t I just be glad that it shows up when it does? Askin’ more of somethin’ you don’t understand is like tryin’ to convince the sky not to rain on you.”
I sat silent, allowing his answer to fully humble me, and as I did a murmur of shooshes filled the room and all at the banquet fell silent, and looked to a man standing in front of the great tree. I recognized the figure instantly, not because he had any striking or recognizable features, but because he stood still wearing my favorite coat. It was indeed the man from before that accosted me with Christmasy questions.
He held the entire audience in pure silence for a moment, then spoke in a grand voice that filled every inch of the massive hall, almost frightening if I may admit. “My dear friends. A very Happy Christmas to you, one and all. I am so pleased to see each of you here this evening to celebrate. But many of you may ask yourselves, ‘What is it that we are actually celebrating?’ or perhaps, ‘What is there worth celebrating?’. The world has fallen ever deeper into degradation and sin, correct. Most of those not wanting for basic needs, indeed those who maintain a surplus of comfort, often disregard their fellow man, correct. Multiple doctrines and deities attribute meaning to this time of year, in fact the celebration we know as Christmas is a fabrication…this is also correct.” He looked around the room, and his eyes welled. “But these are merely facts.” He continued. “Truth is why we celebrate. Truth is why differences are set aside if only for a few days. The truth is, despite the state of the human race, there are still those that seek righteousness and mercy. The truth is a wealthy man can still maintain his heart and use his purse for the betterment of mankind. And the truth is, regardless of all those myths and stories, no matter on what calendar day it took place, a child was born to us. A child who was born of such little esteem, it had to be done in isolation among animals bred for slaughter. A child of such low regard to the human race, that the only people to first claim witness to this savior’s existence, were shepherds who left their own flock to see a single lamb. This child did not come for the wealthy only. He did not come for the religious or pious. He came for all. All who look upon Him and recognize Him as savior, need not fear the trivialities of this world. No amount of money, no status, can change who you are to Him. That is why we celebrate. Friends, I thank you for being here. Many are called to this feast, but not all choose to come. Eat well. And be Merry. It is in His most holy name I pray for each of you. Amen.”
At the end of this speech, an uproarious cheer followed. Clapped hands and clinking glasses reverberated all throughout. I myself could only sit in awe. Tears filled my eyes as I thought on what I had allowed to allude me all these years. How I had let myself lose focus. It hurt. As correction should, but it was a joyous hurt. I wiped my eyes then tucked in with the rest of the company to one of the greatest meals in which I had ever partaken. We all laughed and made merry to our hearts content, so much so that I felt mine would burst from my chest. This strange Christmas with beggars and vagabonds, rests in my memory as one of the greatest nights of my entire life. The cheerful mood had eclipsed all worry. I even looked down at the girl to my side who laughed and giggled with the rest of us, completely forgetting her situation.
The meal waned to its eventual conclusion, and that is when the realization struck me that we had better make our exit. The child had fallen asleep in her seat with her head rested on my waist. I picked her up in my arms and carried her up the stairs waving and bidding a Merry Christmas to all that I had met. We walked down the corridor to the exit when, just as we were about to leave, I heard a voice call to me. I reared around, and there stood Gabe smiling that infectious, all be it considerably annoying, smile of his holding my coat in his arm. “Did you enjoy yourself?” He asked.
“Oh, very much so.” I admitted. “The punch was a bit heavy laden on the spice for my taste, but not too terrible otherwise.”
He laughed. “I will remember that for next year, I suppose.” He then handed me my coat. “Here you are. Thank you for the loan of it. I think it gave me quite a distinguished look this year.” I took it from him and smiled in return. “You know,” he continued, “it isn’t just the bad ones that get lost every so often. But I am so happy that you found your way.” He then patted my arm and turned back to the party. I ponder often upon Gabe, and that moment. Who this fellow was, and why he sought me out for that night? But when all things are accounted for, would I truly be surprised to find out who he was? Or does it even matter? So much as I have reason again for recognizing Christmas.
I stepped out of the door ready to brave the terrible frost and bitter wind again, but once more nature had shown itself the finicky character it truly was, and I instead embraced a brisk calm evening. No snow collected on the ground and the wind had completely subsided. The girl awoke in my arms, and I set her down on her own feet, so I could wrap myself again in my favorite coat. I then took her hand and said, “Alright. Let’s go find your parents.”
We had only rounded the corner of the alley way onto the main street, when she recognized two people walking toward us and ran up to them. “Mummy! Daddy!”
She flopped right into her father’s arms. “Oh, my good girl.” He stated kissing her and lifting her up. “Where did you go? We turned around and you had vanished.”
“It’s alright daddy. This nice man took care of me.” She said looking back.
They both approached me. “Oh, thank you, sir.” The mother exclaimed. “We were walking home, and suddenly she wasn’t there.”
“Indeed,” affirmed the father, “It was only a few minutes, but our hearts had practically dropped from within us.”
A few minutes? He said it had only been a few minutes. How could that be so? “Oh, it was no bother at all.” Was all I could muster at the moment.
“Well, thank you again. And a merry Christmas to you.” He said. They then turned upon their way. The girl’s head rested on her father’s shoulder’s looking back at me.
“Merry Christmas, sir.” She called out to me.
I stood there confused, but nevertheless fulfilled with the evening’s experience, and I called out to her one more time and replied, “A merry Christmas to you as well, my dear lady.”
This season is fraught with inconsistency and half-truths, and many can be led astray by them. But if we can only remember that a simple complete truth remains, then we can still celebrate and with even more fervor than before. For unto us, a child was given. Praised be His name.
A couple of years ago, I started diving deep into the origins of different Christmas traditions. The tree, the holly, the lights, and all and all it got to be...rather depressing. So many things we attribute to this season has its roots in pagan traditions, and not just one, but several different ones from Norse gods to Roman gods, and it all began to feel so cheap. I was wondering if I could truly appreciate this season again after learning all that I had. But in the end, and a big thanks to my wife for reminding me of this, though we know that Christ was not necessarily born in December, we can still recognize and celebrate the fact that he was born at all. For "greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4) That means that despite all the other "stuff", Christ eclipses all things, and we still have a reason to celebrate.
As Christians, we celebrate Jesus’ birth at the time of year when the greatest darkness of winter is retreating as the sunlight begins to beat it back. His birth on earth as a lowly human child under the terms of the curse marked the turning point in our history, when God’s covert rescue plan to redeem His children from darkness and bring us back to His marvelous light went into full operation. Arise and shine, for your light has come. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot and will not overcome it. It is for freedom that Christ came to set us free, from the highest to the lowest, the celebrity to the outcast, the shepherds to the kings.
So go out this holiday season in whatever way you can, and share the joy and freedom you’ve been given with everyone around you. Merry Extended Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year from the fairy tale forest. I’m Autumn Woods, (and I’m Trent Stephenson) and we can’t wait to see you on the path in 2023 the next time you get, Lost in the Woods.