Disclaimer: None; just a tiny bit of Christmas mush. Hope you enjoy it.
Language disclaimer: In case you forgot: English isn't my first language, so, I still make a lot of mistakes. I'm open for any advice you can give.
A great thank you goes to my beta reader, Mary. She really came through for me on this one. You rock!
It's a total of 58 out of the 78 words used – not great but it was my first try at an Academy Challenge.
When I was still a child my grandmother told me a lot of stories about Christmas Eve. She was from Germany and we always celebrated the birth of Christ just the way they do over there. In Germany it is not Father Christmas or Santa Claus bringing the presents like in the US but the Christ Child. It's neither male nor female, it just is. On Christmas eve the Christ Child flies in through an open window, sets up and decorates the Christmas tree and then leaves presents under the tree. To ensure we all went to bed and stayed there, Grandmother Frieda also said that the Christ Child would take the tree and presents away if we tried to sneak a peek.
Later I found out that it was my parents who put up the Christmas tree and I also learned that the presents didn't come from the Christ Child or even from Santa but from my parents, my aunts, my cousins, my uncles. I no longer believed and I no longer wanted to have anything to do with the whole thing. It stayed this way until I turned twenty-one.
The year it all changed, my parents decided to go on a long cruise on the 'Liberty Bell', a big cruise ship rivalling the 'Queen Mary' in size and comfort, departing from San Francisco, first going south to Mexico. After crossing the Panama Canal they would head east for Europe, with stops in England and France. To make it less stressful they had decided against going to Spain and Italy, keeping Madrid and Rome for the next trip to the Continent. They were scheduled to celebrate New Year's Eve in New Orleans and then would go north to New York to meet with my older brother, who plays both short stop and catcher of the Comet Rangers, an aspiring baseball team.
I was happy to stay home, for once being absolved of participating in such stupid rituals as carolling and midnight mass or the nightmarish task of searching for presents. Not to think of the stupid games my nieces made me play that always revolve around being ga ga over some teenage idol boy band member named Brian, Carl, Al or Mike. Really, Dennis, the Menace, had nothing on them.
I had planned on going skiing with a couple of friends but one after the other backed out, citing the need to honor family obligations. So, when Christmas Eve drew closer I found myself stranded on campus. (If truth be know I did covet their family obligations a little.) 'Tropical Storm' was waiting on my bedside table to be reread but Mary, my roommate, clearly had other ideas.
I don't know how she did it but she managed to drag me away from my book before I even had the chance to finish the first page – but, by the Gods, when she looks at me a certain way I still can't resist her and the war is lost. We went to the local orphanage, of all places. There were quite a few other students I had seen on campus without really seeing them. I knew only two of them; the star pitcher from the women's softball team and a boy on academic scholarship everyone was calling Sleepy because he was all of five foot five and worked the night shifts at the local hospital to pay for his room. All were busy preparing one thing or the other. I once had told my roommate that I was good at building things, so, I was assigned to assemble as many bikes as possible from the pile of parts donated by the local scrap yard.
Building bikes from scratch really was not my idea of fun. So, I grumbled and whined at first but then I began to work. It was a challenge, and I love a challenge.
Hour after hour passed and somehow I must have fallen asleep – well, at least I suppose it was a dream though I remember it as if it were one of the Christmas stories my grandmother had told me.
One day – and it's been a really long time ago, my beloved, - Santa was sitting in his workshop, like he did every day. It was his job to see that all the presents for all the children of the world, great or small, were ready on Christmas Eve. It was his job to build and paint them, all the teddy bears and dolls, baby-strollers, bongos, snare drums and books. He saw to it that the train sets were working; the doll's houses had everything they needed, including a room with piano and tambourines for the music lessons. He rechecked the nutcrackers and made sure that the green wings of the wooden angels were solidly attached. Especially the one holding the triangle, as this angel seemed to have had some problems the year before. There were a lot of other things in his workshop: violins, baseball bats, cymbals, maracas, footballs, tin soldiers, stuffed animals of all size and shape – everything a child would dream about. He even made clothing and shoes – for all the big children who forgot to send their wish list.
At the time there were no tapes or CDs or DVDs, no computers and no computer games, no stereo systems with powerful bass boosters, or 16:9 flat screen TVs. Remember, my beloved, all this was a long, long time ago and all these things hadn't been invented yet.
There was so much to do that he didn't have a choice but to work on more than one thing at a time – to be frank, he put multitasking to an entirely new level: He was putting together a Confederate style rocking chair and painted the mouth of a curly haired blonde doll bright red. He made a new binding for an anthology of love stories, with a cute little Cupid as the book cover and gave a swing a twist to test it out. He put the left eye of a teddy bear straight to keep him from being cross-eyed and saw that the reindeers led by Rudolph Rednose were in the right order: Dasher and Dancer in the second row, Prancer and Vixen in the third, and then the other four.
It took a real master not to lose track of things. We certainly would have ended up with our fingers all knotted together but Santa had a lot of practice, and so everything always was ready in time.
But one day there was an accident. Santa was checking out a pair of roller-skates, some sleigh bells and a rocking horse when he suddenly lost his balance. It might not have happened if he hadn't been thoroughly taste-testing the eggnog. The back of his head hit a small brass table he had just put a last coat of blue paint on with a loud 'klang', resembling the sound of a big gong. He saw stars and right after he lost consciousness. When he finally awoke, he didn't know where he was. He slowly sat up and rubbed the bump on his head.
Santa gazed around the workshop at the unfinished toys. He saw the stack of presents waiting to be wrapped. This room where he had spent hundreds and hundreds of years now was strange and unfamiliar to him. He didn't recognise Blitzen, his favourite reindeer. He also didn't remember the story he had been about to write about Thor, the Nordic 'Donner' God, what means thunder in English. Only when he saw his friends, the small white dog with the black circle around his left eye and the black cat with the white shoes, did he begin to remember. His reflection in the mirror even gave him a start; he remembered a young man but what he saw was someone with wrinkles around his eyes, a white beard, and long curly white hair.
All of these things finally triggered his memory and he returned to work but it didn't go as he was used to: The teddy bear ended up with the face of a smiling doll and the doll suddenly was cross-eyed. The rocking chair refused to rock back and forth because the balance was off. He unintentionally had used the supporting beam of the doll's house to stabilise the seat. The lower jaw of the nutcracker was upside down and now was looking like the front teeth of a rodent. Whatever he tried it didn't work out, in fact he destroyed more than he completed – and when he went to bed late in the night, he was sad and frustrated.
Everyone knows that the Christ child sleeps in a secluded room to the west of the workshop far enough away from the banging and sawing to not disturb its sleep. Usually Santa would have gone to speak with the Christ Child, for the Child always had the answers. Unfortunately Santa would have to wait. The Child never woke before the end of November when the nights were longer than the days to help with a few last minute details and do most of the gift-wrapping – and summer had just begun on earth.
He even thought about asking the little angels but they were busy with guarding the children on earth. It was their job to see that the children were good and didn't play any stupid pranks. Only if they really had been good throughout the year on Christmas Eve would the Christ Child leave them presents. Sometimes it was hard to get some of the youngsters to obey and so the guardian angels had to be ever vigilant.
When he went back to his work the next morning, it didn't go any better and he started cursing under his breath. He then remembered that it was his duty to worship the Holy One instead of giving free reign to his temper. So, he decided to do one thing after the other. It took him the whole day to repair the things he had botched up the afternoon before. The teddy bear for instance needed a new head because the paint of the doll's face couldn't be removed, and the rocking chair worked only after the third try. When he went to bed this night, he still knew that everything was not as it should be but he also was proud that he hadn't given up. And thinking about the rainbow coloured coat of paint he had put on the body of a big xylophone, even brought a smile on his face.
This year, when the nights finally became longer than the days, the Christ Child didn't wake to a well-ordered workshop where everything was just waiting to be neatly labelled and wrapped. Instead it found Santa still in a working frenzy. He didn't even get up to greet the Holy Child, so intend was he on painting the names of the seven dwarfs on the little pedestals they were standing on. The figurines were only a couple of inches tall and he had to use very tiny letters. Every once in a while he paused to get the names right: Doc with the big beard and the spectacles, Sneezy with the red nose. Happy was also ready, sitting in the center of the table and waiting to be put on the shelf. The paint on Dopey's pedestal was still drying and he just had started with the last two of them when the Christ Child called his name.
To say that the Holy Child was shocked at the state of things would have been an understatement, especially when it learned that the accident happened because of too much eggnog. Of course Santa didn't even think of lying to the Holy One. So, it read him the riot act, unnecessarily as it turned out because the whole thing already was weighing heavily on his conscience and he was convinced that it was his fault that this year's Christmas would be totally ruined. Short of accusing him of theft or murder, there was nothing the Holy Child could say that he hadn't already told him himself.
So, the Christ Child took pity on him and decided to resort to extreme measures. The next night, the child went down to earth. It was very late when the child arrived and all the small and bigger children were asleep – you know, my beloved, the children who call themselves adults.
The Christ Child whispered in their ears and gave them ideas of what to give their family, their friends, their neighbours for Christmas. The adults would remember the Christ Childs suggestions when they heard tinkling of Christmas chimes. The Christ Child returned every night until it had reached everyone in the world – and even the rather grumpy adults who usually didn't want anything to do with the whole Holiday spirit found themselves building little toys, sewing or knitting or simply buying something.
They were surprised and astonished by what they couldn't help but doing. In the beginning some of them even were afraid, they thought themselves obsessed because they were acting totally out of character – but they really did have any choice: even the most grown-up of children are powerless faced with a request made by the Holy Child.
And while they were thinking about what to give to others, they became as carefree and friendly as never before. Total strangers greeted each other on the streets, they joked and exchanged ideas. Their laughter ascended to the sky and Santa's workshop where he still was working side by side with the Christ Child. From time to time Santa found himself humming with the Christmas carols that drifted up from earth.
Groups of people just met and sang together, creating an impromptu choir, and whenever one had forgotten the words, someone else knew them or they just made something up. On rare occasion they even danced on the streets, without caring if one was a good dancer or had two left feet; polka, square and waltz were very popular. They certainly also would have danced the hustle, swing, Texas two-step, or line – if only these dances would have been invented yet.
It was a season of Advent to remember, unusual, strange, and at the same time like a well-choreographed ballet. Santa kept on making one present after the other – and he no longer felt guilty his accident because the Christ Child also had whispered forgiveness in his ear during his sleep – and just to stay on the safe side, he hadn't touched a single drop of eggnog since then.
The small army of guardian angels still was watching over the children on earth but they soon found that at the moment there was nothing to do for them. So, one evening, they decided to go and help Santa and the Christ Child. Boisterous, high-spirited, blethering, chattering, giggling, they were about to turn everything upside down with their enthusiasm. The Christ Child let them help with the gift-wrapping. They put all their skills and ambition in the task and were especially proud of their work when they created a package one couldn't tell what was hidden under the colourful wraps at first glance. Their masterpiece was a pair of timpani, the big bulbous drums looking like a doll's house, complete with a fake gable.
And so with the combined efforts of angels, and Santa, and humans, and the Christ Child despite the black cloud it had started under that year's celebration became the best Christmas ever.
I woke from a hand on my shoulder and Mary telling me that it was time to go back to campus and catch a few hours of sleep before returning to the orphanage in the morning to watch the children unwrap their gifts. She also told me that I had done a great job at assembling the bikes and that all of them were shining and ready to be put under the tree. I gave her a slightly disorientated, bashful smile, not quiet believing her praise but when I looked around I saw that she was right – though I distinctly remembered that there still have been enough parts left to make another three bikes when I fell asleep. I knew there had been a roll of yellow tape in my hand I had intended to put on the handle of one of the bikes.
The next morning, I didn't have to be dragged to the orphanage. I was looking forward to it and when I saw the smiling faces of children and adults alike, eyes shining with excitement I remembered why I had loved Christmas when I was younger – and I decided to do everything I can to make every year's celebration the best Christmas ever.
Besides, Mary and I are still living together. We just had our ten years anniversary and to the bewilderment of our friends and family we still celebrate Christmas at the local orphanage – after all that Christmas had been the beginning.
List of challenge words in order of appearance:
2. Male, female
3. Liberty Bell
10. short, catcher
12. Brian, Carl, Al, Mike
20. bongos, snare
23. cymbals, maracas
30. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen
31. second, third
32. sleigh bells
43. Doc, Sneezy
48. theft, murder
52. polka, square, waltz
53. Hustle, swing, two-step, line
59. [idol = should be 'idols']
60. [covet = should be 'covetousness']
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