Gather round the fire, my friends. Settle the children around you in a circle, and make sure everyone is wearing their long woolen underwear and mittens that were hand knitted by elderly elves. It’s time for a little story, a story that will help us all remember how to have a simple, sweet, old-fashioned kind of Christmas.
The following excerpts are borrowed directly out of the Christmas chapter in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Little House in the Big Woods. I’m not technically sure I can borrow this much text without express permission from her publisher, but since Laura herself has been gone for nearly fifty-eight years and I make zero-point-zero dollars from this blog, I don’t think I’m in too much danger of getting sued.
So let’s push all thoughts of legal action out of our minds and settle in for that little story, shall we? First we set the scene:
Christmas was coming. The little log house was almost buried in snow. Great drifts were banked against the walls and windows, and in the morning when Pa opened the door, there was a wall of snow as high as Laura’s head. Pa took the shovel and shoveled it away, and then he shoveled a path to the barn, where the horses and the cows were snug and warm in their stalls.
Oh, the little log cabin deep in the snowy woods– how I swoon. Except I’m also a big fan of central heat that runs on natural gas, so I swoon at the idea of this winter scene. Actually shoveling paths through drifts is a lot of work, best left to manly pioneers. Onward we go, into the kitchen to make the holiday meal:
Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and rye’n’Injun bread, and Swedish crackers, and a huge pan of baked beans, with salt pork and molasses. She baked vinegar pies and dried apple pies, and filled a big jar with cookies, and she let Lara and Mary lick the cake spoon.
Delicious! But who will join us to eat this feast, little Laura?
The day before Christmas they came. Laura and Mary heard the gay ringing of sleigh bells, growing louder every moment, and then the big bobsled came out of the woods and drove up to the gate. Aunt Eliza and Uncle Peter and the cousins were in it, all covered up, under blankets and robes and buffalo skins. They were wrapped up in so many coats and mufflers and veils and shawls that they looked like big, shapeless bundles.
What’s this? They didn’t arrive in a minivan that has heat controls for the front and rear? No entertainment system for the children? And yet they still managed to travel to be together? So foreign.
The children played and then everyone settled in for the night, the adults telling stories by firelight while the children whispered in their beds.
They lay there whispering about it till Ma said: “Charles, those children never will get to sleep unless you play for them.” So Pa got his fiddle. The room was still and warm and full of firelight. Ma’s shadow, and Aunt Eliza’s and Uncle Peter’s were big and quivering on the walls in the flickering firelight, and Pa’s fiddle sang merrily to itself.
In the morning the children burst out of their beds to see if Santa had brought them anything. In their bright red flannel nightgowns and pajamas they found:
In each stocking there was a pair of bright red mittens, and there was a long, flat stick of red-and-white-striped peppermint candy, all beautifully notched along each side. They were all so happy they could hardly speak at first. They just looked with shining eyes at those lovely Christmas presents. But Laura was happiest of all. Laura had a rag doll.
Let’s take a minute to think of the kind of character those children had, to be delighted with a pair of mittens and a stick of candy. I realize we live in a different world now, and I also realize Little House in the Big Woods is a highly fictionalized version of pioneer life written for children. I can hardly toss a pair of mittens and a stick of candy into my kids’ stockings and expect them to think this is delightful.
But I still want to develop that kind of contentment in my kids’ hearts, and in my own heart. I want us to be thankful for every blessing, no matter how small. Finding joy in the smallest of details is a calling card of a beautiful heart, don’t you think?
Even the best of days must come to an end:
So they all got into the big bobsled, cosy and warm, and Pa tucked the last robe well in around them. “Good-by! Good-by!” they called, and off they went, the horses trotting gaily and the sleigh bells ringing. In just a little while the merry sound of the bells was gone, and Christmas was over. But what a happy Christmas it had been!