A Story Of The Christ-child





A German legend for Christmas Eve as told by



ELIZABETH HARRISON





ONCE upon a time, a long, long time ago, on the night before Christmas,

a little child was wandering all alone through the streets of a great

city. There were many people on the street, fathers and mothers, sisters

and brothers, uncles and aunts, and even gray-haired grandfathers and

grandmothers, all of whom were hurrying home with bundles of presents

for each other and for their little ones. Fine carriages rolled by,

express wagons rattled past, even old carts were pressed into service,

and all things seemed in a hurry and glad with expectation of the coming

Christmas morning.



From some of the windows bright lights were already beginning to stream

until it was almost as bright as day. But the little child seemed to

have no home, and wandered about listlessly from street to street. No

one took any notice of him except perhaps Jack Frost, who bit his bare

toes and made the ends of his fingers tingle. The north wind, too,

seemed to notice the child, for it blew against him and pierced his

ragged garments through and through, causing him to shiver with cold.

Home after home he passed, looking with longing eyes through the

windows, in upon the glad, happy children, most of whom were helping to

trim the Christmas trees for the coming morrow.



"Surely," said the child to himself, "where there is so much gladness

and happiness, some of it may be for me." So with timid steps he

approached a large and handsome house. Through the windows, he could see

a tall and stately Christmas tree already lighted. Many presents hung

upon it. Its green boughs were trimmed with gold and silver ornaments.

Slowly he climbed up the broad steps and gently rapped at the door. It

was opened by a large man-servant. He had a kindly face, although his

voice was deep and gruff. He looked at the little child for a moment,

then sadly shook his head and said, "Go down off the steps. There is no

room here for such as you." He looked sorry as he spoke; possibly he

remembered his own little ones at home, and was glad that they were not

out in this cold and bitter night. Through the open door a bright light

shone, and the warm air, filled with fragrance of the Christmas pine,

rushed out from the inner room and greeted the little wanderer with a

kiss. As the child turned back into the cold and darkness, he wondered

why the footman had spoken thus, for surely, thought he, those little

children would love to have another companion join them in their joyous

Christmas festival. But the little children inside did not even know

that he had knocked at the door.



The street grew colder and darker as the child passed on. He went sadly

forward, saying to himself, "Is there no one in all this great city who

will share the Christmas with me?" Farther and farther down the street

he wandered, to where the homes were not so large and beautiful. There

seemed to be little children inside of nearly all the houses. They were

dancing and frolicking about. Christmas trees could be seen in nearly

every window, with beautiful dolls and trumpets and picture-books and

balls and tops and other dainty toys hung upon them. In one window the

child noticed a little lamb made of soft white wool. Around its neck was

tied a red ribbon. It had evidently been hung on the tree for one of the

children. The little stranger stopped before this window and looked long

and earnestly at the beautiful things inside, but most of all was he

drawn toward the white lamb. At last creeping up to the window-pane, he

gently tapped upon it. A little girl came to the window and looked out

into the dark street where the snow had now begun to fall. She saw the

child, but she only frowned and shook her head and said, "Go away and

come some other time. We are too busy to take care of you now." Back

into the dark, cold streets he turned again. The wind was whirling past

him and seemed to say, "Hurry on, hurry on, we have no time to stop.

'Tis Christmas Eve and everybody is in a hurry to-night."



Again and again the little child rapped softly at door or window-pane.

At each place he was refused admission. One mother feared he might have

some ugly disease which her darlings would catch; another father said he

had only enough for his own children and none to spare for beggars.

Still another told him to go home where he belonged, and not to trouble

other folks.



The hours passed; later grew the night, and colder grew the wind, and

darker seemed the street. Farther and farther the little one wandered.

There was scarcely any one left upon the street by this time, and the

few who remained did not seem to see the child, when suddenly ahead of

him there appeared a bright, single ray of light. It shone through the

darkness into the child's eyes. He looked up smilingly and said, "I will

go where the small light beckons, perhaps they will share their

Christmas with me."



Hurrying past all the other houses, he soon reached the end of the

street and went straight up to the window from which the light was

streaming. It was a poor, little, low house, but the child cared not for

that. The light seemed still to call him in. From what do you suppose

the light came? Nothing but a tallow candle which had been placed in an

old cup with a broken handle, in the window, as a glad token of

Christmas Eve. There was neither curtain nor shade to the small, square

window and as the little child looked in he saw standing upon a neat

wooden table a branch of a Christmas tree. The room was plainly

furnished, but it was very clean. Near the fireplace sat a lovely faced

mother with a little two-year-old on her knee and an older child beside

her. The two children were looking into their mother's face and

listening to a story. She must have been telling them a Christmas story,

I think. A few bright coals were burning in the fireplace, and all



seemed light and warm within.



The little wanderer crept closer and closer to the window-pane. So sweet

was the mother's face, so loving seemed the little children, that at

last he took courage and tapped gently, very gently on the door. The

mother stopped talking, the little children looked up. "What was that,

mother?" asked the little girl at her side. "I think it was some one

tapping on the door," replied the mother. "Run as quickly as you can and

open it, dear, for it is a bitter cold night to keep any one waiting in

this storm." "Oh, mother, I think it was the bough of the tree tapping

against the window-pane," said the little girl. "Do please go on with

our story." Again the little wanderer tapped upon the door. "My child,

my child," exclaimed the mother, rising, "that certainly was a rap on

the door. Run quickly and open it. No one must be left out in the cold

on our beautiful Christmas Eve."



The child ran to the door and threw it wide open. The mother saw the

ragged stranger standing without, cold and shivering, with bare head and

almost bare feet. She held out both hands and drew him into the warm,

bright room. "You poor, dear child," was all she said, and putting her

arms around him, she drew him close to her breast. "He is very cold, my

children," she exclaimed. "We must warm him." "And," added the little

girl, "we must love him and give him some of our Christmas, too." "Yes,"

said the mother, "but first let us warm him."



The mother sat down by the fire with the little child on her lap, and

her own little ones warmed his half-frozen hands in theirs. The mother

smoothed his tangled curls, and, bending low over his head, kissed the

child's face. She gathered the three little ones in her arms and the

candle and the fire light shone over them. For a moment the room was

very still. By and by the little girl said softly, to her mother, "May

we not light the Christmas tree, and let him see how beautiful it

looks?" "Yes," said the mother. With that she seated the child on a low

stool beside the fire, and went herself to fetch the few simple

ornaments which from year to year she had saved for her children's

Christmas tree. They were soon so busy that they did not notice the room

had filled with a strange and brilliant light. They turned and looked at

the spot where the little wanderer sat. His ragged clothes had changed

to garments white and beautiful; his tangled curls seemed like a halo of

golden light about his head; but most glorious of all was his face,

which shone with a light so dazzling that they could scarcely look upon

it.



In silent wonder they gazed at the child. Their little room seemed to

grow larger and larger, until it was as wide as the whole world, the

roof of their low house seemed to expand and rise, until it reached to

the sky.



With a sweet and gentle smile the wonderful child looked upon them for a

moment, and then slowly rose and floated through the air, above the

treetops, beyond the church spire, higher even than the clouds

themselves, until he appeared to them to be a shining star in the sky

above. At last he disappeared from sight. The astonished children turned

in hushed awe to their mother, and said in a whisper, "Oh, mother, it

was the Christ-Child, was it not?" And the mother answered in a low

tone, "Yes."



And it is said, dear children, that each Christmas Eve the little

Christ-Child wanders through some town or village, and those who receive

him and take him into their homes and hearts have given to them this

marvellous vision which is denied to others.





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