Leopold Graf von Kalckreuth, Children by the Christmas Tree


After I woke up from my nap, there was an unusual noise and bustle in the house and the smell of cookies. Marta took me and Anna on a walk and brought the sled so that she could pull us when we got tired. I loved the distinctive squeak-crunch sound the snow made as we walked over the crusty snowdrifts and the way the untouched patches of snow revealed the patterns of snowflakes lying on their surfaces.  The pine trees bobbed and swayed all around us, and Marta’s cheeks turned a beautiful pink. I could see the amber glow from our house in the valley down below and the smoke rising from our chimney.

When we returned, my cousins had arrived. My aunts, uncles, grandparents, second-cousins, too. And a handful of people I didn’t recognize. The cold house echoed with the sounds of people readying food and dishes in the kitchen. Of wood in the fireplace popping. Of my cousins counting aloud as they played hide and seek in the attic. My parents looked tired but happy. Their footsteps seemed lighter than usual.

Outside I could see the world darkening. The bare trees were reduced to inky lines against a deep purple sky. It looked cold, and I worried about the birds and rabbits. Would they be warm enough in their nests and dens? The light in our house seemed brighter tonight, the warmth warmer.

The adults brought us into the living room after dinner, where they had lit the candles on the tree. Everything twinkled and glowed. We sang Christmas carols well past our bedtime. The flickering light of the candles was magic. Just beyond the living room windows, the outside was pure blackness.

When I went to bed, there were still strange voices coming from downstairs. My cousins laughed in the guest room down the hall, and though I tried to sleep, I struggled. As the wind blew and made the roof creak overhead, I nestled into my soft bedding, thinking of the flickering lights on the Christmas tree and the presents my parents had given me. And I thought of the rabbits snuggling together in their dens, too.

All year long, the adults tell me there is no magic. There are no monsters, no fairies, no goblins. But on this night–on this night alone–they let go of that stance. For just one night, we agree that there is more to this world than what we can see and understand.


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