by Ralph V. Harvey
(Inspired by Hans-Christian Andersen’s story, “The Fir Tree” - 1845)
Far away in the country of Austria, a quiet little village is nestled in a valley surrounded by the majestic snow-capped Alps. Not far from the village is a forest of stately tall trees: fir and pine and all kinds of hardwood trees; maple, hickory, beech and mighty oak trees. In the center of the forest is a velvety green meadow dotted by colorful wild flowers of every variety. A brook of sparkling clear water meanders through the meadow as though it can’t decide which way it wants to go. Most of the time, it is so peaceful and quiet in the meadow that you can almost hear the butterflies flapping their wings. An occasional meadowlark spirals its way high up into the sky, chirping and singing so happily that you would think it was an entire flock of birds! Wanderers frequently pass through the valley, pausing to wish that they could build a cabin and spend the rest of their lives in this delightful place.
But one of God’s creatures that lived in the meadow near the brook, was quite unhappy. It was a small tannenbaum, who complained to anyone who would listen, how unfortunate he was to be such a small insignificant tree in the middle of the meadow.
A mocking bird noticed his drooping branches and sadness and asked, “Why are you so dejected, little tannenbaum?” The tannenbaum did not reply but thought bitterly to himself, “That is why they are called mocking birds. They just have to taunt me because I am so small!”
Looking down into the brook, the tannenbaum saw his reflection in the water and thought to himself, “Even the brook is laughing at me for being such a little tree! Why, oh, why can’t I be big and tall like those trees in the forest?” he asked himself.
The warm sun shone in all its brilliance, and balmy breezes attempted to caress the little tannenbaum’s branches. The sunbeams called cheerily to the tannenbaum, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!” The tannenbaum, however, bristled his needles and threw one of his pine cones angrily onto the ground. He was not happy and refused to be consoled in his misery. He wished so much to be big and strong like the trees which grew on the edge of the meadow.
In winter, when sparkling white snow covered everything, the meadow grew deathly silent. Most birds had flown off to warmer climates, and the brook was frozen solid. An occasional rabbit paused to greet the tree. “Good morning, little tannenbaum!” That was exactly what the tannenbaum did NOT wish to hear! If only he could grow bigger! Then they would no longer say “little!” They would show him a little respect! All the tannenbaum could think of was becoming big and strong like the trees in the forest.
Winter came and went, and soon it was spring again. The birds returned, and townspeople came to the meadow looking for mushrooms, bouquets of wild flowers or delicious wild strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and huckleberries. Climbers with backpacks and walking sticks trekked through the meadow on their way to the nearby mountains. Often they would pause to eat a snack or rest by the brook in the center of the meadow. The little tannenbaum should have been happy for their company, but he always dreaded such visits. Inevitably, they would look at the tree and say, “What a cute little tannenbaum!” The tannenbaum just couldn’t bear to hear that!
Another year passed and still another. Soon the tannenbaum was large enough for people to sit in its shadow, but they still talked about the little tree in the meadow. Growth seemed so slow, and the tannenbaum was very impatient. “If only I was big like those other trees,” the tannenbaum sighed, “I could spread out my branches and stretch my crown into the sky and see the whole world! And when the strong winds blow, I would stand straight and tall.”
Many animals and people ventured into the meadow, and all of them were happy to see the dancing sunbeams and feel the balmy breezes, with one exception. The little tannenbaum wanted no part of them. The sunbeams would call cheerily, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!” The wind came over and kissed the little tannenbaum, and the dew wept over the tree because he refused to rejoice in his Creator.
Neither the brilliant sunrises nor the colorful sunsets could cheer him. Sweet-scented flowers and the birds’ singing only irritated him. As long as the tannenbaum was not big and strong like the trees in the forest, he could not enjoy life in the meadow. The tannenbaum just longed to be big and tall and strong like the trees in the forest.
Winter returned once more, and soon the brook froze and everything was covered with snow. This year, the blanket of snow was so deep that it almost covered the little tannenbaum. He seemed so tiny with only his crown protruding above the snow! Adding to this indignity, a young fawn jumped right over the tree and bragged about it to her mother. “Look how big I am! I can jump over the little tree!” the fawn squealed with delight.
The tannenbaum wanted so much to be like other trees in the forest. Every year in autumn, when many trees turned brilliant red, yellow and various shades of brown, the little tannenbaum was green with envy. “If only I could turn colors like those trees in the forest,” moaned the little tree, “then I could be happy!”
Every year in autumn, the woodsmen came into the forest and cut down some of the trees. At first, the little tannenbaum was frightened when a mighty tree crashed to earth with such force that the entire meadow shook. The loud snapping noise of breaking branches echoed off the mountains. Then the woodsmen would cut off all the branches until only the long straight trunk was left. When the woodsmen thought that they had cut down enough trees, they chained them together, and a team of horses dragged them to a dirt road where they were loaded onto a large truck.
“Why do they cut down the largest and strongest trees and haul them away?” asked the little tannenbaum of a jet black raven that was resting in his branches. “Where do they take the trees, and what happens to them?”
The raven said, “I don’t know for certain, but a stork once told me that she saw two of the trees on a ship during her annual migration to Egypt. She would not have recognized them if they had not shouted out greetings. The stork said that the trees had been shaved of their bark, sanded smooth and varnished until they glistened in the sun. They were very handsome and decorated with flowing white robes that caught the wind and seemed to push the ship forward.”
“If only I was big and strong, I too could sail the seas and see the world,” sighed the little tannenbaum.
The sunbeams dancing on the brook paused and called to the tannenbaum, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!” The wind came over and kissed the little tannenbaum, and the dew wept over the tree because he refused to rejoice in his Creator. The little tannenbaum could not understand and was not to be comforted.
In the coldest part of winter, when the days were short and the nights long, people from town came to the meadow and cut down some of the smaller trees. The people always looked for the greenest and nicest-looking trees, which they cut down and dragged from the meadow.
“Where are they taking the trees?” the tannenbaum wanted to know. “Why do they take the small trees, and why do they keep their branches?”
“We know!” chirped the sparrows in chorus, “Down in the village, we saw where they put the little trees.” “They take them into their warm houses and dress them up with all kinds of lovely things. There are silver bells, pretty little packages, beautiful red apples, golden walnuts, gingerbread and marzipan figures, toys and little candles. They always place large silver stars or angels on top of the trees. They are so pretty! They call it Christmas.”
“And then?” asked the tannenbaum as all his branches shook with excitement. “What happens then?” he asked.
“We don’t know,” replied the sparrows, “But the trees are so pretty, and the people just adore them.”
“It takes so long to grow,” thought the little tannenbaum. “That sounds even better than sailing the oceans! If only I might be chosen for such an honor!”
The next year was a very good year for farmers, and trees in the forest also grew considerably. The little tannenbaum grew a whole new set of branches. That summer, a family with three children came to the meadow to pick berries. A little girl pointed to the tree and said to her father, “Oh what a nice tree that is!” For the first time, the tannenbaum was not called a “little” tree, and the tannenbaum felt proud! The mother looked at the tree and then towards her husband and said, “It seems a little too large, don’t you think dear?” The father studied the tree more closely and said, “That really is a nice looking tree, and it has such a wonderful green color. I think it is just the right size!” When the tannenbaum heard those words, he was, for the first time in his life, the happiest tree in the meadow and, perhaps, the happiest in the entire forest!
The sunbeams took notice of the sudden change in the tannenbaum’s countenance. They shone down on him and said, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!”
The tannenbaum just laughed and said, “I am not young anymore, and I am big! Now I can’t wait ‘til they come to take me out of this boring meadow and show me some respect!” The wind kissed the tannenbaum, and the dew wept over the tree because he still refused to praise his Creator and be thankful for all that he had. The little tannenbaum just could not understand.
Summer passed and autumn arrived. The tannenbaum was no longer jealous of the trees that turned different colors but rather proud of his lovely green needles. The few birds who had not flown south for the winter came to the tannenbaum to find shelter from the cold wind and the snow.
Shortly before Christmas, when the days were short and the nights long, the young father who had admired the tannenbaum in summer came into the meadow carrying an axe. On this visit, the father said nothing but walked straight towards the tannenbaum. With a few quick strokes, he felled the tree, lifted it on his shoulder and carried it out of the meadow.
For years, the tannenbaum wished nothing more than to leave the meadow, yet now that it was happening, he began to have doubts. Would he ever see the rabbits and birds again? Might he miss the babbling brook and the beautiful flowers? It was clear that he would never grow into a big, strong tree like those in the forest. During the long journey to the village, these and other thoughts plagued the tannenbaum so that he was quite unhappy.
The tannenbaum recalled the words of the sparrows who told of the great honors and gifts that people bestowed on young trees that were taken into their homes. But doubts soon dashed those hopes. “People who don’t hesitate to cut down giant trees and strip them of their branches could not be expected to be nice to young trees,” he thought. The man who seemed so nice last summer now showed no sympathy when he swung his axe to cut down the tannenbaum. “Could something that begins so violently turn into a joyous occasion for a tree?” the tannenbaum asked himself.
After what seemed like an eternity, the man reached the village. It was already dark when he opened the garden gate and walked down a path leading to a large, brightly lit house. When he reached the door, he leaned the tannenbaum against the wall of the house, opened the door and went inside.
The door was only open for a moment, but warm air and the pleasant aroma of freshly baked bread escaped, enough to convince the tree that it must be wonderful inside.
The tannenbaum leaned helplessly against the house, pondering his possible destiny. Through a window, he could see bright flames in an open fireplace where he clearly recognized the partially burned limbs of distant relatives who had lived in the forest. He shuddered at the very thought of such a cruel ending and wondered if he might be next to experience such a fate.
He recognized the voices of the children who were picking berries in the meadow last summer. After a while, he could hear the mother tell the children that it was time to go upstairs to their bedrooms and go to bed. “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve!” she said, “and we have much work to do in preparation. The children let out a squeal of delight and continued talking excitedly long after their bedroom lights were out.
Soon, the father came back outside and took the tannenbaum into the large parlor. The tree gasped as he looked around his new environment. Nearly everything he saw was of wood, but he couldn’t recognize any from the trees that he was familiar with. The floors were of wood and there was wood wainscoting on all the walls to about one meter above the floor. The ceiling was made of heavy wooden beams with ornate hand-carved panels. A large table surrounded by 8 matching chairs stood in one end of the parlor. Plush sofas, easy chairs and a finely carved coffee table were in the other end of the room facing a large stone fireplace. On either side of the fireplace were rows and rows of books. Pictures with ornately carved frames decorated the parlor walls.
There was a large bay window on one side of the parlor, and the tannenbaum was carried to an empty spot in front of the window and planted in a large bucket filled with coal and water. The mother wrapped the bucket in a white sheet and propped evergreen boughs against the bucket until it was hardly visible.
The mother brought out box after box of beautiful ornaments of wood and glass and other items to place on the tree. The father remarked that the tree was even larger than he had imagined. He brought in a small footstool to stand on while decorating the tree.
Remembering what the sparrows had told him, the tannenbaum began to shake with excitement. “It’s true! It’s true!” he thought to himself, “They are going to decorate me!”
First, the people hung little nets filled with nuts and candy on many of his limbs, Then came apples with red ribbons, gold-painted walnuts, sugar rings, gingerbread and marzipan figures. At least a hundred candles in silver candle holders were fastened to the tannenbaum’s boughs, and finally, the father attached a large glittery star to the very top of the tree. The tannenbaum was beside himself with joy, but Mother and Father were not yet finished.
This time, the father left the room and returned with his arms filled with packages, each one wrapped in colorful paper and tied with ribbons and bows. The gifts were placed neatly at the foot of the tree. He left the room again and again; it seemed there was no end of presents! A sled and a large doll that looked very life-like were not wrapped, but these too were placed under the tree.
After the parlor was cleaned and everything was in order, Mother pulled the curtains, and Father locked the doors. The tannenbaum drifted off to sleep and dreamed of happy children, attractive gifts and a large roasted goose that the mother was preparing. Before going to bed, the people had said, “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.” He was so excited, he could hardly wait!
All the next day, the tannenbaum was alone in the parlor and had lots of time to contemplate what was happening. The sunbeams looked through the bay window and said to the tannenbaum, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!” The tannenbaum was too excited with all that was happening, and besides, he could not understand what the sunbeams were saying. He just returned the greeting and added, “Tonight is Christmas Eve! I am so happy!”
He could hear the excited voices of children in the next room talking about what the tannenbaum might look like and about all the pretty decorations and gifts. “Tonight is Christmas Eve!” they shouted and fell into gales of laughter.
The tannenbaum could hardly wait! He wondered what it would be like. Would the sparrows come and peek through the window to admire his glory? They would fly back to the meadow and tell the trees in the forest how wonderful he looked and how happy he was. The tannenbaum wondered if he could grow new roots and continue growing. They would have to plant him in a larger bucket and raise the wood-paneled ceiling so he could fit in the parlor. He wondered how long Christmas would last. Certainly, after all that work and waiting, it would last a long time.
Outside, it began to snow, and the cold wind blew flakes against the parlor windows. Shortly before the family sat down to eat in the next room, the father came into the parlor and started a fire in the big stone fireplace. The tannenbaum winced as he threw several large logs onto the fire, but he soon forgot those concerns as the room grew cozy and warm.
After what seemed like an eternity, the family finished eating its Christmas Eve dinner, and the father went into the parlor to light the candles on the tree. The tannenbaum could see his reflection in a large gold-framed mirror above the fireplace mantel. What glory! He could never have imagined such a wonderful destiny for any tree, let alone for a small tannenbaum like himself. “But wait,” he thought. “I am not a little tree! I am big! That is why the family selected me for such an honor!”
Now, the father opened the double doors to the parlor. The waiting children gasped and shouted, “What a pretty tree! We have never had a tree that beautiful! Is that the tree we saw in the meadow Daddy?” Father assured the children that this was the tree they had picked out in summer. “The gifts! Our gifts!” the children shouted as they ran towards the tree. The parents stood in the doorway, their arms around each other, watching the scene before them. The tannenbaum had never seen such a happy sight! They were even happier than when they had come to the meadow last summer.
The tannenbaum gleamed with pride and joy as the children hauled one present after another out from beneath his lower boughs. With cries of delight, they tore open boxes and packages, removing the precious contents and showing them to everyone. “Look what I got!” they shouted until the crystal chandelier quaked.
Eventually, all the packages were opened and the children played happily on the floor with their new gifts. Father called to everyone to stand in front of the tree for a family portrait. While the father was fastening his camera on a tripod and setting the automatic timer, the mother arranged the children according to their ages. After the flash, Mother instructed the children to remain standing and to face the Christmas tree so they could sing their Christmas carol. This was a long family tradition, and the children knew the carol by heart. “Silent Night” had been written many years ago in a village much like their own.
Having sung the carol, father called to the children to help blow out the candles. Mother turned on the parlor lights, and the children returned to their toys while the parents sat on the comfortable sofa watching with amusement. The tannenbaum just stood there and soaked up all the warmth and joy that filled the parlor.
After a while, Mother stood up and began coaxing the children to put away their toys and go upstairs to their beds. The children were able to negotiate a couple of delays, but finally, mother insisted and won against their protests. Before long, the parlor lights were turned out, and all was quiet in the great house except for the occasional snapping sound of dying embers in the fireplace and the ticking of a mantel clock.
It was a long time before the tannenbaum could fall asleep that night. He was very tired, but spent much time reflecting on all that had happened that day. He wondered what the next day would be like. Would they place more presents under his boughs? Would they sing another carol to him?
Early the next morning, which was Christmas Day, the children came down into the parlor and played with their toys. The parents were tired from all the previous day’s activities and enjoyed the luxury of a few extra minutes in bed. The tranquility didn’t last very long, however, for two of the children began arguing until their accusing voices were heard in the master bedroom upstairs. “I had it first,” said the girl. “But I am bigger than you!” shouted the boy. Soon mother came into the room and scolded the children. “It’s Christmas; you should be nice to each other,” she told them. Mother went into the kitchen to prepare breakfast while father built another fire in the fireplace.
When the family had finished eating breakfast, everyone returned to the parlor, and the candles were lit once more. The children hardly noticed the candles, for they were preoccupied with their playthings. The oldest child, who had received a sled, asked to go outside and try it out, but father said they needed to put out the candles and plunder the tree first. The tannenbaum was in full agreement with the first suggestion, for one of the candles was burned down already and had singed a couple of his needles. But he wondered what the father meant with “plundering the tree.”
On a signal from the parents, the children plunged for the tree and began to strip it of all its goodies. The little nets filled with candy and nuts were first to go, and then came the gingerbread, the fluffy white sugar candies and finally, the apples and fruit. The youngest child might not have gotten much, but mother came to his aid and plucked a few delicious items for him. Within minutes, all that was left on the tree was the straw and wooden ornaments, candle holders with burned down candles and a few glass ornaments. If father had not fastened the tree to hooks on the window frame, it might have fallen over during the children’s turbulent efforts to plunder the tree.
The children put everything they had garnered into empty boxes with their gifts, giving their siblings a solemn warning, not to touch them. While all this was happening, the tannenbaum scarcely had time to think about what was happening. Then they dressed in warm snowsuits and went outside to try out the new sled. Father sensed that there would be arguments, so he offered to pull the sled with all of them on it while Mother remained in the house to straighten up the parlor. The tannenbaum looked at his image in the mirror above the fireplace and was shocked at what he saw.
The sunbeams returned to the bay window and said to the tannenbaum, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!”
The tannenbaum could not comprehend what the sunbeams were saying, and consoled himself with the prospect that tomorrow, the process would begin all over again. After all, he had heard the mother say to her children, “It’s Christmas; you need to be nice to each other.” If Christmas was that important and that wonderful, it would certainly be celebrated all year for ever and ever!
After a while, the children came back inside with rosy cheeks and frozen fingers. They took off their winter coats and gloves and stood in front of the fire to get warm. Father also came inside and sat on the sofa.
When the children saw him, they suddenly called in chorus, “A story, a story; we want a story!” One of the children took a book that he had gotten for Christmas to the Father and asked him to read some stories. The tannenbaum was also eager to hear the stories. Perhaps he could learn more about Christmas.
Father placed the smallest child on his knee, and the other two sat on either side of him. Father turned to the first page and read a sad story of Humpty Dumpty who fell off a wall and was dashed to pieces. The tannenbaum tried hard to comprehend, but decided that the story would only make sense if he could see the pictures. Even the children seemed dissatisfied with the story’s ending. “Another story!” they cried.
Then Father read the story of a handsome prince who wanted so much to be married to a beautiful princess, but before he had a chance, an ugly old witch placed a curse on him and turned him into a frog! The only way to banish the curse was if some princess would kiss the frog.
The little girl said, “Oooh, what princess would do that!” Her brother said, “I think it would be fun to be a frog!”
The father continued reading and told how the princess played with her golden ball near a well. The ball fell into the well and she cried until the frog-prince promised to retrieve it if she would kiss him. She promised, but failed to keep her word and ran back to the palace with her golden ball. “That is just like a girl,” the boy remarked, “She cries to get what she wants and doesn’t keep her promises.”
The tannenbaum listened intently, wondering about all these tales. “They must be true,” he concluded. “People wouldn’t tell lies to their children.”
The youngest was only three, but listened intently as the father read the stories. The girl said, “I want to hear the Christmas one, Daddy!” Father checked the index, turned to page 38 and began to read. “T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...” The children listened wide-eyed as Father read the story. The tannenbaum was also listening very intently, not wanting to miss a word of the story he had heard so much about. When Father came to the part about reindeer flying up to the roof top, he recalled the little fawn that jumped over him when the snow was so deep. When he described St. Nick dressed in a red suit, climbing down the chimney on Christmas Eve, the tannenbaum thought, “But that can’t be true! Father made a big fire in the fireplace on Christmas Eve, and I was there in the parlor all night long!”
It was a long and busy day, and the tannenbaum was glad that the family went to bed a bit earlier than usual on Christmas Day. He had much to digest in the quiet of the parlor. Would they put new candles in the holders and more presents around his base? What stories might Father tell tomorrow? There were many thoughts running through his star-adorned crown until the tannenbaum finally dropped off to sleep.
The next day, Father got up early, grabbed a quick breakfast of toast and porridge and drove off to his workplace. Mother made breakfast for the children, after which the older two went outside to play. The youngest stayed indoors to play with his favorite toy car. Mother carried a bunch of cardboard boxes into the parlor and began taking the wooden and glass ornaments off the tree. She also removed the candle holders and cleaned off the wax in warm water before putting them back in the box. Soon nothing was left but the glittery star at the top. Speaking to herself, Mother said loud enough for the tannenbaum to hear, “Father can get the star when he carries out the tree tonight.”
All day long, the tree pondered those words. Must he really leave this wonderful place? What would happen to him then? Would he be taken back to the meadow where he could grow big enough to make a mast for a large sailing ship that sails to far-away places?
When Father came home from work, he came into the parlor, removed the star and carried the tree to the door. He then threw the tree ruthlessly down the steps with the same roughness he had shown when he cut the tree down a few days earlier. Father went back in the house to pull on his boots, and the tannenbaum heard him tell his wife, “It’s too green to burn now; I’ll put it behind the woodshed to dry.”
Father carried the tannenbaum out to the woodshed and leaned it against the back wall next to a high fence that kept it out of sight. The poor tannenbaum was not only out of sight, but he was also hidden from the sun and the wind. Except for an occasional mouse, the tannenbaum didn’t see another creature for weeks and months.
The tannenbaum contemplated all that he had experienced. Why had the people treated him so royally and worshipped him one day and then thrown him out the next? And now he could only look forward to being burned in that large stone fireplace. Why had he not been happy in the meadow? Why had he been insulted when people, rabbits and deer said that he was so small? He recalled how happy the children were when they first saw the tannenbaum and how they had fought over his lovely decorations. Then he remembered the time when the little boy told his sister, “I’m bigger than you!” He wished that he could go back in the house and tell the children that being biggest is not always best for people and trees.
One of the larger logs in the woodshed looked through a broken board and saw the tannenbaum. Being a rather talkative log, he had become the spokesman for the other wood in the shed. He called over to the tannenbaum and said, “Many of our friends have been taken to the house, but they never come back to tell us what it’s like in there. You were there; can you tell us what it’s like?”
There was a pause while the tannenbaum deliberated about what he should answer. He knew that if the piles of wood in the shed knew about the fireplace and the hot fire, they would be extremely unhappy like himself. He certainly didn’t want that! Finally, the tannenbaum told the wood that it was nice and warm in the house. He also told them the stories that Father had read from a big book. The wood in the shed was especially enthralled with the Christmas story, of how reindeer flew up onto the housetops and how St. Nick climbed down the chimney with lots of toys and goodies. They wanted to hear more, but the tannenbaum said that he was not in the mood for talking.
Winter turned to spring, and the last patches of snow behind the woodshed melted. As the days grew longer and the sun warmer, birds began singing love songs to each other. The tannenbaum, however, remained in the shadows between the woodshed and a high fence. He grew despondent and began brooding. He asked himself, “Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence? It’s probably too late now, but is the fireplace my only option?”
One spring day, a lively gust of wind whipped around the corner of the shed and knocked the tannenbaum over. The sunbeams, which the tannenbaum had not seen for so long, recognized their old friend and greeted him. The tannenbaum was happy to see them again and knew instinctively what they would say. Sure enough, the wind and the sunbeams spoke in chorus, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!”
This time, the tannenbaum was listening and trying hard to understand. “I should have listened to you,” said the tannenbaum, “The evil days are here, and I have no pleasure in them!”
The wind came over and kissed the little tannenbaum, and the dew wept over him. He was really a sad looking sight. The velvety green needles were long gone, his limbs were broken and his bark peeling. He wanted so much to show gratitude to the sunbeams and the wind, but there was little life left in him. He was so sad.
An old wooden crate tried to comfort him. “It isn’t quite as bad as you think,” he said. “Summer is coming, and then fall and winter. They will come and cut you in pieces, but after that you will be carried back in the nice warm house. That is what they did with last year’s tree. You said yourself that it’s nice and warm in there. Maybe you can hear some more of those stories.”
The sunbeams came more often now, and they brought a new message. Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
The tannenbaum began to understand what the sunbeams were saying. “Do you mean there is still hope?” he asked. “I may not be burned in that terrible fire?”
The wind caressed the tree and said, “You can’t really know the future, but if you present yourself to the Creator and ask him to forgive you for living so selfishly, you will have peace and joy.”
The sunbeams added, “The Creator will take what is left and will make something worthwhile of you. You will become a new creature. Old things will be passed away and everything will be new!”
At this point, the dew came and shed a few tears that fell on the tannenbaum. He said, “There will be some pain and suffering to endure, but you will be useful to your Creator and serve him as long as you exist on this earth.”
The tannenbaum tried to reply but could not find the words to express what he felt. But he believed what the sunbeams told him and the words of the wind and the dew. Had they not shown him great love, patience and understanding? They were so much different from the family in the great house. He thought about Humpty Dumpty, who fell off the wall and no one could help him. He thought of the prince whom the witch turned into a frog. He was so good to retrieve the golden ball, but the princess didn’t keep her promise. When he followed her into the palace, she threw him against the wall in anger! Then the tannenbaum remembered the time he had gotten upset with the sunbeams and thrown one of his pinecones in anger. He recalled the story of St. Nick and the reindeer that flew to the house tops. And he recalled his own disbelief when Father said that St. Nick had come down the chimney. But then, the tannenbaum remembered that he too had not been honest with the wood in the woodshed.
In the following days, the sunbeams, wind and dew told tannenbaum what Christmas was really about. It was not about a frog prince or Humpty Dumpty, but of the Creator of the world. They shared how he had made the world without a blemish, even more lovely than the meadow where the tannenbaum had grown up.
But the people God created rebelled and refused to believe God. God wanted to restore fellowship with his fallen creation, but he knew that there was only one way. A perfect sacrifice would have to be made for sin. So God sent his only Son from heaven down to earth. He was born as a little baby on that first Christmas. His name was Jesus.
Jesus grew up and told of God’s love and forgiveness for all who would repent and turn from their sins. Jesus helped the blind, sick, poor and lame. Most importantly, he told people how they could find forgiveness for their sins and have fellowship with their Creator. They told the tannenbaum how people had worshipped Jesus and shouted “Hosanna!” when he entered the Holy City of Jerusalem, but a few days later, they took him prisoner, accused him falsely and executed him by nailing him to a tree.
The tannenbaum wept when he heard that part. He thought about how terrible the tree who was used for such a terrible crime must have felt. It reminded him of how the family had admired him and worshipped him, but two days later, they threw him out of the house and condemned him to death in the fireplace.
The sunbeams, the wind and the dew were quick to explain that that was not the end of the story. Jesus was buried, but God raised him up again, and he is still alive in heaven. Even while Jesus was hanging on the tree, he asked God to forgive the people who had committed such an act. And he is still praying for people and inviting all to come to him and receive forgiveness.
It was such a beautiful story. The tannenbaum recalled hearing parts of the story when the family sang their traditional carol, “Silent Night.” He wondered why the people didn’t tell that story to their children.
The tannenbaum found joy and peace. Even if his days should end in the fire, he could be thankful in knowing that his Creator was alive and that he loved and cared for his creation. He began to think of ways to share this joy with others. To the old wooden crate next to him and the logs in the woodshed, the tannenbaum said, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!”
The old crate and the logs just mocked and ridiculed him.
Soon after that, the wind came unexpectedly around the corner of the woodshed and with one big gust, he lifted the tannenbaum into the air and blew him across the road and into a ditch. The poor tree was at first in shock that the wind would do such a thing after being so nice to him. He spent the night in the ditch contemplating all that had happened to him. He began to talk to his Creator and just poured out his heart.
Early the next morning, a wanderer with a heavy backpack came down the road on his way to the meadow. He planned to hike up a mountain but had no walking stick. When he spotted the tannenbaum lying in the ditch, he went over, picked it up and studied it for a while. Then he sat down and took out his knife. With adept hands, he cut off all the branches and peeled off the remaining bark. Then he trimmed about a foot off the top of the tree and whittled the stub to a point. Two more feet were cut off the bottom end of the tree. After rounding off the bottom, the wanderer carved a cross into the wood.
When he was finished, the wanderer held the tree at arms length and admired his handiwork. Then, before continuing his journey, he bowed his head and prayed, “Thank you, Jesus, for your wonderful provision! You are Lord in every situation! I just prayed and told you that I needed a walking stick, and you led me to the nicest stick I’ve ever had. I’m sure we are going to spend many good times together. Just you and me and this walking stick!”
The wanderer then took out his Bible and read from Isaiah 40, Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
As the wanderer continued his journey, the wind circled around him and the sunbeams winked at the tannenbaum and said, “Aufwiedersehen, little Tannenbaum!” The tannenbaum was not at all insulted this time, however. He was the happiest he had been in all his life!
Ralph V. Harvey
German version December, 1999; English version November, 2008