The Christmas Miracle
Dedicating this little story to children around the world, who wish for kind and gentle things at Christmas.
The Christmas Miracle
The weather outside is cold and frosty. Today is Christmas Eve. On this night, the Christ child will be born. That is to say, he won't be born tonight; he was born a long time ago, grew up, died, rose again and ascended into heaven. Since the moment he ascended, a good many years have passed.
Tonight is the night we celebrate his birth. On this night, in the homes of so many people, there will be Christmas trees, and the children will be treated to candy and presents. There will be a party with lots of food and plenty of joy and cheer, but not at my home. At my home, nothing is waiting for me; no decorations, no presents, not even a decent dinner. This is the second Christmas it's going to be like this, and not just for Christmas—for every day of the year.
One year ago, the week before Christmas, Mother passed away after a long fever. Father became sad and despondant soon after her death and began drinking. I don't ever remember seeing him completely sober for the past year, but then I only see him in the evenings when he comes back from work. Early in the morning, he's gone. I don't see him for the whole day, and then at night he comes home drunk. Where and when he gets drunk, I don't know and honestly I haven't a great desire to find out.
I'm already eight years old, but I haven't gone to school. I simply don't have the time. My brother Fedya just turned two and Nadinka is only five. Other than myself, there just isn't anyone to take care of them. Mother always wanted me to learn to read, but fate had other plans.
I haven't been gone from home very long, but I'm already cold. I haven't any warm clothes, only this old dress, tattered coat and scarf over my head. My boots are worn and are just a wee bit small for me, but that's alright, I managed last year with them and I'll manage this year. It's already dark outside, even though it's not very late, and people all around me are on their way home to celebrate. Me? I'm also on my way home, although the only thing waiting for me at there is a hungry brother and sister, a loaf of bread and pitcher of milk. We'll eat that and then go to bed. Before, we used to go with Mother to church on Christmas Eve. She would tell me and Nadya the story of the baby in the manger, and we would light candles together.
This our second Christmas without Mother and I haven't been in the church very much; somehow my feet just haven't made it there. But today as I'm passing the church, I decide to go inside. At least I'll warm myself a little from the freezing weather.
Upon entering the church, the aromas of burning incense bring back a flood of memories. I have an old coin in my pocket. Bread it wasn't able to buy, but in the church they do give me a candle for it. The candle only brings back more memories of my mother. I walk up to the icon of the Mother of God holding in her arms the Christ child. As I look at them, I am reminded of how my mother told me of poor Mary and Joseph. They had traveled so far and Mary was about to give birth, but there was no room for them anywhere. God did not forget His Son and Mary and Joseph found a stable where the Christ was born. Christ was poor when he was born; there was no cradle for him, and his mother wrapped him in an old blanket and laid him in the manger. But that night the angels sang in the sky and a new bright star appeared, and that star led wise men from far to the Christ child and they brought him gifts.
So many miracles happened the night Christ was born, and Mother used to tell me that since then, on Christmas Eve, miracles always happen. So I look at the Christ child and his mother and a thought comes to mind. Maybe He would be so kind as to grant us a miracle. He knows what it is like to be poor and hungry; surely he would take pity on us.
I light my candle and silently pray, "Dear little Christ child, if it is not too difficult for you on this day, when no doubt so many people are asking you for so many things, to please grant us a miracle. It can even be a really small miracle. Please, my family is in great need of it."
Having said my prayer, I gaze a little longer at the Christ child, then turn to leave. At the door of the church, I meet Father Michael. I know him well; he baptized me as a child, and Nadya and Fedya, too. He knew my mother very well when she was alive.
"Hello Tacya," he says to me in a gentle voice. "How are you my child? How are your little brother and sister?"
"So-so, Father," I reply. "No one is ill, so I suppose we are alright."
"Praise God," Father Michael smiles. "And how is your father?"
"Don't know; I hardly see him."
"Does he still drink?"
"He still drinks," I sigh, "but he doesn't beat us and is only angry and cross sometimes, so we're all good."
"Do you have any dinner for tonight?"
"We have a loaf of bread and some milk. I wanted to buy some more bread, and Nadya found a coin, but they didn't take it at the store, so I must go home empty handed. I only stopped by here for a moment to pray."
“Ah, my poor little orphans,” Father Michael says in a rather sad voice, as he pats my head. “I fear it will take nothing short of a miracle to remind your father that he has a family to take care of. Here, Tacya, take this and buy some food and sweets for you and your siblings. This is a night for celebration, even if it will be a small one." He slips some coins into my hand. I smile, thank him and kiss his hand. Then I run off to the store. If I hurry, I will make it before it closes.
On my way I pass old Stepanich. He is walking very slowly, as though not to slip on the icy roads. I see him and my conscience begins to prick at me. Stepanich is all alone in the world. He has a son, but the young man abandoned his father ages ago. Stepanich is old and feeble and poor. Today is Christmas Eve; maybe he is praying for a miracle, too.
I stop and go back, calling, "Stepanich, wait! Here, take this," and I press a few of the kopecks into his hand.
"No, no," he says to me in his feeble voice. "Tacinka, you keep the money and feed the little ones."
"I have plenty left," and I show him the rest of my coins. "There's enough here to buy a whole feast. You keep it. It's Christmas after all, and you should have a good dinner. Whatever is left you keep for tomorrow; you will need to eat after Christmas as well."
He gets teary eyes and thanks me as I run off to the store once more. By the store I see Martha Timofeevna. I know her, too. Her husband died three years ago, leaving her with five children to care for. Her eldest child is only seven, and though she works very hard, there is never enough money. Once more my conscience pricks at me. Martha's children are just as hungry and poor as I am; maybe they are also praying for a Christmas miracle tonight. Maybe they are sitting at home together, waiting for it. I walk up to Martha and hand her four of my coins (after all, she has more mouths than we do, so she needs the large share.)
"Here, Martha Timofeevna," I state, "buy the children some food."
"Tacya, Tacya," she says, very shocked, "I could never take it! You must feed your own little ones. It is Christmas after all, get them some treats."
"I still have some left over," I say, showing her my coins. "The three of us will be fine with this."
She gets teary eyed and thanks me over and over again.
At the store, I buy two loaves of bread, and three hot sweet buns. There is enough for two apples and even a stick of candy. This is a great feast to me; we haven't had anything sweet in such a long time.
The weather outside is colder than ever, and the frost bites at my cheeks and nose. My toes and fingers are numb with the cold, but I hardly notice it. I'm walking and looking at the stars, thinking of the star that shone over the Christ child.
Suddenly, along the path I spy a boy walking. He is in tattered clothes and has no hat and his boots have holes. He walks and walks; his face red from the cold. Walking up to him I ask, "Where are you going?"
He looks at me bitterly and rudely replies, "What's the difference to you?"
Before I can open my mouth to defend myself, he continues, "I'm going back to my sister. I promised I'd bring her something to eat, but I wasn't able to find anything."
"Where is your sister?"
"In the old shed. We've been living there for almost a year. We live as best we can, but there isn't ever any food."
"And you parents?"
Once more, my conscience pricks at me. I have house with bread and milk, and I have a bed and a blanket, but this boy has nothing. No father or mother, no home, no food—only a hungry little sister in an old shed. Tonight is Christmas Eve, maybe she's wishing for a miracle too, and hoping maybe her brother will bring it home tonight. I look at the food in my hands, then turn and shove it into the boy’s arms.
“Here, take it to your sister!"
He looks at me in bewilderment, not understanding.
"Take it, take it," I say with a kind smile. "Today is Christmas Eve. You know, Christ was born in a stable, and that's sort of like a shed, but God didn’t forget him and he hasn't forgotten you. Take this food and have a merry Christmas."
He still doesn't understand me, just stares at me with wide eyes, but I've already run off on my way home. I am walking past the church once more, when right on the path in front of me is the wife of the local merchant. I am acquainted with her, she is kind and has often given me money to feed my little siblings.
"Tacya," she exclaims, "I've just been on my way to find you."
"Is there anything you need ma'am?" I ask with a bow.
"I want you to come and live with me," she says. "I want you to come and be my little maid."
I can't understand what she is saying, but she explains as she pats my head.
"With me, you will live very comfortably; you will have warm clothes and a nice warm bed with plenty of blankets. You will have good food and will always be warm and fed. I will be good and kind to you, and you will be my little companion. So, what do you say? Will you leave your empty, drafty, lonely home and come work for me and have a peaceful, happylife?"
She's looking at me with such kind eyes and for a moment I am sorely tempted. To have a comfortable life, where she could teach me to read and write and I wouldn't have to worry about where I will get my meal for the next day. But then... what about Nadya and Fedya? What about my father? I can't just leave them like that. Mother depended on me when she passed away to take care of my little sister and brother. And Father, he's so sad now that Mother is gone—if I leave too, will he be able to take it?
So I look at her and sadly shake my head. "I am very grateful to you ma'am, and thank you from all my heart, but I cannot go with you."
"Why ever not, my dear?"
"What about Father?"
"He drinks and ignores you and the rest of the family. Look at you, you're in old ragged clothes and have no decent dinner, not even on this festive night!"
"But there is also Nadinka and Fedya, I can't leave them either. They need me; they depend on me. If I am gone, Fedya will cry at night and Nadinka won’t be able to comfort him on her own. Mother left the little ones to my keeping and I must be with them—I can't leave them, not for one night. They are still so small, and they need an older sister. You are very kind,” I say, “and I am very grateful, but I fear cannot go with you—I must go home." I give her a bow, then turn and make my way back home. I walk quickly and don't look back, keeping my face to the ground, so I jump when I hear my father's voice calling my name.
"Tacya, is that you?"
I look up and see Father standing a few steps in front of me, looking at me.
"It's me," I reply. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you drunk?"
And it is true, Father is standing straight and not stumbling like he usually is. His eyes aren't puffy and watery and even though his voice is raspy, it isn't slurred and he's not stumbling over his words. He looks at me a little strangely after my last question, then replies.
"After work I went to the tavern, but there were a lot of people there so I bought a bottle of wine and figured I'd drink it while I walked home. But then Grisha caught up with me and that man didn't give me a moment's peace all the way home and I just didn't have a chance to even get one sip, so I came home and was going to drink at home when the merchant's wife came demanding that I give you to her as a maid. I said she could not have you; that you were my daughter and I wanted to keep you. She began calling me all sorts of names and then demanded that that we ask you so I called you but you didn't come. Nadya explained you had gone to buy bread, and that woman immediately left to find you and try to persuade you. I figured I had better find you before she did, so I left the wine at home. You should know better than to be out this late at night."
"I am often out this late," I explain. "I have no fear of the dark and when there is no supper I must go out and find some."
Father's face gets clouded as he ponders what I have told him.
"I met the lady," I speak again.
"You did?" Father's voice gets nervous. "Are you going to leave and go with her? Do you really want to go away from your home?"
"No, I thanked her for the offer but told her I could not go, that my place was with my family."
Father looks a little relieved.
"Have you bought the bread?" He asks, searching my empty hands.
"No, the coin we found was not good enough, but I went to the church and said a prayer. I asked the Christ child for a miracle."
"A miracle," Father said, confused.
"Yes, Mother used to say that they always happen on Christmas Eve. This Christmas, I thought it would be okay to ask for one for our family. I was sure that we could really use one. Then I met Father Michael and he gave me a ruble to buy some food, but as I was going to the store, I met Stepanich and gave him 30 kopecks, then I met Martha Timofeeva and gave her another 40. And after I had bought all the food, I met a boy who was an orphan and had no home or food so I gave it to him, so I'm empty handed now."
"I guess that means you didn't get your miracle," Father says.
"But others got one," I reply. "Is that not good enough? Stepanich, and Martha and her family and the orphan and his sister, they will have food tonight. They needed the miracle more than I did. As for myself," I shrug, "I'll survive without it. I was glad to give it away. After all, the money would have only bought us food, but that is not what we miss most these days."
I give a sigh. Father walks up and takes my hand.
“Come Tacya,” he says, “we must go home.”
We walk together slowly. Father keeps looking me up and down, as if he has noticed for the first time how thinly I am dressed. Once home we meet a rather frightened Nadinka and Fedya, who didn't understand my long absence. I hug and kiss them, and they stare at Father a little frightened, but I explain to them that Father is not drunk and he will not be cross with them.
Father says nothing, but he pats Nadinka's head and lifts Fedya into his arms. He then goes to pull out the bread and slices it, and I pour out the milk. The wine remains untouched. The bread is stale, but we crumble it into our milk and eat what Nadinka calls bread and milk soup. It is a plain supper, but at least we have one. Father is gentle the entire time, and though we don’t talk much, the table is covered with a peaceful atmosphere; quite unlike what we have had the past couple of months.
After we clear everything from the table, Nadinka softly reminds us that it is Christmas Eve, and Father pulls out the Holy Scripture and reads to us from the Gospel of Luke about the first Christmas and the birth of the little Christ child. Then he tucks us into bed and giving a kiss blows out the candle. I wait for him to go to his bottle of wine, but I never hear him open the bottle or take a sip. He just sits by the window for a long time, a long, long time. I cannot sleep while he is sitting there, so I wait to see what he will do.
At last he gets up and walks over to where we lay. Noticing that I am not sleeping, he leans over and tells me that tomorrow we will all go to the morning Christmas service, that he will take us there and he will attend with us. He gives me another kiss and goes to his bed. The wine is still on the sill of window; still unopened, still untouched.
Now I lay in my little bed and look out the window and I thank the little Christ child. What do I thank Him for? For my Christmas miracle! From the moment I said that little prayer, the Christ child began to work. First I met Father Michael and he gave me the money, and that was the first miracle. Then, Stepanich was able to have a decent meal, and that was the second miracle. Then, Martha Timofeevna was able to by treats for her children, and that was the third miracle. Then, the little boy and his sister were reminded that God has not forgotten them, and that was the fourth miracle.
And what of my miracle? I was left with nothing. But this is where it all comes together. While I was out performing miracles for the Christ child, he was performing a miracle for me. Father wasn't able to drink out at the tavern and he wasn't able to drink at home because the merchant's wife came to him. He didn't have time to drink when she left because he was afraid she would find me so he ran off to get to me before she did. Of course the lady found me first and poor Father was a little worried when he found out. But I was able to calm him down and in doing so tell him about the Christmas miracles, and in telling him about the miracles, I was able to remind him of God.
I am sure you see the miracle right now. Maybe no presents appeared, maybe there is no feast, no candy. Maybe dinner was just as plain as it was yesterday and as plain as it will be tomorrow. Maybe there are no new clothes and fancy toys, but I have no use for all that. The Christ child answered my prayer and returned our father to us. Father is home, he is not drunk and he is not drinking. Is that not the greatest miracle of all? This Christmas I have all I want; love and warmth has returned to our family. I could never have asked for more.
So I settle down and look out at the dark sky, with the stars glittering so bright in the heavens on this blessed night, just like the star that glittered a long time ago, when a child was born to the holy virgin; a child that would save us all! Rejoice, rejoice oh earth, the Son of God has been born!