12 Plays of Christmas: The Christmas Heart

‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas when a stranger entered a prewar building that in its heyday used to be a ballroom for the hoi polloi, a place where the common folk who couldn’t afford the ritzier establishments came to dance their cares away. The section of the city in which it was built was in a constant state of flux, so the ballroom eventually transformed into a department store warehouse, then a community center, and when funding and interest ran out and the neighborhood became a place police wouldn’t go after dark for fear of their safety, the abandoned and condemned property served as a makeshift shelter for homeless children.

Inside, it reeked of the stench of hopelessness and was packed to capacity with children covered in the grime of neglect, their young, despondent faces smudged with the soot of abandonment.

The stranger was a portly, bespectacled man wearing a red coat with white fur collar and cuffs, white-fur-cuffed red trousers, red hat with white fur, and black leather belt and boots. His nose and cheeks were red as roses and his white beard was full and seemed to roll in upon itself like a fluffy cloud. Despite his size, he maneuvered through the sea of children as quiet as the hush of evening.

Children who were up at the late hour woke those who were asleep but such was the aura of the man that none of them were alarmed or threatened by his sudden presence, and the sensations of starvation and being chilled to the bone were temporarily replaced with a sense of awe. It was akin to coming face to face with a real live unicorn or some other mythical creature.

Regardless of their ages, the children all gathered around and whispered his name, Santa! Kris Kringle! Papa Noël! Father Christmas! because it was apparent who the man was. Not an imposter from a mall or a bell-ringer from the street, this was the genuine article.

“Are you real?” asked a bedraggled boy in the middle of the crowd.

“Why, yes, Jude Herbert, I am as real as you are,” the one and only Claus answered to the boy’s delighted surprise.

“You know my name?”

“Of course, I know all your names,” the Keeper of the List nodded and began pointing to and naming every child in the room. “Alisha Moss, Finley Hopkins, Sienna Simmons,” and so forth and so on.

“Where’s your bag?”

“My what?”

“In all the pictures I’ve seen you always carry a bag full of presents,” said Dinesh Mehta. “That’s what you do, right? Give presents to kids?”

“The gift I have for you wouldn’t fit inside a sack.”

“He ain’t gonna give us no presents,” said Gabriel Ford. “When has he ever? I ain’t never got nothing from Santa Claus, have you?”

Glad and hopeful expressions dropped from the surrounding faces in rapid succession.

“It is true,” the Christmas Man, admitted. “I haven’t been able to get to all of you before today, but not because you are unloved or undeserving. I know this is a poor excuse but my resources are limited and I sincerely apologize for not making an appearance before today.”

“So, you’re gonna give us presents?” Hope Allison asked. “Really and truly?”

“Indeed I am, but first I want to ask you all a question: Where does all my magic come from?”

A multitude of hands shot into the air to a chorus of Ooo! Ooo! I know! I know! And those too impatient to wait to be called on, yelled, Magic food! Magic bell! Your magic hat! Pixie dust! Nicholas the Saint delighted in seeing them forget their worries for a moment and just be children.

He waited patiently until all the guessing had been exhausted before he cupped his red-mittened hands together and held them out.

“All good guesses but here is where all the magic stems from,” he said and opened his hands. Floating in midair just above his palms was the image of a heart, not a biological one but the type that people drew in pictures, but this heart was made of golden shimmering light.

“What’s that?” asked a young blond-haired girl.

“This, Shelina van der Schaaf, is a Christmas heart.”

“I want one!” exclaimed a small boy.

“You have one, Vasyl Vavera,” Sinterklaas said.

“I do?”

“Everyone has a Christmas heart.”

“I don’t have one,” young Yobanna Chukwumoge said, pulling all his filthy pockets inside out. “I don’t have anything, see?”

“That’s because you’re not looking in the right place,” Grandfather Frost said. From a pouch tucked in his belt, he produced a handful of dust and blew it into the air above the crowd. Instead of settling like normal dust, the shimmering particles hung in the air around the children. “What you need to do is open your hand, palm side up and place it in front of your chest. Now say to yourself, Show me my Christmas heart.”

The children all followed Pelznickel’s instructions and just above their palms shimmering hearts appeared. Some glowed brighter than others but they were all beautiful.

“This is the power source that keeps my workshops running, that helps my reindeers fly, that allows me to visit all the houses of children in the entire world in a single night, which is the problem. There are so many people in the world, new ones being born every second and the demand keeps getting bigger and bigger and it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep up, so I came to ask for your help.”

“But you’re Santa Claus and we’re just poor kids,” Kisanet Eyob pointed out. “How can we help you?”

“You may not be aware of this but all of you share the same wish. You all want a home, you want to be a part of a family, you want to be loved, and I have come here to give you that, with no strings attached.”

“But you also need our Christmas hearts, don’t you?” asked Zygfryd Zawadzki.

“I would like to borrow some of that energy, yes, and there are so many of you, I would only need a tiny bit from each heart. And you are free to say no, that will not affect my Christmas gift to you, you are all welcomed to share my home with me, and Mrs. Claus has hot baths and meals waiting for all of you.”

“Will it hurt?” asked Erick Santos Gomes. “When you take our hearts?”

“I’ll only be borrowing the smallest bit of energy. Your heart will be fine, Erick, you won’t feel a thing.”

The children began agreeing because they somehow knew Santa was telling the truth, but over the din of the excited children, Santa noticed the absence of one voice.

“Is something troubling you, Ruby Kirby?” Santa asked.

The children quieted down and stared at Father Christmas in befuddlement. They looked around to see whom he was talking to.

Over the heads of the throng he said, “If you said something, I couldn’t make it out. I’m far older than I look and my hearing isn’t what it used to be. Can you please come a bit closer?”

The crowd of children parted like the Red Sea and an emaciated little girl with dead eyes that held a thousand-yard stare, timidly made her way to the Christmas-Bringer.

“What seems to be the problem, my dear?” he asked.

“You need magic,” Ruby’s voice was as soft as pity. “I don’t have any.”

“Of course you do.”

“No, I don’t,” Ruby placed her open palm in front of her chest and said, “Show me my Christmas heart.”

The heart that floated above her hand looked more like the biological kind and it was not made of light but of rough metal with uneven edges, with scars all over it, and in places there were replacement pieces that didn’t fit perfectly, where it had been broken and improperly mended. There were also deep gouges where some pieces were missing.

The Christmas Kringle took a knee so that he was eye level with Ruby and said, “You may see a mess of scars, but I see a heart that has been battle-tested, a heart that has known love and loss, a heart resourceful enough to pick up the pieces of shattered affection and patch itself back together. And do you know how I know your heart is perfect?”

“How?” asked Ruby.

“Because that’s the exact same way my Christmas heart used to look. You may not know it to look at me now, but when I was your age I was a loner. Even in a crowded room, I was alone but it was mostly of my own doing because I did not seek out interactions with other people, in fact, I actively avoided it.”


“I guess because everyone in my life up to that point had let me down and abandoned me, so I made up my mind that I didn’t need anybody. But that wasn’t my destiny, you see. I met a couple who showed me that kindness towards others was such a fragile thing and it was never more than one generation away from extinction. Because it isn’t ingrained in our nature, it’s something that has to be taught and reinforced constantly by each generation, for once it dies, it is gone for good. Those who have known kindness have the propensity to show it to others, but where kindness was never known, only cruelty lurks.”

“So, you changed? But how did you do it?”

“By doing the hardest thing I ever had to do. I ignored all the negative voices in my head and I went out and made a friend, and that friend introduced me to his friends and before I knew it, I wasn’t by myself anymore.”

“But how did you do it?” Ruby asked again, not quite understanding his solution.

“You’re standing in a room full of people holding their hearts in their hands, what do you think you should do?”

Ruby hung her head, squeezed her eyes shut to stem the flow of tears, yet some sneaked past her eyelid defenses and rolled down her cheeks. She held her Christmas heart out in front of her and asked, “Will someone please be my friend and help me fix my Christmas heart?”

One by one the children took turns stepping up and touching their hearts to Ruby’s heart. With all that attention, she expected it to change but it remained metal and different from all the rest.

“It didn’t work,” a crestfallen Ruby said with tears welling once again.

“Didn’t it? Take a closer look,” the Holiday Sleigher suggested.

Ruby brought the heart up to her eye, “All I see is rusty metal.”

“But what about in the cracks? In the bits that are missing?”

And sure enough, Ruby detected a glow pulsing inside a metal cranny, keeping time with her own heartbeat. “Is that…?”

“It’s the birth of your new Christmas heart. Just like you, it requires time to grow but you need to take care of it, nurture and share it for it to reach its maximum potential. Can you do that?”

“I promise,” the little girl nodded and this time her tears were happy ones. “So, when are you taking us to your home?” she asked.

“Why, we’re already here,” said the jolly old saint. “If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself.”

The children raced to the front doors and flung them open wide, and sure enough, the entire building had somehow crossed the magical Arctic Circle and was now sitting in the winter wonderland village in Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland, the official hometown of Santa Claus.

“But how?” Ruby asked

“The magic of the Christmas hearts brought us here, even yours, Ruby.”

Ruby Kirby tucked her Christmas heart away and smiled ear to ear as Santa Claus lifted her in his arms and carried her across the field of soft powder snow to her new home.

And that just about does it for the 12 Plays of Christmas series. I want to thank all of you who followed me on this experimental journey. I know I run this phrase into the ground but, it’s very much appreciated. Oh, and…

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Wishing you all a happy holiday season (whether you celebrate or not) and may you receive the best gift of all: a wonderful life full of happiness, love, joy, laughter, tranquility and prosperity!

12 Plays of Christmas: A Treehouse on the Moon

How could Nathaniel Buchanan ever forget that book? The infamous leather-bound Do Not Touch book with the cracked spine that sat on the mantle above the fireplace of his childhood home. The only person allowed to touch it was his mother, which she did every night to read him the bedtime story adventures of The Christmas Treehouse on The Moon.

It was a collection of short stories, oddly enough without any pictures like most storybooks, involving the first mother and son astronaut team to travel to the moon. A problem with the ship’s engine forced them to land inside the deepest crater on the dark side of the moon and there they discovered a mysterious treehouse.

But this was no ordinary treehouse because the inside was big enough to hold an entire world, and the air was breathable, so they didn’t need their spacesuits, and every day was Christmas.

His mother never read the same story twice and the book contained so many adventures that Nathaniel never went to bed without listening to the exploits of Sarah and little Sammy Centauri as they explored strange lands, met different aliens, and celebrated new customs inside the fantastical, weird and sometimes dangerous lunar Christmas treehouse.

When Nathaniel finally became old enough to read for himself, the leather book mysteriously disappeared. It wasn’t until years later when nostalgia made him want to locate the book, which couldn’t be found in the public library, any rare bookstore, or even online, that he made two discoveries:

  1. The book didn’t exist; and
  2. His mother was illiterate.

To his mother’s credit, she managed to keep it a closely guarded secret, finding creative ways to hide the fact that she was unable to read. There was always some kind soul willing to help her read something because she had “forgotten her glasses” or a server suggesting recommendations when her eyes were too tired to read the menu.

And while Nathaniel wished she had told him the truth because he would have gladly helped her learn how to read, he appreciated the fact that she took the time to invent a new story every night, which unbeknownst to her, fueled his desire to become an astronaut.

Sadly, she passed away before he joined NASA and made the terraforming moon mission. On her deathbed, she whispered, “I’ll be waiting for you in the treehouse.”

The astronauts were allowed to bring a personal item with them on the mission, and while the others brought things like a musical instrument, favorite book, or family photos, Nathaniel brought a pine cone.

After all, you had to grow a Christmas tree before you could build a house on it.

12 Plays of Christmas: Home For The Holidays

Alan Mann was a family man. He came from a big family, all his brothers and sisters had big families and he was fortunate enough to marry a lovely woman, Mamie, who was an only child who always dreamed of starting a big family of her own. And when it came to the holidays, nobody celebrated Christmas like the Tribe of Mann.

Which was why it was such a disappointment that Alan’s job needed his help in closing a massive deal on Christmas Day on the opposite coast. Ordinarily, he would have refused but the fact of the matter was, his family needed the cash injection his commission from the deal would have provided. Mamie wasn’t thrilled about spending Christmas without her husband, but she backed his play.

Everything was going to plan in Los Angeles and Alan prepared for the deal to wrap early as he planned to make it home at least by Christmas evening. He had already shipped a load of gifts to his family and the backup plan, in case things went south, was to celebrate Christmas with them over webcam, but on Christmas Eve he received a call from his wife.

“Alan, you need to come home,” Mamie said.

“What’s wrong?”

“Your mother’s in the hospital and…it doesn’t look good.”

Alan booked a plane ticket online while Mamie explained his mother’s condition. The cheapest immediate flight he could find was severely overpriced, and on his way to the airport, he left messages on his business partners’ voicemails apprising them of the situation. His mother instilled in him the preference of asking forgiveness rather than permission when it came to family matters.

There was a layover at Detroit Metropolitan Airport that set Alan back five hours. He pleaded his case at the airport, tried to get them to bump a passenger off an earlier flight, which he would have gladly paid for, but it couldn’t be helped, weather conditions in New York caused the unavoidable delay.

When he finally landed at LaGuardia Airport, he jumped the cue at the taxi stand and called his wife to let her know he would be there soon. But when he arrived at the hospital, it was too late. His mother had passed.

“I shouldn’t have taken this stupid assignment in the first place,” Alan said as he paced the hospital corridor.

“You did it for the family, Alan, we needed the money. Who could have foreseen something like this happening?”

“I should have rented a car in Detroit and driven here instead of being stuck at that goddamned airport!”

“Detroit to New York? That’s what, a nine-hour drive at best? It wouldn’t have made a difference, honey.”

“But I should have been here!”

“You were, through us,” Mamie stood directly in his path and stopped him in his tracks. She gently held his face and made her husband look her in the eye. “Every time you called, me and your sisters and brothers kept your mother updated whenever she regained consciousness. We made sure she knew you were on your way, that you were doing your best like you always do. And I know you feel guilty about it, but you have to remember, she wasn’t alone. We were all here with her.”

Alan was taken to see his mother’s body where he unburdened his soul and begged for forgiveness, and after all the tears had been shed and it was time to leave, he coordinated with his siblings, divvying up responsibilities for the funeral arrangements.

On the way to the elevator, Alan heard a woman crying. There was an elderly woman lying on a gurney in the hallway, with no attendants or staff around so he wasn’t sure if she was waiting for a bed or being taken to a department for tests or treatment, but her cries tugged at his already tender heartstrings.

The woman’s eyes were watery, her stare distant, but she was aware of Alan’s presence and in a weak voice said, “I’m scared.”

Alan took her frail hand and said, “It’s okay to feel scared, but you’re not alone, I’m here with you. I love you and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of you. I can’t tell you how much better my life is for having you in it.”

The woman slipped into unconsciousness and Alan’s sisters located a male staffer and made him aware of the situation, berating the man in the process for leaving the old woman unattended. Such was the way of the Mann women.

“That was beautiful, Alan,” Mamie put her arm around her husband’s shoulder.

“I wish I could have said all those things to my mother.”

“Those were things your mother already knew, but you said them to a woman who might not have had an Alan in her life to hear it from. It was sweet and what your mother raised you to do.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Mom had that arranged,” said Doris, Alan’s oldest sister.

“You think Mom parked an old woman in the hallway for me to comfort?”

“Excuse me, have you ever met our mother? Tell me that isn’t something she would have done.”

It was farfetched and designed to lighten the mood a little, which it did, but Alan couldn’t totally discount the notion that his mother exerted the last of her energy setting those wheels in motion.

This was going to be a solemn Christmas with an empty place setting at the table but at least the family was all together.

12 Plays of Christmas: A Letter to Santa

Maurice Weichert never appreciated gifts given to him by strangers as most of them were usually old tat, but once at an office party many moons ago, a forgotten-named someone, as a Secret Santa, heard that he liked to write so she gave him a stationery set which he thought to be quite impressive. It went unused, of course, because he lived in an era where handwritten letters had gone the way of the dinosaur. And how fitting it was that a dinosaur was now on the hunt to retrieve it.

He exhumed the set from the bottom of a box shoved in the back of the bedroom closet, and to his surprise, it was still in pristine condition. Clearing a spot on the dining table, he paired the parchment with two other gifts from long-ago holidays, a Montblanc pen and a glass of Gonzalez Byass Apóstoles Sherry.

Maurice wasn’t much of a drinker, which explained why the sherry remained untouched all these years but he required a bit of liquid courage so he downed the glass in one, poured himself another, uncapped his pen and commenced to write his letter. Having not written for quite a long while, his penmanship wasn’t as crisp as it once was and added to that fact was the tremor in his hand brought on by age and nervousness.

Dear Santa,

It has been ages since I last wrote to you and I realize that I am far too old to start doing it again but I am not requesting anything from you, besides the loan of a moment of your time. As the winner of the unluckiest lottery, meaning that I have somehow managed to outlive my parents, siblings, wife and all my friends, I could not think of another living soul who would care to read this besides yourself.

I am a lonely man.

You have no idea how this desolation of companionship feels, having no one to inquire about what is going on in your life or inside your head, no one to challenge your philosophies in a deep conversation, no one to hold you during the silent hours of the night when the mind buzzes with nihilistic inevitabilities, no one to protect thereby giving your life a sense of purpose, no one to hand control over to on the days when you are not quite strong enough, no one to occupy the dead spots and the void inside of you that books, music, television and movies are not capable of filling.

And then there are the visitations from memory ghosts of loved ones and special people and people who could have been special if only you had not gotten in your own way and run them off, ghosts of better times and better days that you would gladly give anything, even your immortal soul, to step back into and relive just one more time, ghosts of conversations when you said the wrong things to people who did not deserve it and were too stubborn to apologize for.

You have no idea how much it hurts to be isolated from the world at large, to know that you still have love to give but not a single solitary soul to offer it to, still have jokes to tell but no one to laugh at them, experiences to share and knowledge to impart that no one cares to hear.

What is a man to do when his life no longer has direction, and his spark has been doused a decade ago? What happens when he can no longer compartmentalize all the sadness, anger, guilt, heartache, hopelessness, and worthlessness? How does he stop his mundane existence from draining and crippling his soul as it makes his world grow smaller by the day and it gets harder to breathe and he can’t clear the fog from his head—

The pen dropped from Maurice’s hand almost as if in protest. This wasn’t the letter he intended to write. The plan was to create a magnum opus, the letter to Santa to end all letters, a missive that succinctly encapsulated his existence, but this…this was soppy cringe-worthy drivel. He would have to start it all over again, perhaps creating an outline this time to better organize his thoughts.

Crumpling the letter into a ball, he tossed it absently in the direction of the wire mesh waste bin…when a hand snatched it out of the air.

Standing behind him in full regalia was Father Christmas himself, jolly old Saint Nicholas, who said, “I’ll take that. It was meant for me anyway, wasn’t it?”

“Santa?” Maurice felt like he was having a hypnagogic hallucination, the kind that occurred during the transition between REM sleep and wakefulness.

“In the flesh, Reese,” Santa said. “Do you mind if I call you Reese? I’ve watched you all your life and calling you Maurice just seems so formal. You can call me Nick if you like, or Kris. Either one is fine.”

 “What are you doing here?”

“You wrote me a letter.”

“And you personally visit everyone who writes to you?”

“Not usually, no, but I had a little downtime and thought, what the heck?”

“But how did you get here?”

“The usual way.”

“No, I mean how did you get here so fast? The letter isn’t even written yet.”

“The final version hasn’t been completed, but I know when someone is writing me a letter.”

“That’s impossible.”

Santa patted his belly and said, “I can fit this bulk through any chimney without getting stuck or catching fire, can levitate back up said chimney by touching my nose and nodding, I know the names of every person on the planet and if they’ve been naughty or nice, among other things…and my instantly knowing when someone writes a letter addressed to me is the thing you’re questioning?”

“I guess you’re right. Well, I think you wasted a trip because I wasn’t asking for anything, I just needed to air a few things out.”

Santa uncrumpled the letter and read it to himself. When he finished, he said, “Your feelings are valid and even though you think I don’t understand what you’re going through, believe me, I do. And you’re not alone in feeling this way, especially at this time of year. You’re also not dead yet, and what I mean by that is stop acting like you are. If you take good care of yourself, barring any accidents, you’ve got, at the bare minimum, twenty good years ahead of you. Years that you can make count for something instead of rotting away in a mausoleum of the past.”

Maurice was about to speak when Santa raised a hand to stop him. “Can we discuss what you didn’t get around to including in the letter, Reese? I’ve been at this a long time and have received millions of letters similar to this…”

There was a knock at the apartment door.

“I thought we’d have more time,” Santa said with a sigh. “You should get that, it’s for you.”

“Why did you sigh?” fear struck Maurice’s heart like a match. “I don’t like the way you said that. Who’s at the door?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Maurice approached his apartment door the way a hazardous devices technician approached a suspicious package. His hand hovered above the knob until he could muster the courage to open the door, and there he saw…

A frazzled woman, roughly his age, maybe a little younger, with shoulder-length silver hair, wearing a red and white Santa cap with the words Merry Christmas emblazoned on it.

“Hi, my name is Davina, and don’t worry, I’m not a crazy person, well, maybe a little, but fun-crazy not scary-crazy, I even wore the Santa hat to prove that I’m basically harmless, see?” Davina offered a toothy grin and pointed at the hat. “Anyway, I’m new to the building, your next-door neighbor, actually, and I hate to be a bother, especially so close to Christmas because you’re probably wrapping expensive presents or preparing some fantastic meal or binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, or something important like that, but I really need to use your phone. It’s not a long-distance call or a phone scam to steal your identity or a call to some expensive sex chatline or anything weird like that, I just moved in today and I’ve got no electricity, gas or phone. It was all supposed to be on when I got here, but you know how these utility companies are, they get around to it when they get around to it because you’re always on their time and not vice-versa. So, would that be okay? Using your phone?”

Davina’s introduction was as rapid as machine-gun fire and Maurice stood in stunned silence for a long moment attempting to process it all. When his brain finally caught up, he said, “Um, sure. The phone’s just this way.”

He let her into the apartment and his brain began working overtime trying to invent a reason for Santa Claus to be sitting in his home, but when they entered the living room, Saint Nicholas was nowhere to be found.

“I’m so glad you’re home and you’re nice, you are nice, aren’t you? I think you’re nice and I’m usually a good judge of character, except when it comes to boyfriends, but why would you need to know that? I’m sorry, I tend to be a chatterbox when I’m nervous which is practically all the time, anyway, what was I saying, oh yeah, I’m so glad that you’re home and you’re letting me use your phone. I would have used my cell but the battery died while I was on hold with the electric company and I couldn’t recharge it because, you know, no electricity. Speaking of which, would it be okay if I charged my phone here?”

“Sure, the socket’s right by the phone.”

“You are a lifesaver, and I promise I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”

“It’s fine, take your time, no rush,” Maurice said still in a haze but he was present enough to remember his manners. “I’m not a coffee drinker but if you don’t mind tea, I can put the kettle on, or can I offer you a glass of water or juice, perhaps?”

“Oh, no, I don’t want to put you through any additional trouble.”

“If it was trouble, I wouldn’t have offered.”

“Are you sure?”


“Then tea would be lovely, but nothing with caffeine, please. You wouldn’t want to see me all jittery, trust me.”

He had absolutely no doubt about that. “The phone’s all yours, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.”

In the kitchen, Maurice found a note taped to the tea kettle, written in perfect cursive on his stationery, which read:

Much like yourself, Davina has always remained on my nice list, but she’s gone through a bit of a rough patch recently and could use a friend who specializes in kid glove treatment. I know it’s a huge imposition and I wouldn’t dream of asking if I had any other options available to me, but I was wondering if you could help me out on this one as I simply don’t have the time or resources to handle this matter in the manner which it deserves. I would owe you big time and you never know when calling in a Santa favor could come in handy.

Oh, her utilities will be turned on in two hours, which should give you plenty of time to make her acquaintance.

Thanks for the assist, Reese, and Merry Christmas!


– Santa

PS. If you decide to write me a letter next year, please put out some cookies and milk. The Missus has me on a strict diet and the only time I get to snack is when I’m out on business.

12 Plays of Christmas: Mary Christmas

Luckily my favorite table was open at the bistro I frequented in Alphabet City, the one by the window where the midday sun filtered through shelves of antique colored milk bottles, mason jars, and assorted glassware.

I scanned through the menu feigning interest in all the food options available for some unknown reason though I knew what I was going to order because my order hadn’t changed in over three years. The food here wasn’t really great but it was one of the few places in the city that had a natural ambiance that suited my temperament.

I felt a presence looming over me that smelled of Christmas—actually, the smell was of apples and cinnamon, which always reminded me of Christmas—so I placed my order by rote without looking up from the menu, keeping up the pretense of struggling with the choices of so many delectable options which was silly but perhaps I wanted the staff to recognize how much I liked the place.

“Um, that sounds delicious,” a voice said in a register higher than I was accustomed to in the bistro, a woman’s voice. “But I don’t actually work here.”

I looked up and was nearly blinded by a rosy-cheeked, platinum blonde woman bundled in the whitest fur coat in existence—hopefully not a real fur coat because that would be cruel—topped with a fur hat.

“Is anyone sitting here?” she pointed at the empty chair across the table from me.

I answered, “No…” as I glanced around at all the vacant tables situated throughout the eatery and I was about to bring this to her attention when she daintily and skillfully seated herself.

“Hi, my name is Mary, Mary Christmas,” she beamed a smile and proffered her white-mittened hand to shake. “You have a kind face so you may call me Mary or Your Royal Majesty Queen-Empress of the Known Universe, absolutely your choice but under no circumstances are you to refer to me as Merry as in Merry Christmas. I grew up being teased by that and I’m not having anymore of it.”

I didn’t answer because I was too busy processing what was happening which she took an entirely different way, most likely because I hadn’t completed the handshake ritual.

“Oh, you’re one of those, are you?” she sighed, slipping the mitten off her hand and rummaging through a white handbag produced from a fold in her coat almost if by magic.

“One of those?”

“A non-believer. A person who has to be shown instead of accepting things at face value,” she said as she pulled something out of her purse and handed it to me. “Here, proof.” It was her driver’s license and I’ll be damned if it didn’t list her name as Mary Christmas.

“Look, miss…”


“Mary, I wasn’t doubting your name, strange as it may be, no offense…”

“None taken.”

“It’s just that, you know…”

“Know what?”

“Come on, you have to admit it’s a bit unusual for an absolute stranger to sit at your table uninvited.”

“Oh, but you did invite me.”

“I did?”

“Well, not you verbally, but your loneliness called out to me. I’m sensitive to things of that nature, people’s loneliness and all that.”

“I appear lonely to you?”

“Most definitely. No offense.”

“None taken, I guess.”

“And well, it’s Christmas time and no one should feel lonely on Christmas.”

“Oh, I get it,” I blushed against my will and was suddenly unable to keep eye contact with her. “Um, I’m flattered, I guess but this really isn’t my sort of thing. I don’t pay for…”

“Wait a minute, you think I’m a…”

“You’re not?”

“Definitely not.”

“I-I am so sorry! It’s just beautiful women don’t make it a habit of approaching me and…”

“Let me stop you right there. I will allow the infraction because you called me beautiful and before you misread anything else into me sitting at your table, if you and I become anything it will simply be friends, not friends with benefits or any of this other modern-day nonsense. I’m far too old-fashioned for that. And yes, even as a friend I still expect you to be gentleman enough to open doors for me as well as pull out my chair when we dine, thank you very much.”

“Um, okay?”

“And quit acting like this is weird,” Mary said. “Tis the season and I have no gift to bring other than to say, I see you. This has grown to be an unintentional world where people are acknowledged more on the internet than in real life, so I intend to change that, right here, right now, starting with you by asking you a simple question.”

“And what question would that be?”

“How are you doing?” Mary asked, looking me in the eye and giving me her full attention and I was about to respond with the automatic faux “Fine,” but there was something in her expression that made me feel that she was interested in hearing my honest response, so I told her.

I told her how I thought I was at the end of my rope. As an older gentleman who was closer to the end of the race than the beginning, I felt absolutely lost. My life was empty. I had felt this way before but then I wore a younger man’s clothes and was far more resilient, able to pick myself up by the bootstraps and rebuild my life but the change was always temporary and things crumbled and I had to begin again. The problem was I didn’t think I had the strength or wherewithal to start over again. I had lost all interest in the things I was once passionate about and all motivation to find something new was gone.

“Sometimes,” Mary reached her hand across the table and held mine. “We just need to focus on things beyond our circumstances to maintain our sense of peace and allow our senses to lead us to our true path.”

“Like you did by sitting at my table?”

Mary smiled and nodded. “Something like that.”

Now, I wasn’t one to believe in Christmas miracles but this bizarre woman, bless her heart, offered to be a knot at the end of my rope, transforming her from a random stranger to a catalyst of joy. And as the conversation continued, we discussed making a greater impact on society by acknowledging strangers and becoming a source of compassion for those in need and in turn challenging them to make the world a better place, filled with upturned smiling faces, happy to make contact with a living being instead of blue-lit zombies scouring their phones for acceptance and approval.

I never gave much credence to the idea of living a life of service as I equated it to religion and I was not a spiritual man by any stretch of the imagination but there was no denying how constantly amazed I was that a spontaneous conversation or a meaningful smile were so rare that they could literally be the highlight of someone’s day. Now, my newfound purpose in life had become making these rare moments of love between complete strangers the norm.

Thank you, Mary Christmas, for starting a revolution.

12 Plays of Christmas: A Gift For Teacher

Some people were destined for a particular profession since birth, such was the case with Margaret Magnussen, never to be addressed as Maggie because it brought back the traumatizing years of elementary school teasing. Maggie Magnussen became MagMag the old hag which was later abbreviated to MagHag. The sole nickname she allowed was Magpie and the only people allowed to call her that were her parents and her best friend, Jane Campbell.

Out of respect, she will be referred to as Miss Magnussen for the duration of this tale.

Miss Magnussen only ever wanted to be one thing, a teacher, so she made it her profession, and she excelled at it. Even during her off hours, after preparing lesson plans and grading test papers and essays, she would spend time in teachers’ groups and forums on Facebook and WhatsApp and other platforms where the topic of conversation generally steered in the direction of the disadvantages of being a teacher:

  • It’s not being a profession where a person would become rich
  • Limited promotion options
  • Repetitive lessons
  • Difficult kids uninterested in what was being taught
  • Parents complaining about the style of teaching,

and the list went on. They rarely spoke of the benefits like job stability, the improvement of salary and benefits, the joy of getting to teach subjects that you loved, and influencing the next generation, among others.

But there was one thing on Miss Magnussen’s list that straddled the line between disadvantage and perk: the day before Christmas vacation. That was the day when each of her students presented her with a Christmas gift. To be clear, she appreciated the acknowledgment of being in someone’s thoughts enough for them to give her a present and the term bad gift didn’t apply, especially when it came from an elementary school student.

It was the parent-bought gifts, the expensive items that made her feel as if she was perhaps being bribed to hand out better grades to students who offered the more expensive gifts, that put her in an awkward position. If she rejected the gift, she risked insulting the parent, and if she accepted it, she stood to be reprimanded by the school board. To date, the only gift she absolutely refused was a sheer negligée from a fourth-grade student’s single father.

And here it was, the final day before Christmas break and Miss Magnussen was staring at a desk covered with numerous World’s Greatest Teacher mugs, scented candles, perfumes, lotions, bath products, and things shaped like apples or with apple motifs. Of the thirty-two items, only one stood out from the rest:

A handmade sculpture.

It was placed on her desk by Jan Nichols. The other students snickered at it and mocked the ten-year-old for being too poor to buy a proper gift, but our Miss Magnussen saw something in that sculpture, something which defied any description other than to say it was breathtaking.

Its shape was fluid geometry that somehow folded and twisted in upon itself like a design pulled from a section of arcane biological mathematics that would have made Fibonacci’s mouth water in its simple complexity.

Luckily the day’s lesson plan consisted of a quick review of the lessons covered so far followed by an open discussion of student plans for the holidays because Miss Magnussen’s attention kept being drawn back to Jan’s sculpture.

When the end of day school bell rang and the students hurriedly packed their belongings and raced for vacation freedom, Miss Magnussen asked Jan to remain behind. The young girl approached the teacher’s desk with apprehension, her eyes pointed down at her scuffed polyurethane leather shoes.

To the casual observer, Jan Nichols might have seemed a plain Jane mousy chameleon who blended into the background to remain unnoticed thereby avoiding the unwanted attention which led to endless insults and teasing. Miss Magnussen, however, spotted her beauty. It was as if the universe planted a seed of perfect caring in her soul.

“Yes, Miss Magnussen?” Jan said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“I wanted to talk to you about your gift.”

“I’m sorry.”


“That I couldn’t afford to buy you a gift like the other kids,” Jan said and struggled with the following bit. “We don’t have a lot of money.”

“You thought I was going to berate you because of your gift?”

Jan shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Miss Magnussen took Jan gently by the chin and lifted her head until they were eye to eye. “Oh, honey, you couldn’t be further from the truth. I think your gift is beautiful.”

“Really and truly?”

“Really and truly,” Miss Magnussen nodded. “I think the best gifts are handmade gifts. In fact, of all the gifts I’ve ever received, the handwritten letters, homemade cards and crafts are the most valued and remembered ones and I have a special shelf for them in my home.”

“Are you putting my gift on that shelf?” Jan asked, eyes wide with hope.

“I’m going to find a special place where it can sit on its own. But before I do that, I wanted to ask you about the statue. Can you tell me what it is?”

Jan thought long and hard before answering. “My mom suggested that I make you something, since we couldn’t afford to…you know…”

Miss Magnussen waved off Jan’s need to finish that thought. “Go on.”

“Well, she told me to think long and hard about what I wanted to make and since I love to sculpt and my dad had some extra clay laying around that he said I could use—he helped me bake and glaze it, by the way—I just closed my eyes and sculpted you.”

Miss Magnussen picked up the sculpture and turned it end over end in her hands. “This is me?”

“This is love,” Jan corrected. “It’s what I feel when I think about you. I don’t like school much, the kids are really mean when you’re not around, but when I’m here in your class and I see your face, you make me smile and make me feel safe. You’re so smart and funny and you teach us in a way that makes learning fun, so this is how I see you, only not with my eyes but with my heart.”

Oh, the tears. It was hardly professional to cry in front of a student but Miss Magnussen found it impossible to hold them back.

“I’m so sorry,” Jan said, looking like a skittish fawn prepared to bolt.

“Never apologize for your talent. These are good tears, Jan, happy tears,” Miss Magnussen said. She placed the sculpture back on the desk and fished a tissue from one of her drawers to dab her eyes with.

When she composed herself, Miss Magnussen said, “I had no idea you were having such a tough time with your fellow classmates. Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because it’s not good to tattle.”

“Jan, there’s a difference between being a tattletale and letting an adult know when something is wrong and bullying is wrong and I won’t stand for it and neither should you. Over the break I’m going to work on some solutions so we can nip this problem in the bud, okay?”

“Yes, Miss Magnussen.”

“In the meantime, we need to get you suited up in some mental armor.”

“Mental armor, what’s that?”

“It’s a trick that successful people use that makes all the difference in the world. The first part is learning the ability to turn obstacles around. You’ve heard the saying every dark cloud has a silver lining, haven’t you?”

“My mom says it all the time,” Jan nodded.

“That’s great, and you should always try to find the silver lining in any bad situation. It won’t be easy a lot of the time but just like with everything else, the more you practice it, the better you’ll get and the best part is that it turns you into a problem solver, someone that’s good in a crisis.”

“The second part,” Miss Magnussen continued. “Is to focus on being positive. You said I make learning fun. Do you know why I do that? Because putting people in a positive mood while teaching them something new helps them absorb the knowledge better and when you make them happy before a test they get better grades. Our brains are these amazing machines designed to perform at their best when they experience positivity.”

“That makes sense,” said Jan.

“And you’re good at sculpting, I mean really good, so I want you to think about creating something for the school art fair so we can show off your talent, and maybe I’ll even let you borrow my beautiful sculpture to display, but only if you promise to take really good care of it.”

“I would, I promise,” Jan crossed her heart with her index finger.

“All right, Miss Nichols, I shan’t keep you from your precious holiday vacation one second longer, so wish your parents Merry Christmas for me, and have a happy, healthy and hearty holiday season!”

A smile spread so wide across Jan’s face that it nearly split her head in half. “Thank you, Miss Magnussen, for everything…and same to you!” she said and skip-sprinted out of the classroom in that special way known only to young girls.

What Miss Magnussen hadn’t told Jan, as not to get her hopes up, was that she intended to look into funding for some art programs for the young sculptress to enroll in, because talent like hers deserved to be acknowledged and cultivated.

This was going to be a busy Christmas break, but absolutely worth it.

12 Plays of Christmas: The Gift of the Cooki*

*with apologies to O. Henry

Absolutely skint. That was what she was. After smashing every piggybank and rooting between all the couch cushions, Perlie collected exactly zero dollars and zero cents. And Christmas was tomorrow.

She would have cried about her situation but that would have only ruined her complexion. She was made of gingerbread, after all. Also, she realized that things could have been worse. At least she was not homeless, the rent on the flat had been paid for the month and there was food in the pantry, which was more than could be said for a good many gingerbreadians.

But what she lacked in wealth, she was more than compensated for in love. She was married to the molasses man of her dreams, Mr. Gantry Cooki, a gingerly fellow who never complained about his lot in life even though he slaved away at a job that barely kept a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.

Although her husband asked for nothing for the holiday season, Perlie could not let the special day pass without giving her beloved a gift. In her mind’s eye, she pictured all the lavish things she would purchase, a mountain of presents that could not fit beneath even the tallest redwood tree, which would not begin to show the worth of her Gantry.

The fact of the matter was there would be no present under the tree, in fact, no Christmas tree at all because there was not one blessed thing in the house that could have been used as collateral for a loan to buy even the tiniest most inexpensive gift. There were only two things The Cookis were proud of owning, the first being Gantry’s icing eyes, made by a master craftsman baker who passed away several years ago, and the other was Perli’s limbs. She was a prototype gingerbread woman designed as a risqué novelty item for adventurous and hungry lovers.

When Perli walked the streets, she turned the ginger heads of men and women alike. When she was feeling particularly saucy, she would strut past the gaggle of gingergossips, proudly displaying her stunning legs and letting her arms swing wide, captivating the looky-loos with her enticing patterns. Her only competition was Gantry’s eyes, which held the power to mesmerize anyone foolish enough to gaze upon them for too long.

Perli looked herself over in the mirror a long while before sighing and fetching her coat. There was only one thing to do.

Her exquisite legs carried her to the storefront of Madame Dent Sucrée’s Salon des Délices Épicuriens, the one place in which no sane gingerbreadian would be caught dead, figuratively. The literal sense was an entirely different matter.

Upon entering the boutique, Perli’s senses were assaulted with treacly fragrances a human being would consider delectable, but to her, it smelled like a gingerbread abattoir. She was promptly greeted by the shoppe’s proprietor, Madame Dent Sucrée, who was known locally as simply Sweet Tooth.

Sweet Tooth was a big-boned woman with a pale complexion and juicy red lips that glistened to the point they appeared to be iced. She eyed Perli suspiciously.

“I—I need money,” Perli’s voice nearly caught in her throat. “To buy my husband a Christmas present.”

“You are in luck, for I have money,” said Sweet Tooth. “Are you aware of my conditions?”

Perli’s head dropped. “I am.”

“Then take off that ridiculous coat and let me get a good look at you.”

Perli did as instructed and Sweet Tooth’s cold gaze instantly turned ravenous. They bargained and haggled for the better part of a half-hour and eventually arrived at a price that Sweet Tooth was hesitant to agree to and Perli thought was still not enough. Mrs. Cooki did her level best to hold back the tears as sweet teeth dug into her gingerbread flesh.

The rest of the day dragged on as Perli visited shop after shop in search of the perfect gift for her husband. During her travels, she attracted the usual number of stares but this time for an entirely different reason.

As was the way of the world, Perli found a gift practically tailor-made for Gantry in the very last shop on the High Street, and even though it cost her all the money she received from Sweet Tooth, she paid to have the present wrapped in lavish gold leaf paper and tied with a crimson silk ribbon.

When Perli arrived home, she stared at herself in the looking-glass, inspecting the true cost of her husband’s Christmas gift.

“Will he understand?” she asked her reflection and waited for a response, some sort of reassurance that she had done the right thing. When none came, she began preparing supper.

Among Gantry’s many positive attributes was his punctuality, yet this day he arrived home forty-five minutes late. Perli spent that time nervously propped up against the table nearest the front door with the wrapped Christmas gift in hand.

When she finally heard his footsteps in the hall, she whispered a silent prayer, “Please let him understand.”

The door opened and Gantry stepped in, slowly, carefully. He was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and looked very serious, not at all like his usual cheerful self. He stopped just inside the door and stood there quietly. With the dark glasses on Perli could not tell if he was looking at her but there was an expression on his face unlike any she had ever seen before and it made her afraid.

Was he so shocked by her appearance that he had no idea how to react, or was a fit of anger percolating inside him that had yet to reach the boiling point to register on his face?

“Oh, Gantry,” she cried, “Please don’t look at me like that. I had to do it. I could not bear spending the holiday together without giving you a gift. It is Christmas. Let us be happy. You have no idea what a beautiful nice gift I got for you.”

“What did you do?” asked Gantry slowly. He seemed to labor to understand what his wife was talking about. He seemed not to comprehend what was staring him in the face.

“I visited Sweet Tooth’s shoppe today and sold something valuable in order to buy you a present. Please tell me that you understand, that you are not angry, that you still see me as the same cookie you fell in love with.”

“What did you sell?”

Was he mocking her, or trying to humiliate her by making her speak her shame out loud? “I let her take my left arm and right leg.”

“Your arm and leg are gone?”

“Bitten off and consumed,” Perli said, balancing herself on a crutch. “Please do not look at me differently, I am the same woman without those limbs. It is the night before Christmas, my love, so be kind to me because I sold them for you.”

Gentry roared a hearty belly laugh from the depth of his soul.

“I visited Sweet Tooth as well in order to get you this,” Gantry said, digging a wrapped present from within his overcoat. “And all it cost me was…”

Gantry removed his dark glasses and the space on his face below his hairline and above his nose was icing free.

“Your eyes,” Perli gasped.

“Traded for your gift on this most special of days,” Gantry said, extending the gift in the direction of his wife’s voice.

Perli set her gift down, hobbled over to Gantry and put her arms around him. As her husband had no eyes, she cried for both of them, complexion be damned; tears of loss which eventually turned to tears of joy. And in that long embrace they consoled one another; a new arm and leg could be baked and a new pair of eyes iced and while they might not be crafted with the same skill as the originals, they would be made with love.

And for the reader curious to know what gifts were given, this author offers that the presents were personal in nature, objects of value only to the recipient. What was important was not what was contained within the wrapping but that the gifts were born of love and sacrifice, both of which were appreciated by the giftee.

Sally forth and be gift-from-the-heart-givingly merry this holiday season!

Peace be upon you.

12 Plays of Christmas: When The Snow Fell

When the snow fell, a man and woman became lost and wandered into the village where I was born. They were aware of just how fragile the planet was with too many people packed too close together. Human beings were hurting Earth and this village was one of those tiny and oh so very poor places in the world unknown to cartographers that was struggling with overpopulation.

The couple had been on an excursion to find their souls and instead found a half-frozen little orphan girl whom no one could afford to take in, and that day I found a family because even though the man and woman hadn’t planned on having children themselves, they believed in their hearts that it was the right thing to do.

They’d both been bitten by the wanderlust bug at early ages, so when I became old enough to truly appreciate presents, my adoptive parents gave me the two greatest gifts they could think of: a passport and an ear for languages.

From a young age, I trekked across the globe several times over, first with them, and then on my own when I became mature and worldly enough to claim the freedom to make my own pathway. And it was an exciting adventure for a while, but I eventually reached a point where the only place left to visit was home, or more precisely, the place where I was born.

Thanks to Google Earth, uncovering the location of the village, whose name was not translatable into English in written or verbal form, was easier for me than my folks but even in this age of digital information, the only reference I was able to pull up was a Christmas urban legend regarding a mysterious woman, a snow witch called, Dame Donatore, the giver of gifts.

According to myth, she was an eight-armed sorceress who had been tragically separated from her offspring during a snowstorm on the night before Christmas. Grief made her wander aimlessly into the mountains where she became a hermit. One of her many talents was that of a skilled craftswoman and in order to cope with her loss, she built knickknacks and toys by hand, things she would have made for her children. When these items began cluttering up her cave, she carried them down from the mountain and handed them out to the poor girls and boys, which happened to be on the anniversary of the loss of her children. And so began the tradition. It was said that she would spend the whole of Christmas Day with brooms in her many hands sweeping the snowcapped mountains clean, showering the village below in a blanket of white on that most special of days.


Reaching the village had proven more arduous than I thought, requiring passage on several modes of transportation over land and sea and air. I wound up having to travel farther than I initially planned and when I ultimately arrived at my destination, it was the twenty-fourth of December, a surprisingly mild weathered night, and to my great fortune, I bore witness to the arrival of the legend herself, Dame Donatore, who sat her gift-laden sack on the bench-like flat stone in the village square.

The snow witch appeared to be in her sixties, possibly older, and was cloaked in the infamous magical red robe that made six of her supposed extra arms invisible to mortal eyes. Beside her sack, she placed a pile of coal and as the children approached one by one, she asked,

“Have you remembered to be good?”

and upon hearing the child’s answer, she would sometimes fake reaching for a lump of coal, much to the child’s dismay, before pulling one of her bespoke presents from the sack. After the children had collected their gifts, she handed the coal lumps to the parents to be added to their home fires.

I spied all this from afar, hidden in the shadows, and only decided to approach the woman when everyone had retreated to their homes. Upon seeing me, Dame Donatore said,

“Oh, hel—beg pardon,” she caught herself. “I thought I knew you for a moment. You have a face like a forgotten memory, but clearly, we have never met.”

I had no idea what that meant but before I could question it, she continued, “I am afraid I have no gift for your little one.” Her tone was regretful as she held up her empty burlap sack. “They have all been given out.”

I waved away her concern, “I have no children.”

She sighed, and more to herself, said, “A pity that. I can think of no greater tragedy than to be childless, especially during the holidays, for children are the greatest gifts of all.”

From a distance, this mysterious giver of gifts seemed an almost ethereal being conjured by Christmas magic, but up close, with no children present, she was the saddest person I had ever laid eyes on and her magnificent cloak was nothing more than a ratty old blanket draped over her shoulders and held in place with a rusty pin.

“I don’t think being a mother suits me,” I said for no apparent reason. Why would this woman be interested in knowing that having children wasn’t part of my life plan?

“Well, what you think and what I know are two different things,” she offered a weak smile. “I could tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“Girl or boy,” she answered. “Motherhood is indeed a part of your destiny. I have a sense of these things.”

“So, you’re a fortune-teller?”

“Everyone has a path which has been mapped out on their bodies from birth. I do not tell fortunes but I can see auras and have been known to trace the roads yet untraveled on a palm.”

Although a disbeliever in a great many things, I was standing in the presence of an urban legend, so how could I not extend my palm and accept the challenge? “Tell me.”

Donatore clasped my hand in a feeble handshake, closed her eyes and explained, “First, I must make your acquaintance.”

“Oh, of course, pardon me. My name is—” I started.

“Unnecessary,” she interrupted. “Your vibrations will tell me everything I need to know.”

Her hand began to tremble as if palsied but her grip grew tighter and tighter. Trance-like, she said, “I sense turmoil…a maelstrom…” and as she spoke the words, I caught flashes in my mind’s eye of a very heavy snowfall and I could actually feel icy winds cutting across my face.

And suddenly I am in a storm…

and the snow keeps coming…

it never stops…

until nothing exists except the snow…

and that isn’t right because I’m missing something…

something I lost in the snow…

was I holding a hand?

Was that real and if it was…

whose hand was it…

and where was it now?

Someone is calling to me…

“Keep up!”…

and as I try to push forward…

I realize that I have no shoes…

and the cold is everywhere…

even inside me…

hollowing me out…

and I am being buffeted by the wind…

turning around again and again…

I try to keep moving forward…

but I know I am going the wrong way…

I no longer know the right way…

because the entire world is killer frost white…

where am I now that I have turned the wrong way…

I can’t call out because the wind steals my voice…

I am lost and alone…

and the only thing I know is that I am going to die…

And just before I was about to cry out in pain, the witch of the snow allowed my hand to slip from her grasp. The all-encompassing whiteness that was so thick as to choke me…began to evaporate and time held its breath as reality reset itself around me.

“…a face like a forgotten memory…” Donatore muttered sotto voce, and a look of dawning recognition crossed her features. I was certain that I mirrored her expression.

“Are you…are you…my mother?”

“Ameliatta,” she whispered, and I lost my footing in the present, falling back through the calendar of my life to the misty days of forgotten memories when a younger version of myself that I barely recognized delighted in having my mother’s undivided attention.

“I go by Amelia now,” I said, unable to stop the spread of a smile for this woman whom I bore little resemblance to and who was and was not a stranger at the same time.

The giver of gifts struggled to find words and when she finally did, all she could muster was, “How did you find me?”

“I wanted to see where I was born.”

“I knew in my heart of hearts that you would return to me,” Donatore said as she turned away to hide the tears welling in her eyes. “In my quiet moments, I talked to the heavens to let you know that I was still alive and waiting for you at home.”

I hadn’t the heart to reveal that I hadn’t come in search of her, at least not consciously. Truth be known, I had never given much thought to finding my birth mother. I knew that sounded cruel but I wasn’t suffering from abandonment issues. I accepted that life happened the way it did, and I had a happy childhood surrounded and supported by people who loved me.

“You must think horrible things of me,” she said, her eyes unable to land on mine.

“I don’t, honestly.”

“It was my fault that I lost you, but you must understand I was doing what I thought was right.”

“I don’t blame you.”

She wasn’t acknowledging what I was saying and appeared to be lost in remembrance. “We owned nothing but poverty but that did not stop your father from scrounging around for materials to build us a home. If only his heart was as strong as his intention. He died before the house was finished. It was only you and I alone and a violent storm was on its way. I needed to find materials to patch the holes in the roof. It would have been faster if I went by myself but you were so terrified of being left alone after your father died, so against my better judgment, I took you with me. We collected bits of wood and tree bark and raced back home, but we were not faster than the storm. Trying to hold on to the wood that the wind was whipping out of my grip, I lost hold of you. If you believe nothing else I tell you, know that I searched for you day and night for how long I cannot tell, digging through the snow until I could no longer feel my hands, but you were gone.”

“I believe you.”

If she heard me, she gave no indication. “I wanted to curl up in that snow and die, but I kept pushing on. It was what my parents did and what they taught me to do, day after day, you just pushed on. In the same year, I had lost my husband and my precious daughter. There was nothing to keep me here but I stayed because I had a belief that if I left this place, I would never see you again, and I would not have been able to survive that. I needed to keep my mind and hands busy so I began building things, which turned out to be toys, probably because your return was always on my mind.”

At that moment I was able to see beyond myself and considered the stages of her life, of our lives, before and after the storm. There were paths each of us had taken that would fill in the gaps of our individual travels and maybe, just maybe, we could start walking a new path together.

“This might sound strange but can I hug you?” I asked.

“For as long as you like,” Donatore smiled and the years seemed to melt from her face.

We threw our arms around each other and it seemed so natural and so right, so much like a home I never knew existed. She whispered in my ear, “Life is filled with little miracles and I knew one day I would receive one.”

We stood there locked in an embrace, taking turns weeping. It was strange to discover just how much I missed this woman, my mother. When we eventually separated, she folded her empty sack and tucked it beneath one arm. “Would you like to see the house? It took me longer than I thought but I finally finished it.”

“That would be nice.”

“I must warn you that it is a little crowded in there.”

“You have a family?”

“Of sorts, I take in homeless children, especially this time of year, because this is a horrific place for young children to be isolated, and as I said before children are the best gifts one can have. In exchange for food and shelter, they help me build toys. You think I did all this by myself?”

Clearly, my work was cut out for me, separating my mother from the myth from the woman she became without me.

I wasn’t sure how long we had been standing out in the cold, which oddly enough hadn’t really affected me, but I had a sense that it was after midnight, Christmas Day, and as we held hands and walked the path to her home, the snow began to fall.

12 Plays of Christmas: In Service of Elves

I like to walk the park near my home at night, even in wintery weather. Some consider it a dangerous undertaking, I know, and there have been a few tragic incidents over the past several months, but I was born in this city and I take my chances because I am old enough to accept the risks associated with my nightly constitutional. That, and I refuse to live in fear.

Along the path I walk there is a stone bridge and each night I pass over it I see the same elderly woman squatting at the mouth of the underpass below with two wicker baskets sitting on either side of her.

Being city-bred, I generally tend to my own affairs and leave other people to their business, but this evening curiosity is my master, so instead of walking across the bridge, I take the path leading to the underpass.

As I get closer to the woman, I spot shapes moving in the shadow of the overpass. Too large to be rodentia or stray cats or dogs, these figures move about on their hindquarters but are too small to be dwarves. The first insane thought that comes to mind is leprechauns…but a niggling bit of ancient knowledge that must be buried deep within human mitochondria corrects me and states that they are…elves.

The baskets beside the woman are open and one is filled with fruits and finger sandwiches and the other with wet wipes and first aid materials. Three elves meander around the food basket nibbling on apple and orange slices, while the woman gingerly wipes the dirt and dried blood away from a wound on a fourth elf’s knee with an alcohol swab.

I clear my throat as to make my presence known and say, “Hello. I see you here at this same spot every evening. I hope you’ll pardon my nosiness, but I’m curious to know what you’re doing with these elves.” I cannot believe that I am openly discussing the existence of elves as if it is commonplace.

“I’m tending to them,” the woman smiles. “Sure, they can fend for themselves, but they happen to be Christmas elves which means they live a life of service to others…”

“I do not catch your meaning.”

“These little ones spend the better part of their days making useful items for the creatures that live in this park. They help them build functional homes and escape traps and things of that nature. They’re so busy doing these helpful deeds that they rarely have time to care for themselves, so I feed them and clean them and patch them up as best I can.”

“Awfully charitable of you.”

“A life of service,” she shrugs.

“But how did they come to be here?” I ask.

“Quite by accident. You see, on Christmas Eve when the mad rush is on to deliver presents to all the deserving people of the world, Mister Claus packs his magic sleigh with elves as well as presents and they aid in the delivery process, but sometimes an elf will accidentally fall from the sleigh in mid-flight or get left behind. When that happens, they are instructed to go to the nearest forest, which in the city is a park, and wait patiently until they can be collected. And while they wait, they help whom they can because it’s in their nature.”

“But would it not be better to move them to a place where they can be of service to people? I am sure there are plenty of underprivileged families who could benefit from having a helpful elf around, would you not agree?”

“Yes, I’m sure there are,” she replies. “But elves live in service of all living things. To them, there is no difference between humans and rodents and birds and fish and insects. They serve whom they serve. Who am I, or you for that matter, to direct the course of their service?”

I scratch my head. “I understand that but what about the difference they can make in society?”

The woman giggles aloud and looks down at the elf in her lap as she applies a bandage to its knee, and says, “Who says their actions aren’t making a difference in the world?”

I want to argue the point, I want mankind to benefit from these tiny miracle workers, but then the wiser part of me, the part that often remains hidden, points out that I am being selfish and specist, and thinking myself to be smarter and nobler than whoever or whatever is in charge of the natural order of things.

I regroup myself and exhale slowly as I kneel beside the elderly woman and ask, “How may I be of service?”

12 Plays of Christmas: Some Assembly Required

In the midst of a tantrum burst of emotions, Robson stomped into his room and slammed the door shut so hard the picture on the wall to the right came free of its hook and crashed to the floor. It was one of his favorites, a print of a painting depicting a young boy and girl building a snowman with the caption “Snowmen fall from heaven…unassembled” across the bottom. The glass and the frame were cracked and now it was ruined just like everything else in his life!

He kicked over his wastebasket, the plastic one with Captain America and all the other Marvel’s Avengers on it, and discarded candy wrappers and other bits of broken junk he no longer had a use for skittered across the floor which only made him angrier.

He threw his head back and screamed, “Why can’t you give me what I want? Why can’t I eat what I want to eat and watch what I want to watch on tv? I’m sick of this stupid house and I hate you both! I can’t wait until I get older and leave here forever!”

And the rage kept spilling out until he had expelled all the air from his lungs and the rant became a coughing fit, but he didn’t care. He pulled in a deep breath of new air and let out a frustrated and sustained, guttural bellow so loud it vibrated his eyeballs.

When the red mist of fury lifted from his vision and he was left with nothing more than the fatigue of ages pressing down upon him, he heard a soft rap on his door. He had no desire to respond, so he didn’t but the door handle turned slowly and his father pushed his head inside.

“Got it all out of your system?” his father asked with no trace of anything being out of the ordinary.

Robson didn’t answer, he couldn’t answer, the fatigue wouldn’t allow it. But as his father entered the room and surveyed the damage, the young boy stood firm, and let his breath out through his nostrils in a defiant hiss.

His father picked up the cracked picture frame and examined it as he walked past Robson to sit on the bed. He patted the full-size mattress, indicating for his son to have a seat but the boy didn’t move. “Come on, it’s not going to kill you to sit next to me. I just need you to listen to what I have to say and then I’ll leave you alone to continue being mad at us.”

Reluctantly, Robson dragged his feet as if the gravity inside the room had suddenly increased tenfold and plopped onto the bed as far away from his father as he could manage.

“A shame about this picture,” his father said. “Your mother and I bought this for you because it was the first thing you actually asked for. You pleaded with us and made your case so succinctly that we had no choice. At the time, we didn’t have the money to spare but sometimes the happiness of the people you love is worth more than any dollar amount.

“The reason I’m bringing this up is to talk to you about sacrifices. You’re too young to fully understand this but everybody in the world has to make them, no matter how young or old they are. And you may think the things we ask or tell you to do are unfair but that’s only because you don’t see the bigger picture and there’s no real reason you should at your age. Our job as parents is to take care of the big important stuff so that you can live the easiest life we can manage to give you. But it’s also our duty to prepare you for what’s to come and we planned to wait until you were a little older, but since you’re so eager to grow up, let me tell you what life holds in store for you.

“As you get older, you’re going to learn that even the people who were never supposed to let you down probably will and someone who has the same opinion about you…you will let them down, as well. That includes the three of us, champ. We’re eventually going to let each other down.

“You’re going to fall in love one day and your heart will get broken and it will probably happen more than once, and it will get harder to love with each passing break. And most likely you’ll break a few hearts yourself, even if you remember how it felt when yours was broken and try to avoid doing it to someone else, it’s still going to happen.

“Despite your best intentions, you’ll fight with your best friends, blame a new love for things an old one did, complain because time is passing too fast, wish you had your childhood to do over again to get things right, and you’ll eventually lose someone you love, which includes me and your mother.”

Robson sat motionless, staring at the cracked glass and broken frame, unable to meet his father’s gaze because he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. “What do I do?” he said in a small voice.

“What do you mean?”

“To stop all the bad things from happening. What do I do?”

“Well, you can start by not taking the good things and times for granted, but do take too many pictures, laugh too much, and love like you’ve never been hurt…because every sixty seconds you spend upset is a minute of happiness you’ll never get back. But before any of that, you should go apologize to your mother, she was really upset by some of the things you said.”

Robson hopped off the bed, turned his back to his father and wiped the tears from his eyes with his shirt sleeve. He walked to the door with a purpose, but stopped at the door jamb and said over his shoulder, “I don’t really hate you, you know.”

“I know, kiddo,” his father smiled. “Now, go give your mother a great big hug and kiss and shag your butt back in here so we can straighten this room up.”

The little boy took off like a shot out of the room yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! I’m sorry!”

His father stood up, righted the wastebasket and carefully tilted the broken glass into the little plastic bucket. He caught sight of the caption on the picture and thought, Snowmen aren’t the only things that require assembly, sometimes family bonds do too.