The Way It Was


(See pages 6 and 7)

On the night before Christmas, the big cheery farmhouse glowed with the soft light of kerosene lamps. The center of activities was the warm cozy kitchen, where a fire blazed in the shiny black stove. Everyone had a job to do in preparation for Christmas dinner the next day—everyone, that is, except Elizabeth.

Elizabeth went from one person to the other in the big kitchen offering her services. “Can I help you string the popcorn? Let me help make the pumpkin pie! Please let me put the candles in the little holders for the Christmas tree. Why can’t I pick out the walnuts for the fudge?”

But everyone was too busy to stop and show her how; so she always received the same answer. “You’re too little. Maybe next year when you’re bigger.”

Finally she went to Mama, who was making the stuffing for the roasting hens.

“Mama, why can’t I do something special for Christmas like everybody else? Why am I always too little for the good things?”

“Of course you need a job too, Elizabeth. Let’s see. Why don’t you fill the woodbox?”

“Fill the woodbox, Mama? That’s not a Christmas job! That’s done everyday.”

“Well, there is something special that hasn’t been done yet,” Mama remembered. “It’s really a big job. Are you sure you’re big enough to do it?”

“I’m big, Mama. Just tell me. You’ll see I can do it!”

“All right. We’ve all been so busy we haven’t had time to go up to the main road to the mailbox and look for mail. You may go and get the mail all by yourself.”

“Way up to the road, Mama? All by myself? But it’s dark outside already and I’m afraid of the dark. Can’t one of the boys come with me?”

“You don’t need to be afraid,” Mama replied. “Pretty soon the moon will come out, and then it won’t be dark at all. Come, I’ll help you put on your things.”

Still Elizabeth was afraid. She had never gone up to the road all alone after dark. But Mama didn’t seem to notice her fear. She helped Elizabeth into her warm woolly sweater, and over that went a heavy coat. Then on went her big black boots, because the snow was deep. Next came a stocking cap with earmuffs to keep Jack Frost from nipping her ears. Then the collar of the coat went up, and a long matching scarf was tied around her neck. Last of all came her warm mittens.

Mama handed Elizabeth a big basket covered with a pretty embroidered towel in which to put the mail. Elizabeth was bundled up so big and fat that she could hardly bend over. So Mama went outside with her and helped her put on her stubby barrel-stave skis.

“There’s nothing to fear, Elizabeth,” said Mama. “On your way up the road, tell yourself the Christmas story. When you get there, put the mail in the basket and cover it with the towel so it won’t fall out. Then sing ‘Silent Night’ as you ski back home.”

Elizabeth went to the gate at the corner of the yard. She opened it wide and then propped it open with a stick, just in case she wanted to rush back in. She stood still a moment and listened to the silence of the dark night. She even tried to look up the main road where the mailbox stood, but it was too dark to see that far.

Elizabeth suddenly pushed ahead on her stubby little skis and began to tell herself the story of the first Christmas.

Once long ago there was a woman and a man. The woman’s name was Mary. She was going on a long journey, and she rode on a little donkey. The man’s name was Joseph. He was going on the long journey too. He led the little donkey. The donkey’s feet went clippity-clop, clippity-clop.

During the day the sun had been warm and had melted the surface snow. With the coldness of the night, this surface snow had turned to a thin crust of ice. So with each clippity-clop, Elizabeth slapped her stubby little skis down hard to break the crust and give herself a ski track.

Joseph’s feet went clip, clop, clip, clop.

Slap, slap went Elizabeth’s skis.

They went on and on and on.

Finally they came to a town. It was the little town of Bethlehem.

Mary and Joseph stopped at an inn. Joseph went to the door. “Knock, knock, knock,” he tapped.

Slap, slap, slap went Elizabeth’s skis.

A man opened the door.

“Please, may we come in? Mary is tired and needs to rest.”

“No room in the inn,” said the man. “No room. No room.”

Mary and Joseph went on. They came to the second inn. Joseph went to the door and tapped, “Knock, knock, knock.”

Slap, slap, slap went Elizabeth’s skis.

A woman put her head out of the window. “No room in the inn,” she called. “No room. No room.”

Mary and Joseph went on. They came to the third inn. Joseph went, “Knock, knock, knock.”

A man opened the door.

“Please, may we come in?” asked Joseph. “Mary is tired and needs to rest.”

The man smiled at Joseph. “No room in the inn,” he said. “But you may sleep in the hay out in the stable.”

Joseph took Mary and the little donkey to the stable. He fed the donkey some hay and gave it water to drink. He made a soft bed on the hay for Mary. All of the animals in the stable looked at them. “Moo, Moo,” said the cow. “We have room for you.”

And that night a Baby was born. Mary took the Baby in her arms and cuddled Him close. She said, “His name will be Jesus.”

So that’s just how it happened, and the Baby Jesus was born in a stable!

Now Elizabeth had reached the road at the top of the hill. When she opened the mailbox, it was filled with cards, letters, and three small packages. She carefully put them into the basket and covered them with the embroidered towel. Then she suddenly remembered that she was afraid of the dark. There were no horses or sleighs on the big road, and she was all alone in the dark and silent night.

Just then clouds overhead in the dark sky drifted away, and a big bright beautiful moon shone down on her. The stars came into view, and the darkness was gone! The light from above was reflected in the glazed icy crust of the snow. The whole world sparkled and the night was bright with a radiant light. Elizabeth stood in silent wonder.

“That’s the way it was,” she said softly. “That’s just the way the light shone for the shepherds in Bethlehem when they listened to the angels and then hurried to find Baby Jesus asleep on the hay.”

Elizabeth picked up her basket. She ran a few steps to give her stubby little barrel-stave skis a start. They carried her swiftly and safely down the long hill as she softly sang,

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm; all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Nina Grover