Surprise Christmas


The snow fell lightly on Greta and her twin brother Hans as they each carried an armload of firewood to their split-log house.

Suddenly Greta turned to her brother and asked, “Then jolly Kris Kringle will not be allowed to bring gifts to our new home here in Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts on Christmas Eve as he did in Holland?”

“That’s right, my sister. Governor Bradford has decreed that Christmas celebrations are frivolous.”

Greta frowned. “But I can’t see the harm in getting a small doll and a few sweetmeats,” she said.

Hans’ mouth watered when he recalled the Dutch applecakes, oozing with raisins and sugar that their mother made for the Christmas holiday back in the old country.

Greta stopped walking for a moment and then her face brightened. “I know! Hans, let’s take the wood into the house and come back outside again. I have an idea.”

Hans grinned at his white-capped sister as he opened the door for her. No one was in the kitchen so they left the wood and hurried outdoors. The other chores could wait a bit. He had been wanting to tell Greta about his own idea.

Greta stood behind the outbuilding, clapping her mittens together for warmth. She seemed to be almost bursting with excitement. “Hans, let’s at least give Mother and Father some kind of gift. I’m sure the Christ Child would think we were very ungrateful to our parents if we didn’t.” She put up a hand of caution and added, “Oh, nothing frivolous, of course.”

“Come to the shed and see what I already have for Father,” Hans said, hardly containing his excitement. “You’ll have to think of something for Mother.”

It was finally Christmas Eve and to Hans and Greta the very air seemed to crackle with surprise. They smiled knowingly at each other. Greta had thought of a wonderful gift for Mother. Even if they were not visited by Kris Kringle, they would have fun giving gifts to their mother and father.

Mother had prepared a special meal of wild turkey, stuffing, cornbread, and stewed cranberries. The family sat down at the trestle table and Father gave a prayer of thanks.

Hans and Greta ate until they were as stuffed as the turkey had been, enjoying the faces Father made when he ate the sour cranberries.

“They are sour as any pickle,” he grimaced, “but the Indians claim they are good for strength, especially during winter.”

Mother was wearing her best white cap and collar and her good woolen dress. Her eyes looked merry and her hair shone from careful brushing. To Hans and Greta, she looked beautiful.

After supper, the family gathered in front of the great fireplace. With a smile, Mother handed a cornhusk doll to Greta. The doll was dressed in a knitted cape, dress, and white cap just like her own.

“Oh, thank you, Mother!” cried Greta. “I’ve been longing so for a doll.” She hugged it close, her eyes brimming.

“‘Tis time to surprise you, my son,” Father said, bringing in two long-necked gourds, one yellow and one orange. They had been scooped out and a small, round hole had been bored in each of them.

Hans looked at the strange gourds and ran his hands along their smooth, hard surfaces. “What are they for?” he asked.

“Our Indian friend, Squanto, gave them to me,” Father explained. “He calls them gourds and showed me how to hollow them out for birds to build nests in. Come spring, we’ll hang them from the big alder trees.” He touseled Hans’ fair hair. “You are interested in watching birds, and we all like to hear birdsongs. These may lure them to live close by.”

Hans was delighted. “It’s a fine gift, Father. Thank you!”

“Would not the town fathers be displeased if they knew of our presents?” Greta asked anxiously, hugging her doll close. She knew they had come to this new land so they might worship God freely, but seriously.

“Nay,” Father said and smiled. “I doubt that even the Christ Child would think us sinful if we gave our children a little special joy on His birthday.”

Greta clapped her hand over her mouth and her eyes widened. “Hans! We almost forgot

Hans hurried out of the room and soon returned with a small wooden bucket. He pushed it toward his father.

Mr. van Felt stared in astonishment. “Why, Hans. ‘Tis honey, to be sure! Where did you ever get it?”

Hans grinned broadly. “Running Deer and I were looking for eagle feathers when we found it. He helped me get it down.”

Greta stepped quietly behind her mother’s stool and slipped a string of bright red cranberries around her mother’s neck.

Mother reached up to touch the red “jewels.” “Why, child, how did you ever think of this?” she asked, getting up to fetch a shiny pewter plate in which to see herself. When she looked, her cheeks brightened and her eyes sparkled.

“Well, well,” Father said. “All this, and none of us had expected anything at all. Ah! Won’t the cranberry sauce taste much better now?” He looked at his wife. “And you, dear Prudence, are absolutely beautiful.” Going to the table, he asked, “Shall we all have a spoonful of honey for dessert?”

Greta, Hans, and their mother were pleased to see Father’s eagerness to have a taste of the sweet honey.

“Isn’t this a surprising Christmas!” Greta exclaimed. “I think I’m going to like America after all.” And she hugged her doll close and smiled at her family.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Walter Rane