Francoise watched quietly as her friend Hilda marched in the St. Nicholas parade. Hilda wore a large miter-shaped hat with a design of stars and snowflakes cut out in it. She carried a big horn that she blew often and loud.
Hilda waved as she passed Francoise, but Francoise did not wave back. Instead she frowned at Hilda and the other children in the parade.
Unhappy thoughts tumbled through Francoise’s mind as the St. Nicholas parade came to an end. Why did my father have to come here to Switzerland? Why didn’t he stay in France? They don’t celebrate Christmas here in this country the way they should!
Hilda ran to meet Francoise. “Didn’t I tell you it would be fun?” she exclaimed, speaking very fast in German. “You should have worn the hat I made for you and marched in the parade with us.”
Francoise didn’t say anything.
“Well,” Hilda asked after a few silent moments had passed, “didn’t you like the parade?”
“It is not how we celebrate Christmas in France,” Francoise mumbled.
“I know. But I wanted you to see how we celebrate here in Switzerland.”
Silently the two girls walked to the bus stop. Hilda put her big hat and her horn on the bench and sat down.
“You know,” Hilda said at last in French, trying to make Francoise feel better, “I’m glad there are so many ways to celebrate Christmas. In our country we have many customs from Germany, Italy, and France.”
Francoise sat down beside Hilda. “I think there should be only one way to celebrate Christmas, and I like our way best,” she insisted. “All of this about St. Nicholas is wrong. It is Christkindli who brings gifts.”
“He may bring gifts to your house, but it is St. Nicholas who comes to my house,” Hilda replied. “Anyway it doesn’t really matter. Christmas is Christmas!”
A big gray bus soon sputtered to a stop and the girls climbed into it. Neither of them spoke during the ride home, but mixed-up thoughts kept turning around in Francoise’s mind. What did Hilda mean by “Christmas is Christmas”? Of course Christmas is Christmas, and that is exactly why it should be celebrated in the right way as we’ve always done.
When Francoise arrived home, she sat in front of the Christmas tree and stared at Christkindli on top. “Now this is how Christmas should be,” she said out loud.
“What do you mean?” a voice asked.
“Oh, Mama,” Francoise gasped as she turned and saw her mother in the doorway. “You frightened me. I thought I was alone.”
“What were you talking about when you said, ‘This is how Christmas should be’?”
“I was talking to myself about Christmas. Hilda has a star on top of her tree, and St. Nicholas comes to her house instead of Christkindli. They don’t recite Christmas poems when they open their presents. And—well, they just do everything wrong.”
“Wrong?” Mother questioned.
“Yes. Everyone should celebrate Christmas the way we did when we were home in France,” Francoise insisted.
“But Francoise,” her mother explained, “although we still speak French, our home is here now. We are Swiss people. And besides from the stories my father used to tell me, we do not celebrate Christmas at all as they used to do in France. Christkindli isn’t even a French word, you know. Many Swiss people have Christkindli in their homes at Christmas.”
Francoise felt bewildered. She stared at the tree for a moment and then spoke, “Well, maybe our way of celebrating is different from the old French way, but still I think it’s the right way.”
“Why should our way be right and Hilda’s way be wrong?”
Francoise started to answer, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. A big lump formed in her throat. She felt there must be some reason for her beliefs, but she couldn’t think of a single one..
“Well, we all celebrate the birth of Jesus; so shouldn’t we celebrate it in the same way?” Francoise asked.
Again Francoise couldn’t answer. She only shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.
“Christmas should be a time of love, and love can be shown in many different ways,” Mother said gently as she patted Francoise and left her alone to think about the events of the day.
Maybe it is I who have been wrong and not Hilda, Francoise decided.
Just then the doorbell rang, and Francoise went to answer it. But when Francoise opened the door, no one was there. Instead, on the step was a colorful box filled with tirggel, a delicious Christmas cookie. A tiny blue card tucked between the tirggel said, “Froehliche Weihnachten! (Merry Christmas!) From whoever brings presents!”
Francoise looked all around, but she could not see who had left the cookies.
“Who is it?” Mother called.
“Only a box of tirggel,” Francoise answered.
“That is my favorite Christmas treat,” Mother said as she entered the room. “Do you know who left it?”
“It must have been Hilda.”
“How nice,” Mother smiled as she tasted the cookie.
Francoise wanted to smile, but she couldn’t. She thought about the way she had acted at the parade and on the way home. She must have made her friend sad by not marching in the parade with the hat Hilda had made for her.
Then Francoise remembered what her mother had said about Christmas being a time to show love. And that was just what Hilda had been trying to do.
Slowly Francoise tasted a cookie. It was delicious.
“These are good,” she said.
“If we were still in France, we might never have tasted tirggel. And you’d never have had a friend like Hilda either,” Mother replied.
Francoise thought very hard. She had been selfish and she felt awful. “Christmas is Christmas,” Hilda had said, and looking at the cookies, Francoise knew exactly what she could do.
“I’m going to celebrate Christmas the right way,” Francoise decided, and she hurried to her room.
She took colored pencils and paper and wrote out her favorite Christmas poem. Then she drew pictures around the edges of the poem and framed it neatly in heavy colored paper.
Her legs couldn’t carry her fast enough to Hilda’s house, but soon she found herself knocking at the front door. When Hilda answered the door, Francoise handed her the poem.
“Thank you for the tirggel,” Francoise said. “And now here is something from our Christmas tradition. We always read our favorite Christmas poems when we exchange gifts. I guess if we put the tirggel, Christkindli, St. Nicholas, poems, and parades all together, we’d have a lot of Swiss Christmas traditions.”
Hilda laughed. “Yes, after all, Christmas is Christmas!”
“I know what that means now,” Francoise said softly. “Christmas isn’t German or French or Italian or English or even Swiss. Christmas is Christmas, and Christmas is love no matter where you are.”