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Jacob’s Gift

December 23, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By DEREK BECHER

For an eight-year-old child, Christmas can be a time of wonder and excitement. With holiday music in every shop and in the wonderfully decorated homes of the neighborhoods, sparkling wreaths attached to street lampposts, strangers greeting each other with warm smiles, and, of course, dreams of Santa Claus, there is a magic in the air.
And for little Jacob, in the country village of NobleTown, with December flurries laying a soft white blanket throughout the gently rolling hills and woods, and modest decorations adding a colorful presence to the stores on Center Street, it was no different.
Still, having saved ten dollars he had earned from clearing sidewalks and delivering the town newspaper, Jacob had something else to look forward to — the snow-globe Nativity that wound up and played Silent Night. He had seen it in the front window of the Country Gift Shop, and had decided that it would be the perfect gift for his parents. He was looking forward to seeing them unwrap it on Christmas morning, and during the last week of school, he waited anxiously for the start of the holidays, when he had planned to purchase it.
Jacob was now in the third grade, and it had been an entertaining week at school. In art class, the students were making Christmas wreaths, drawing Nativity scenes, and creating their own stockings and trees. They filled their room with the spirit of Christmas, and looked forward to taking home their creations for the holidays.
In the reading class, their teacher — Miss Kindly — had been reading such tales as A Christmas Carol, The Night Before Christmas, and of course, the Story of the First Christmas, which she read from the Bible. All week long the children sat still with wide eyes, listening attentively to the timeless stories.
During recesses and at lunch break, the principal played instrumental holiday music over the intercom, while children and teachers walked throughout the hallways, exchanging happy greetings and occasionally humming along to, or singing with, the melodies that flowed throughout the school. With everything that was going on, there was no mistaking what time of year it was, and for Jacob, and his third-grade classmates, it was a week filled with merriment and anticipation.
But this year, the season was even more special. Because he was in the third grade, his class would now be taking part in the annual Christmas pageant, held every year on the evening of the last Friday before Christmas. All week long, in addition to the crafts and the stories and the music that filled their days, Miss Kindly’s class was also preparing its skit for the Friday night festival. The 16 students would be singing her favorite song — Silent Night.
They had been practicing a simple arrangement which Miss Kindly had fashioned: On the stage in the school gymnasium, the students would stand in a semicircle pattern around two of their classmates, who would kneel on the floor and hold a doll, representing the Christ Child. Jacob had been granted the special role of playing Joseph, while his classmate, Sara, would be Mary.
For one period each day that week, Miss Kindly took her third-grade class onto the stage for a rehearsal of their skit. She had planned for two students to enter at the beginning of the second verse as shepherds, to coincide with the words of the song; one of them would direct the light of a flashlight toward the doll’s face, representing “love’s pure light,” at the beginning of the third verse. The students practiced diligently throughout the week, and by Friday, the day of their final rehearsal, the school principal arrived and applauded the class for a “wonderful performance that was sure to please everyone that night.”
In the last period that day, Christmas music was again echoing throughout the halls of the school and into the classrooms. Miss Kindly and her students spent the whole period playing games while enjoying Christmas oranges and candy canes. When the bell rang at the end of the day, she reminded her students to meet back in the classroom at 6:30, so that they could gather and prepare one last time for their 7:00 presentation. Wearing coats, caps, and mittens, the students skipped out of the school beneath a gentle snowfall, and scattered away to their nearby homes.
Of course, Jacob fully enjoyed the festivities at school, but he was just as eager to purchase the special gift he had found for his parents. He imagined the joy it would bring them on Christmas morning, and he looked forward to wrapping it and setting it under the tree. He had planned to leave first thing Saturday morning for the Country Gift Shop.

The Tattered Teddy Bear

Back in Miss Kindly’s homeroom, the students were returning one last time before the Christmas break, with an excited chatter and bright smiles on their young faces. In a few short hours, they would all be going home for a two-week celebration of Christmas, and the enthusiasm was evident in the third-grade room and throughout the school, as students and teachers were returning and hurrying to their classes to prepare for their performances. It was a feeling of excitement and anticipation that Jacob and his classmates had yearned for during their first two years at school, and at last, it was here for them to savor.
At ten minutes to 7:00, Miss Kindly got her cue from the school principal and had her students line up quietly at the door. With exuberance spread across their faces, they followed her, one by one, down the hallway toward the back entrance to the stage. With the curtains still closed, they could hear a faint murmuring throughout the auditorium, and the occasional shuffle of a chair. Surely, everyone from NobleTown had again assembled to enjoy the annual pageant.
The children stepped quietly into their places. Jacob and Sara knelt in the center, facing each other, near the front of the stage, dressed in their robes. Sara cradled a doll in her arms. The others formed a semicircle around them, and two boys stood to the side in their shepherd garments, ready to enter the scene with the words of the second verse.
Miss Kindly slipped through an opening in the curtains, introduced herself, and announced the song and short accompanying skit that her class would be performing. The auditorium lights dimmed as she returned behind the curtains. She gave a wink to her students, reached for her tape-recorder, and gave a nod to the curtain attendant. As the curtains spread apart, the neat arrangement of her students was slowly revealed, and Miss Kindly pressed the play button on the recorder. An instrumental version of the familiar melody echoed softly throughout the room, and at the right moment, as they had rehearsed, the students began to sing Silent Night.
Jacob and Sara alternately smiled at each other and toward the doll, humming along as they had practiced. The first verse was smoothly and flawlessly performed, and as the second verse began, the two shepherds entered the scene, appearing somewhat amazed at what they were seeing. As the third verse began, one of them directed the soft glow of a flashlight onto the doll’s face.
Still smiling, it was then that Jacob gazed into the audience, and noticed two small children standing beside their mother at the back wall of the auditorium. They smiled meekly, as each clutched the limbs of a single, stuffed and tattered teddy bear. Through the length of the room, Jacob could see the flashlight’s glow reflected in the teary eyes of the small boy and girl who stood there, smiling, appreciating the simple gift of song that they were receiving. Their clothes were ragged, but their hair was combed neatly, as their mother stood humbly beside them.
As the words of the final verse were being sung, a tear trickled down Jacob’s face. NobleTown was not a wealthy community, but its people were happy, and they enjoyed a modest, country living. And yet, at the back of the room, three strangers stood, appearing needy, and unfortunate.
As the song ended, the members of the auditorium stood proudly and applauded the performance of Miss Kindly’s third-grade class. But as the curtains drew to a close, Jacob knelt with a lump in his throat. The students returned to their class, gave their teacher and each other a hug, and then left with their parents to celebrate Christmas. But after waving goodbye to his friends, Jacob sat at his desk, alone in thought. Miss Kindly noticed him as she herself prepared to go home for the holidays. She sat in a chair beside him, and asked what could possibly be troubling the normally cheerful boy.
Jacob slowly explained what he had seen during their performance, and how it had affected him. Miss Kindly comforted him, and mentioned that she had heard that morning that a new family had moved to town. The father had been injured, and was being cared for by his wife and his sister, his only remaining family. They were poor, but the father had worked hard cutting wood and creating various sculptures, until he fell off a ladder and broke his leg, and the two women were skilled in the craft of needlework. They had moved into the empty aged house at the end of Center Street just last night.
Jacob gave Miss Kindly a hug and walked home. But as he lay in bed that night, he couldn’t erase the image of the two children who stood at the back of the auditorium, apparently in need, yet wholly comforted by the gentle sound of Silent Night.
In the morning, Jacob put on his coat, his boots, his mittens, and his cap, and put his ten dollars into his pocket, before leaving for the Country Gift Shop. But as he arrived at the front window, and saw the little snow globe inside, he remembered the two children from the auditorium. In front of him sat the perfect gift that he thought he could give to his parents.
But as he wandered in, and the little bells on the front door jingled, he saw another item sitting alone on a shelf in the corner. It was a furry, cuddly teddy bear, with light brown hair, fuzzy ears, and two big brown eyes that glistened and reflected his image. He remembered the tattered bear that the children both clung to, maybe a third as big as the one that sat in front of him.
Jacob looked at the beautiful big bear for a long time, and then again at the wonderful snow globe. He was torn between buying the musical globe for his parents, and seeing their pleased faces on Christmas morning, or spending his ten dollars on the furry, big teddy bear that would surely brighten the hearts of the children who stood quietly at the back of the auditorium, enjoying their simple gift of song. Sighing, Jacob picked up the teddy bear, gave the shopkeeper his money, and walked to the end of Center Street.
He knocked on the door, and as it creaked and slowly opened, he saw the hopeful faces of the two children. He smiled at them, and brought the new teddy bear from behind his back and said, “Merry Christmas!” Their mother and aunt had seen his kind gesture, and their eyes became wet with happy tears.
Jacob was invited inside, and he sat at a table with the family, enjoying a small cup of hot cocoa, and sharing a plate of home-baked cookies. So thankful for the gift that Jacob had presented to the younger children, the women gave him a new pair of blue mittens and a blue scarf for his mother. Both of these contained a pattern of white snowflakes of a variety of sizes. They were beautiful, and he knew his mother would love them.
Then the father handed him a small wooden Nativity set for his own father. It contained a manger and a variety of shepherds and animals that accompanied the Holy Family, all of which were intricately carved. He knew that his father would love the gift. Jacob also knew that the love that was put into creating these gifts would compensate for not being able to bring home the snow globe for his parents.
He left feeling gratified, having brought some joy to the new family, while returning with special presents for his parents. He began to wrap them as soon as he got home, and then he placed them under the tree. It was Christmas Eve, and even though he tried, he couldn’t stay awake to greet Santa Claus during the night. He slept soundly, contented.

The Last Gift

On Christmas morning, he hurried to the Christmas tree, where his parents soon joined him. Together, they said a prayer to bless the birth of Jesus, and then turned on some music. As they exchanged gifts, Jacob received new socks, a shirt, a game, and two toys from Santa, saving his last gift until his parents opened the special gifts he brought them.
The mittens he brought for his mother fit her perfectly, and she looked beautiful in them, especially as she wrapped her new scarf around her neck. When she hugged him, they felt soft against his face.
Then his father unwrapped the skillfully crafted wooden Nativity scene. He looked at it with wonder, hugged Jacob in thanks, and then placed it gently beneath their tree, where it would be placed for years to come.
Finally, Jacob began to unwrap his last gift from Santa. His parents sat close on the sofa and watched as he pulled away the paper, filled with curiosity. As he peeled the last piece of tape from a small box, and removed the rest of the wrapping, Jacob lifted the box flaps and pulled apart the white tissue papers from inside. He pulled out an item from the box and looked at it with unbelieving eyes as he cradled it in his hands in front of him.
He was holding the little snow-globe Nativity, the same one he had seen at the Country Gift Shop. Somehow, he thought, Santa knew how much he loved the gift himself. Jacob turned it over, wound it up, and then set it back on the table. Tiny snowflakes fell on the Nativity inside the globe, and Silent Night played along in harmony. He gazed at it, as his parents watched him with happy, loving eyes.
A tear of happiness appeared in Jacob’s eye as he looked at and listened to his special gift. It had been quite a week — the excitement at school, his first Christmas pageant, befriending the new family in town, and a Christmas morning that he would never forget. He was only eight years old, but Jacob had already learned of the spirit of Christmas.

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