Read an Excerpt
FOR THE ENTIRE TWENTY-FOURTH OF DECEMBER, the children of Medical Officer Stahlbaum were not permitted to step inside the intermediary room, much less the magnificent showcase next door. Fritz and Marie sat huddled together in a corner of the back room. The deep evening dusk had set in, and the children felt quite eerie because, as was usual on this day, no light had been brought in. Fritz quite secretly whispered to his younger sister (she had just turned seven) that he had heard a rustling and murmuring and soft throbbing in the locked rooms since early that morning. Also, not so long ago (Fritz went on), a short, dark man with a large casket under his arm had stolen across the vestibule. However, said Fritz, he knew quite well that it was none other than Godfather Drosselmeier.
Marie joyfully clapped her little hands and exclaimed: “Ah, I wonder what lovely presents he’s made for us!”
Supreme Court Justice Drosselmeier was anything but handsome. He was short and scrawny, his face was covered with wrinkles, and he wore a big, black patch instead of a right eye. He also had no hair on his head, which is why he sported a very lovely periwig made of spun glass and very artistic. Indeed, the godfather was altogether a very artistic man, who even knew a thing or two about clocks and could actually build them. So if any of the beautiful clocks in Stahlbaum’s home fell ill and couldn’t sing, Godfather Drosselmeier would come by, remove his glass periwig, take off his snug yellow vest, tie on a blue apron, and insert sharp instruments into the gears. It was very painful for little Marie, but it didn’t harm the clock at all. In fact, the clock even grew lively, and it started cheerfully humming, striking, and singing again, much to everyone’s delight.
Whenever Drosselmeier visited them, he would bring something nice for the children. His pocket might contain a manikin that could twist its eyes and bow—which was comical to see. Or Drosselmeier might have a box from which a little bird came hopping out, or he might have something utterly different. But for Christmas, Drosselmeier always completed a gorgeous artistic work, which cost him a great effort. That is why, after showing the gift, the parents very cautiously stored it away.
“Ah, I wonder what lovely presents he’s made for us,” Marie exclaimed.
Fritz decided that this year it could be nothing but a fortress, where all kinds of very handsome soldiers drilled and marched to and fro. Next, other soldiers would have to storm and invade the fortress. But now the inside soldiers boldly shot their cannons, making them boom and burst.
“No, no!” Marie interrupted Fritz. “Godfather Drosselmeier told me about a beautiful park with a huge lake and with marvelous swans gliding about and wearing gold neckbands and singing the loveliest songs. Then a little girl comes to the lake and entices the swans and feeds them sweet marzipan.”
“Swans don’t eat marzipan,” Fritz broke in quite roughly, “and Godfather Drosselmeier can’t make a whole park. Actually, we get little out of his toys. They’re promptly taken away from us. So I much prefer what Mama and Papa give us. We can keep their presents nicely and do whatever we like with them.”
Now the children debated what their parents would bring them. Marie felt that Fräulein Trutchen (her large doll) was changing deeply. For, clumsier than ever, she fell on the floor every moment. This didn’t happen without a nasty grin, and there was no further thought of the cleanliness of her garments. Nor did a thorough scolding help. Also, Mama, we are told, smiled with such delight at Gretchen’s small parasol. Fritz, by contrast, assured the others that his royal stable lacked a good sorrel, just as his troops fully lacked a cavalry—Papa was well aware of that.
So the children knew that their parents had bought them all kinds of beautiful presents, which they now displayed. But the children were also certain that the dear Holy Christ shone upon them with the pious and friendly eyes of children. And they were equally convinced that, as if touched by fruitful hands, every Christmas gift would bring marvelous pleasure like no other.
The children, who kept whispering about the expected presents, were reminded of that pleasure by their older sister, Luise. And they added that it was now also the Holy Christ, who, through the hands of their dear parents, always gave them whatever real joy and pleasure He could bring them. Indeed, He knew that a lot better than did the children themselves, who didn’t have to nurture all sorts of hopes and wishes. Rather, they had to wait, still and pious, for their Christmas presents.
Little Marie grew pensive, while Fritz murmured to himself: “I’d love to have a sorrel and Hussars.”
By now it had grown completely dark. Fritz and Marie, thoroughly pressed together, did not dare say another word. It sounded as if rustling wings encircled them, and as if they could catch a very distant and very splendid music. A bright shine grazed the wall, and now the children knew that the Christ Child had flown away on radiant clouds, flown to other happy children.
At that moment, they heard a bright silvery chime: “Klingling, klingling!”
The doors burst open, and the radiance erupting into the large room was so deep that the children cried out: “Ah! Ah!” and they halted on the threshold, petrified.
But then Mama and Papa stepped in, took the children by the hand, and said: “Come on, come on, you dear children, and look what the Holy Christ has brought you.”
I TURN TO YOU, GENTLE READER OR LISTENER—Fritz, Theodor, Emst—or whatever your name may be, and I picture you vividly at your last Christmas table, which is richly adorned with gorgeous, multicolored presents. You will then envisage how the children halted, in silence and with shining eyes. You will then envision how, after a while, Marie cried out with a deep sigh: “Ah! How beautiful! Ah! How beautiful!” And Fritz tried out his caprioles, which were very successful. But the children had to have been devout and well behaved the entire year, for never had they had such splendid and such beautiful gifts as this time.