Christmas Stories by the Book-Bard

Christmas Stories by the Book-Bard

As I am not only an author, but also a storyteller, here are two of the many stories I tell around this time of year on numerous storytelling events. The first one being for children (but not only) about German/Austrian Christmas rituals, the second one a grown-ups mainly ...


Once upon a time there was a family of mice who lived in a pretty human house under the floorboards. The little mice loved to sneak around the house secretly and then tell their grandfather, the wise old mouse, about their adventures. As the days grew shorter and colder, however, the little mice encountered things they didn't understand.
"Grandfather, grandfather, you are so wise. When we came into the parlor today, we found the children all excited. They all had a flat box with a colorful picture and numbers all mixed up. And the children, they stared at the thing for a long time, and then screamed "I got the one!" and tore open a piece of the box and took out a piece of chocolate. Tell me, grandfather, what is this?"

"Well," said the wise grandfather, who had lived in the people's house for a long time and was familiar with their customs, "at this time of year the people test how well their children have already learned to count, to see if they know the correct order of numbers. And because human children, like mouse children, learn better with rewards, they get a piece of chocolate every day for getting the sequence right. Humans care a lot about math education, you must know."

"Humans are strange," said the little mice.
Soon, however, they came back to their grandfather.

"Grandfather, grandfather, you are so wise. Now people have put a wreath on the table, there are four candles on it. After all, all things begin very small, why do they light the largest one first, and only that one?"

"Well," said the wise grandfather, "people care a lot about rank and order, so they want to use this symbol to clarify the order of precedence in the family. First comes the biggest, the father. Then comes the second largest, which is the mother, and only when the two burn together, the first child comes and then the second. So everyone knows where they stand in the hierarchy."

"Humans are strange," said the little mice.
A few days later, they turned to Grandfather again.

"Grandfather, Grandfather, you are so wise. You won't believe what happened tonight! People have cleaned and lined up their shoes, and this morning they are full of tangerines and nuts! Tell me, grandfather, what is this?"

"Well," said the grandfather, "people are superstitious creatures. So every year, on a certain day, they make offerings to the Shoe God to keep their shoes free of bad smells for the rest of the year."

"Oh," giggled the mouse children, "humans are strange."

As sweet fragrance wafted through the parlor, they returned to Grandfather.

"Grandfather, Grandfather, you are so wise. For hours people have been standing in the kitchen making little dough patties to decorate and bake. Tell us Grandfather, what is it?"

"Well," said Grandfather, "This is truly a strange custom, they call it baking cookies. All year long the woman whines that she is too fat, but at this time of year she begins to bake mountains of sweet cookies. It's probably a primal instinct that has been preserved in degenerate people, so they build up supplies for the winter in this way, which is why these cookies are packed in tins that can only be opened with the mother's permission, when she thinks the danger of famine has passed."

"Humans are strange," said the mouse children.
But soon they returned.

"Grandfather, grandfather, you are so wise. Now the people have built a little house in the parlor, and in it are little human figures, a man, a woman, and a baby. Tell us, grandfather, what is that?"

"Well," said the grandfather, "I told you, they are superstitious. With this little house they send a prayer to the fertility god for more offspring, because it distresses people that they do not multiply in as many numbers as we mice do. They believe that to have more children, it is enough to put up this house and sing "Ihr Kinderlein kommet (a German Christmas carol, »come you children«)" in front of it."

The little mice, who all knew where the little mice came from, laughed. "Humans are strange!"
But finally they came back all excited.

"Grandfather, grandfather, you are so wise. You won't believe what has happened now! The people have put an old, dead fir tree in the parlor, the brushwood of which is already beginning to trickle, and they have decorated it with baubles and candles, and boxes wrapped in paper are lying under it!"

"Well," said the grandfather, "this is probably the strangest custom. Every year people try to burn down their dwelling by buying, at an expensive price, a tree that was cut down weeks ago, and to make the chances of a fire greater, they put all that paper under it, too. And if it works, then they are happy like crazy about the blue festival lights with which these big red cars come to celebrate their success with them. And then they repaint and rearrange everything."

"Humans are strange!" exclaimed the little mice.

And then the mother mouse shouted that it was time to celebrate the light returning after the longest night. And the mouse children, together with the grandfather, sat down around the big pile of cheese that symbolized the sun, and after singing "Dark-est night, longest night, the cat's asleep, to mice's delight," each mouse child was given a big piece of cheese, and they ate and laughed and rejoiced that it was that special night again. And a little bit they felt sorry for the people who were so strange and had no idea how beautiful such celebrations were.

(What are the pre-Christmas rituals in your country?)

A modern Viennese Christmas Tale for Adults

Once upon a time, a long time ago, it was definitely Christmas Eve and Ernstl was sitting on his favorite spot, a bench in the park.
He had never had much luck in his life, Ernstl, which had already begun with the fact that his parents had not wanted him at all, another child, after the others were almost out of the house. And then: a father, who was more inclined to alcohol than to his wife, and a home where shouting and healthy slaps were the order of the day. And then school, that had also been something like that. He was rather slow, Ernstl, not stupid, but he often had bad luck when thinking and he just needed his time, too much time, as the teachers thought. And so he barely managed to graduate from compulsory school, with a lot of sweat, tears and humiliation. After that, however, things started to look up. He became a bricklayer, hacked and slaved away. And he had not yet finished his apprenticeship when came the best day he could remember.
He had been at a party, some friend's birthday, and as he stood there with his bottle of beer, he saw her. A bombshell. Smart, neatly built, with blond dyed hair like Pamela Anderson. He couldn't help but stare at her. And then, then she noticed. And smiled at him. Such a bombshell smile, that can be scary. Especially for someone like Ernstl, who had never been smiled at by many people in his life. He almost turned around and ran away, but then he also smiled. A bit crooked and shaky. And then they stood there for a while, grinning stupidly. Then she said something - it was nothing clever, but when two people have smiled at each other like that, it doesn't really matter. And then Ernstl said something that wasn't clever either. But soon they were sitting next to each other on the couch and it didn't matter what they said, because their hands and tongues were doing the talking.
And how it is, when two smile at each other and had a little drink and are young - nine months later Bernhard was born.
But that was fine, too, it really suited Ernstl, his own family. Only that Babsi was never satisfied - if he worked a lot to be able to offer her and his son something, she didn't like it because she had all the work with the baby. If he had to go on the dole in winter, she didn't like it either, because there was no money. And Bernhard cried. A lot. And loud. And Ernstl, he tried not to become like his father, he really tried. But trying and doing are two different things.
And at some point Babsi just moved out, with Bernhard. And from then on it went downhill. He was hardly allowed to see Bernhard, only pay for him. And because it was lonely in the evening, it wasn't just one beer. And at some point there was the thing with his intervertebral disc, and he was on sick leave for a long time, feeling even more useless. And sometime after that he lost his job, they put him into a retraining program, and then it was discovered that he couldn't read and write very well, that was bad, he didn't want to go there anymore, and he also lost his unemployment pay. He didn't know how to pay the alimony and the rent and now he was sitting there, in the park. At night, for a year and a half, he had slept mostly in some subway station, or sometimes in the »Crypt«, the homeless shelter.
Last year he had also been there on Christmas Eve, but that was even worse than being alone on the bench. Here in the park he could at least pretend that today was a normal day. In the Crypt, he had constantly had to remember that Babsi and Bernhard were now sitting with Babsi's new boyfriend in his apartment, with a Christmas tree and presents.

Here he had his peace. It was already getting dark, lights were burning in the windows all around the houses. It was not a white Christmas, but it was cold. Ernstl wrapped himself in his tattered sleeping bag, but the cold air still crept under his robe. And when he saw the lights in the windows, he thought of Babsi and Bernhard. Of the life he had wanted to have.
And then he decided to do something. Something that you only do when you're sitting lonely on a bench at Christmas and you've just got 15 begged-for euros in your bag.

He would buy as much alcohol as possible with the 15 euros. And then he would go to the Reichsbrücke (a bridge in Vienna) and jump down into the cold Danube. Because he still remembered how he had been a 12-year-old boy, when he had once jumped from a ten-meter board, and that had been just great. He had felt as if he were flying. And since he didn't expect to be let up into heaven, he wanted to at least feel a bit like an angel before dying. And with the cold water of the Danube, he would probably find the heat in hell at the beginning really pleasant.
So Ernstl did what a Sandler, a homeless person, usually does not do. He left his sleeping bag and the two plastic sacks with all his possessions on the park bench and ran off to get to the supermarket in time. Just in time, before the supermarket closed and before he changed his mind.
In the supermarket, "I'll be home for Christmas" blared from the loudspeakers. Only a few people were still there. Ernstl hurried to the liquor aisle. Today he didn't want the horrible wine from the tetrapack, but something better to say goodbye with.
And as he turned into the aisle, he saw her. She was standing at the far end of the aisle, by the shelves with the Baileys and the eggnog. A roundish figure, dark training pants, which she had certainly never worn to a workout. Ernstl couldn't help it, it was like that time at the party with Babsi, he could only stare at her. The way she had put her index finger to her lips to think better. There was something about that gesture that touched him.
That's when she noticed him looking at her. Ernstl expected the usual spiteful look, so from above, a mixture of disgust and pity. But she smiled at him. Shyly. Ernstl smiled back, wryly. Then a man stepped up to the shelf between them, gray suit, reached for a bottle of Eristoff, turned it over in his hands, put it back, took another. It took less than five seconds, but when the man was gone, so was she. Panic seized Ernstl. He searched the aisles. There he saw her again, heading for the cash register, a bottle of eggnog in her hand.
He had 15 euros for one last good buzz. But he hurried to the sweets section, bumped into a saleswoman, excused himself, searched the shelves. He grabbed a chocolate box, filled with liqueur, rushed to the cashier, she was already through, threw the money down, never mind the 2.15 change. At the entrance to the supermarket he caught up with her, went around her, held the box of sweets out to her. Hopefully she didn't think he had stolen it.
She looked at the box. At her shoes. At the box. At Ernstl. smiled.

"Shall we share?"

Ernstl was confused. "The chocolate box?"

"Christmas," she said.

And she took him back to her communal apartment.

While Ernstl took a hot shower for the first time in a very long time, Anna quickly put away the two boxes of sleeping pills from the dresser that she had wanted to take today, after the eggnog.

And when Ernstl sat next to her, freshly showered, he looked really dapper, shaved and in Anna's pink fleece bathrobe. And they sat next to each other for a long time, shared the chocolates and the eggnog, lit a candle and chatted. They had a lot to tell each other.

And it was then that Ernstl knew that it was Christmas. That even someone like him could become an angel. And that you didn't have to die to start a new life.

Wishing you a wonderful Festive Season!