Christmas 25: Stella Gratiae:* A Christmas Parable

Andrew sneaked into the living room before dawn Christmas morning and found it empty. Nothing. Only the tree, and even that looked dull and useless [lifeless?], its bottom half exposed, with cranberry strands and ribbons dangling off.

Andrew went over to his limp stocking and fished around inside. Was anything there? Had he really been left without any gifts at all? [awkward] Finally his fingers closed around something hard and smooth. He pulled it out and held it: a small yellow stone, with one word etched into it. GRATIAS.** [huh?]

What kind of a gift was that?

He rubbed and rubbed it, thinking that maybe it was some sort of genie-like magic, that if he wished on it enough all the gifts would appear. Nothing happened. Then Lydia ran into the room with his mom and dad. “We beat you!” she yelled. “You didn’t get to open anything yet!”

“That’s because there’s nothing to–“ Andrew began and then stopped as he watched Lydia. She ran towards the tree, made grabbing motions, and then acted as though she were tearing wrapping paper off a gift. “My new Nikki doll!” she said, cradling it.

“But there’s nothing there!” Andrew said. “Look!” He walked over to the tree, through the place where Lydia stood.

“Stop it!” she said. “You’re, you’re walking on top of the presents. No–you’re walking through the presents!”

“Andrew!” his mother said. “Hold still. You’re turning into a ghost!”

Andrew stopped.

“Here, open something,” his father said, handing him a box. [If my child were turning into a ghost, I wouldn’t give him a present to open. I’d be totally freaking out.]

As Andrew reached for the gift his hands passed through. He felt a cold whoosh of air, but nothing solid. [why can he see this one but not the others?]

“That’s the strangest thing I ever saw,” said his father. He looked puzzled, not angry. Andrew was relieved. He did not want to be blamed for making all his presents disappear. “Try this one instead.”

So Andrew tried the next present. And the next, and the next. As his sister Lydia opened gifts and squealed, he tried to touch present after present. Finally his parents decided to open his gifts for him, and tell him about them. [now he can see them? need some transition]

“Here’s your new Lego set! The Imperial Destroyer!” his father said. He gave Andrew an uncertain smile.

“Wow, thanks.” Andrew said. If he could have seen [awkward] the Imperial Destroyer, he would have whooped and torn it open and started to build it right then. But now, with the gift his and not-his at the same time, he felt both grateful and angry. But he said nothing. Lydia was squealing over another present, and although Andrew felt like throwing a tantrum, he did not want to spoil Christmas morning anymore than it already was. [This is his first generous thought. Some change needs to happen here.]

His mom opening his presents for him. [awkward] “This one’s from Auntie Erin, and let me see, it’s a new sweater. It matches those pants Grandma sent you. I think it fits you pretty well.” [Mom won’t know if it fits until after she puts it on him.] She pulled it over his head for him. Andrew looked down. If he wore all his new Christmas clothes he would be the opposite of the Emperor in that fairy tale: naked to himself but clothed to everyone else. [good]

“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked. He tried to keep his voice nice; he tried not to show how upset he was. [another thoughtful act; he wants to spare their feelings] “Are there really presents for me, and I just can’t see them? Did I do something wrong?” He did not mean to cry, but his chin quivered anyway.

“Sweetheart, no!” his mother said. “Oh no, we would never do anything so mean!”

Andrew sniffled a little and managed to keep calm. But only just barely. He sat in his invisible sweater and watched as his parents and sister pantomimed their way through Christmas morning. They glanced over at him, eyes sympathetic, and he tried to smile back. He stuffed his fists in the pockets of his robe and felt the stone. He fingered it, brought it out, looked at it again. Bright yellow, smooth and shining. [see note at bottom]

“What’s that, Andrew?” his mother asked.

“Just a rock,” he told her. For some reason, he did not want her to inspect it.

“Boring old gray rock,” Lydia said, coming over to look at it. “What did you pick it up for?”

“It’s not–“ Andrew began, but then he stopped. “I just liked it, that’s all,” he said. [I like that they can’t see its color.]

Lydia and his mother returned to their gifts. Did they care about him? Were they just writing off the disappearance of his gifts as something odd, instead of devastating? [He’s being selfish again.]

Andrew smoothed the stone. His mother admired a new serving dish, his sister dressed her new doll. Andrew curled his fingers around the stone’s edges, hefted its weight. As he played with the stone, he began to calm down, to feel a little less angry. It was true that he couldn’t see his presents. But he had been given good ones. [gratitude moment] And even with his own presents unseen, the room held an abundance of gifts. [I thought he couldn’t see their gifts either.]

Still holding the stone, Andrew went into his bedroom and looked at all his old toys. His box full of Legos, organized by size and color. His matchbox cars, lined up on their shelf. The electric train tracks, the talking globe, the transformers.

They were pretty good toys. Not new, not wrapped in paper and different and exciting. But pretty good. [awkward] He pulled out the trains and began to play with them, winding the track in crosses and circles around his bedroom. He stuck the yellow stone in the engine and watched it scoot down the track. Gold mist trailed behind. He watched the mist as it swirled in little puffs behind the train cars. He breathed deeply. It smelled like the air just before it rains, damp and clean.

Andrew felt someone watching him and turned around. It was Lydia. “I’m sorry about your presents,” she said. “I made this for you, just now, and I brought it straight to you so it wouldn’t disappear like the other ones.” She held it out to him: a wrapped square. He opened it and found a picture of himself, drawn by Lydia. Lydia was only seven, but it still looked a little like him, with his nose and his cowlick sticking up in back. [why can he see this one?]

“I’ll put it right on my desk,” he said. “Thanks, Lydia.” He was surprised at how grateful he felt. Lydia beamed. [gratitude moment]

“I’ve always wanted to make one for you,” she said, “but I just never did before.” [in their entire lifetime, she’s never drawn a picture for him? Why not?]

“I’m glad you did today,” he told her. She knelt with him on the floor and together they watched the glowing train wind around its path. [contrast this with how he acted before]

Behind them, Andrew’s mother and father came in. Andrew smelled cinnamon. “I don’t know why your gifts disappeared,” his mother said, “but I made your favorite French toast for breakfast. It’s not like your other gifts, but you can eat as much as you want.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Andrew said. Suddenly he felt very thankful for French toast and all the times she had made it the way he liked it, out of raisin bread, with cinnamon-apple topping.

“I’ve been trying to think of something good to give you, too,” his dad said. “And I don’t have much at hand. I keep shaking your presents and wondering why you can’t see them or touch them.” He handed Andrew a piece of paper. “I O U a fishing trip,” it read. [he can see and touch this?]

“I’ve never taken you ice fishing before,” his dad said. “and I know someone who can let us borrow his ice shack.” He looked at Andrew and his face was anxious. Andrew could tell he really wanted it to be okay. “It’s got a heater,” his dad added.

“That would be great,” Andrew said. He’d never been fishing with his father before. “Thanks, Dad.”

He hugged them all. He still didn’t understand why his gifts had disappeared. And, in spite of the glowing stone, and its sweet-scented mist, he missed his new unseen presents. He wanted to keep the stone, and the gifts it had brought, and also have all the presents back. He wanted to play with the Legos and admire the careful brush strokes on Lydia’s picture. He wanted to see his new sweater and wear it ice fishing.

If all his presents had not disappeared, would he still be going ice fishing? Would he be eating French toast for breakfast? Would Lydia have worked so hard on a picture for him? Or maybe, Andrew thought, he would have had all those things, but he wouldn’t have appreciated them.

“Come to breakfast; it’s ready,” his mom said. His family left to go into the kitchen.

Andrew stayed back a minute and watched the train round the final bend. He pulled the stone out of the engine. It shone in his hand. The writing had changed. Instead of GRATIAS, it said JOY.

On his way into the kitchen for breakfast, he placed the glowing stone at the top of their Christmas tree, in the hollow between two branches.

*Star of Grace

Watch for punctuation, sentence structure. Make it flow a little more smoothly. Pump up the sensory items. I’m not sure why you use the two foreign words. There needs to be a clear reason, or it’s just distracting.

You need to clue us in to his previous ingratitude or greed or something, so there’s a reason why he’d only get that rock in his stocking. We need a Christmas Eve scene that shows Andrew as ungrateful, greedy, and mean to his sister, so that we understand why he needs to change.

The idea of the invisible gifts teaching the boy gratitude is a great one, but you’ve got some missing pieces that need to be addressed. How old is Andrew? Why aren’t his parents upset? Why can he see some gifts but not others? Does he ever see the gifts? The invisibility should only last until the child learns the lesson. You need a tighter resolution. We need to see more of a change in him.

What I liked best: The basic concept. It is intriguing and I think you can do a lot with it.

Magazine ready? No. But if you rewrote it to make a stronger story, I’d like to see it again.

2 thoughts on “Christmas 25: Stella Gratiae:* A Christmas Parable”

  1. I vote for this one. I loved the way Andrew learned to appreciate what he did have, but I also thought it was very human, the way he wanted to keep the stone, but also have all his new presents as well. Excellent job.

  2. There’s a contradiction here–do all the gifts disappear, or just Andrew’s? At the beginning, it sounds like he can’t see any of them, but halfway through it switches so that he can see gifts, just not his own.

    I feel like this is a decent little story but needs something yet. I can’t put my finger on it, though.

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