The Children's Corner
Santa Claus in Our Village
From the German
Godey's Magazine, December, 1889, pp. 520-523.
Ours was a small village which boasted of but a single shop, this was not very attractive in appearance, but of the usual kind, small, low, and dark, with gas in one window that was anything but bright, and a doorway that was far from lofty.
In the window there was usually a plateful of rosy-cheeked apples, near to a little heap of nuts, two or three jars of sweets, making a tempting display to the little folks, while a few lemons, tapes, buttons, and pins completed the display. Inside the shop good old Mrs. Hollyberry kept a very small stock of useful things required by her neighbors, who were as poor as she was herself.
But when Christmas Eve came there was a grand transformation. The window was cleaned, and Mrs. Hollyberry removed all the tapes, buttons and pins, and filled their places with toys of the most wonderful description.
There were brilliant red dogs, looking as fierce as lions; black cats with two wide yellow stripes down their backs; brown and dapple grey horses on wheels with stiff hairy tails standing straight out; dolls clothed in marvelous costumes; boxes of tin and wooden soldiers; mewing cats, tops, penny trumpets, tea sets; and, in short, toys of all kinds.
There never had been such a gorgeous display of toys in the village before, and their gay colors shone forth in happy contrast with the snow that covered the ground and roofs, until they looked as if they were bearing great white pillows on their heads.
Everybody stopped to look at Mrs. Hollyberry's window, it was the one event in the village. But the children stood before it the whole day long, with their feet cooling in the melting snow, their ears crimson with the cold, and their hands thrust into their pockets, or under their cloaks and shawls. Even when it grew dusk they still lingered, knowing Mrs. Hollyberry would be sure to light her lamp, and then the toys would look prettier than ever.
Finally the lamp from the ceiling was lighted, and a brilliant glow was sent over the toys and fruit in the window. The children pressed up closer and closer, coughing, sneezing, chattering, and stamping their feet to keep them warm. The toys seemed to feel their importance, and were as proud and pleased, these common little toys, as the finest wax dolls and the largest rocking-horses in any large shop in a town. They looked out on the little round faces lighted up by Mrs. Hollyberry's lamp and thought what a pretty sight they made.
Meanwhile the boys and girls gazed on, until their mothers appearing at the open door of their houses, suddenly put an end to their pleasure by calling them in to bed. Slowly they went off, one or two at a time, with many backward glances, the last of all having gently licked the glass in front with his tongue to clear away the vapor, which concealed the largest and most tempting of all the horses from his view.
Soon the children were all safe in bed, then the mothers started out with their baskets in their hands to the shop, where the toys were still looking out for purchasers. Mrs. Hollyberry showed her toys one by one, and the mothers made their choice and paid her, some with silver and others with very worn, battered copper coins, and all went away with one or more toys in their baskets.
By degrees the dolls disappeared from the window, until at last only two were left, but they were so dear that no one could be persuaded to buy them. Then came the turn of the tin and wooden soldiers, and the brave little fellows, as they rolled to the bottom of the baskets, felt as if drilling were at an end for them, and they were all commanders in-chief at last, and decorated with medals and ribbons all over their little chests.
The gingerbread, apples, nuts and oranges, also found their way into the baskets, and left empty plates behind them; the bottles of sweets, all new this evening, were now only half full, and almost the only toys that remained to keep company with the dolls, were a donkey with panniers and a nodding head, a beautiful wooden horse with a real saddle and bridle, a barking dog, a cat with a group of little kittens, a drum and a dancing Punch.
All these toys were too costly for Mrs. Hollyberry's customers, and as she shut the door on the last of them she shook her head mournfully, put up the shutters and went to bed to dream of the 'Squire coming in a carriage and four to buy up all the toys that she had left.
The shop was quiet now, and all the toys commenced to dream. The cat imagined it was purring in front of a hot fire, and at the same time, scratching up a tender little mouse; the dog dreamed he was gnawing a delicious bone, and the dolls dreamed sweetly of the deft little hands of girls dressing and undressing them, and giving tea parties in their honor.
The rejected toys had dreams as sweet as those that had been carried off in the baskets, for Christmas eve is the time when they speak and move; they throw off their coverings of cardboard and wood, and although for all the rest of the year they are motionless, sleepy and speechless, when midnight comes on that one night they rouse up and are alive at once.
When the bells at midnight sang out gently, "ding-dong, ding-dong," for fear of rousing the children, no words can express the delighted hapiness of the toys.
The trumpets were siezed with a sudden fit of gaiety, and blew long blasts; the cats squeezed their own bellows, and mewed Christmas greetings to each other; the dolls shook out their skirts, and curtseyed; the dogs and horses sang carols together, and the donkeys joined in the chorus; even the tea sets rattled pleasantly as they shook themselves free of their boxes and took their places to dance a quadrille with the dinner sets. There was not a toy in the village that did not come to life, and show its happiness in some manner or other.
Old Mrs. Hollyberry heard nothing of all this. She was wrapped up snugly under the blankets, and never dreamed that toys could dance and sing as they were then doing on the counter of her little shop, and in nearly every cottage in the village, but not in all, for in some the fathers and mothers were too poor to be able to buy even the very cheapest toys for their children.
But although Mrs. Hollyberry was sound asleep, it was an odd thing that she could see as well as she had ever seen in her life, and what she saw was this:
The shop door opened, and Santa Claus walked in and gathered in his arms all the pretty but dear toys that were left in her shop, because no one could afford to buy them. Mrs. Hollyberry was not a bit astonished or angry, and only said to herself, "Nothing is too dear for Santa Claus; he dearly loves good children, and is sure to leave the money in my drawer." When he had collected all the toys she saw him enter his sleigh and skim rapidly over the snow-covered ground, stopping at the cottages where there were no toys for the children, dropping gently down the chimney a toy for each child, not one being forgotten.
When Mrs. Hollyberry awoke she remembered what she had seen in the night, and was pleased to think that the very poorest children would have the nicest toys, and she was not at all frightened about her money, as indeed she had no reason to be, for when she looked in the drawer she found that Santa Claus had paid her honestly for all the toys he had taken to give away.
But who can tell the surprise and delight of the children and their parents at the unexpected gifts? The parents knew their children had been remembered by Santa Claus himself; the children did not question where the toys came from, but it was the happiest and merriest Christmas they had ever spent, for never before had they seen such beautiful presents.
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