2020 has battered us and removed too many from our lives.
Besides being a much needed remembrance ornament, a star is doubly important this Christmas.
This coming week, besides Christmas, is the Winter Solstice (YAY! After it the days get longer!) and, on the same day, December 21, the reappearance of an astronomical phenomenon not seen for 800 years called the Christmas Star.
It actually is not one star, but a conjunction of two planets. This is Jupiter and Saturn, although Jupiter and Venus have also had a conjunction. Some say this was the Star of Bethlehem the Magi followed. Other theories are a comet or even a supernova was what they followed. For a discussion of the star from religious, astronomical, and historical views, that earlier link takes you to Wikipedia. Of course Wikipedia alone is too dry for storytelling, so I went looking further.
No matter how many older books in the Public Domain I have, and even in the narrow category of Christmas, there often seems to be a need for something I don't own. Most of the time my Christmas programs are done from the framework of an American Hired Girl looking at how we do a Victorian Christmas. Today's story could easily be added to such a program. While Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901, her influence upon our celebration of Christmas was especially fresh in the early 20th century and continues today. Looking for any story specifically about the Christmas Star, I found Florence M. Kingsley's story in the 1916 anthology edited by Phebe A. Curtiss, Christmas Stories and Legends, for the perfect tale. I don't own the book, but Project Gutenberg has it in their holdings. If you are looking to donate before the end of the year (U.S. tax law alert!) to something that will keep stories and Public Domain material available, I strongly recommend both Project Gutenberg and Wikipedia.
The final story in Christmas Stories and Legends retells from a different perspective the familiar Christmas story found in the opening of Matthew in the New Testament. Don't let that stop you, nor Kingsley's belief in using older word choices like "thou" and "dost", for their meaning is clear. I personally would drop them when telling, but it's a personal choice. One word I would keep and explain is my personal pet peeve about modern slang taking the word "lame", the orthopedic problem of difficulty walking, and now uses it in an unrelated manner. The original use is in this story.
Beyond that you may ignore how this copy inserts the page numbers of the original book. There were no illustrations except your own mental ones.
By Florence M. Kingsley
Once upon a time in a country far away from here, there lived a little girl named Ruth. Ruth's home was not at all like our houses, for she lived in a little tower on top of the great stone wall that surrounded the town of Bethlehem. Ruth's father was the hotel-keeper—the Bible says the "inn keeper." This inn was not at all like our hotels, either. There was a great open yard, which was called the courtyard. All about this yard were little rooms and each traveler who came to the hotel rented one. The inn stood near the great stone wall of the city, so that as Ruth stood, one night, looking out of the tower window, she looked directly into the courtyard. It was truly a strange sight that met her eyes. So many people were coming to the inn, for the King had made a law that every man should come back to the city where his father used to live to be counted and to pay his taxes. Some of the people came on the backs of camels, with great rolls of bedding and their dishes for cooking upon the back of the beast. Some of them came on little donkeys, and on their backs too were the bedding and the dishes. Some of the people came walking—slowly; they were so tired. Many miles some of them had come. As Ruth looked down into the courtyard, she saw the camels being led to their places by their masters, she heard the snap of the whips, she saw the sparks shoot up from the fires that were kindled in the courtyard, where each per[Pg 160]son was preparing his own supper; she heard the cries of the tired, hungry little children.
Presently her mother, who was cooking supper, came over to the window and said, "Ruthie, thou shalt hide in the house until all those people are gone. Dost thou understand?"
"Yes, my mother," said the child, and she left the window to follow her mother back to the stove, limping painfully, for little Ruth was a cripple. Her mother stooped suddenly and caught the child in her arms.
"My poor little lamb. It was a mule's kick, just six years ago, that hurt your poor back and made you lame."
"Never mind, my mother. My back does not ache today, and lately when the light of the strange new star has shone down upon my bed my back has felt so much stronger and I have felt so happy, as though I could climb upon the rays of the star and up, up into the sky and above the stars!"
Her mother shook her head sadly. "Thou art not likely to climb much, now or ever, but come, the supper is ready; let us go to find your father. I wonder what keeps him."
They found the father standing at the gate of the courtyard, talking to a man and woman who had just arrived. The man was tall, with a long beard, and he led by a rope a snow white mule, on which sat the drooping figure of the woman. As Ruth and her mother came near, they heard the father say, "But I tell thee that there is no more room in the inn. Hast thou no friends where thou canst go to spend the night?" The man shook his head. "No, none," he answered. "I care not for myself, but my poor wife." Little Ruth pulled at her mother's [Pg 161]dress. "Mother, the oxen sleep out under the stars these warm nights and the straw in the caves is clean and warm; I have made a bed there for my little lamb."
Ruth's mother bowed before the tall man. "Thou didst hear the child. It is as she says—the straw is clean and warm." The tall man bowed his head. "We shall be very glad to stay," and he helped the sweet-faced woman down from the donkey's back and led her away to the cave stable, while the little Ruth and her mother hurried up the stairs that they might send a bowl of porridge to the sweet-faced woman, and a sup of new milk, as well.
That night when little Ruth lay down in her bed, the rays of the beautiful new star shone through the window more brightly than before. They seemed to soothe the tired aching shoulders. She fell asleep and dreamed that the beautiful, bright star burst and out of it came countless angels, who sang in the night:
"Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to men." And then it was morning and her mother was bending over her and saying, "Awake, awake, little Ruth. Mother has something to tell thee." Then as the eyes opened slowly—"The angels came in the night, little one, and left a Baby to lay beside your little white lamb in the manger."
That afternoon, Ruth went with her mother to the fountain. The mother turned aside to talk to the other women of the town about the strange things heard and seen the night before, but Ruth went on and sat down by the edge of the fountain. The child, was not frightened, [Pg 162]for strangers came often to the well, but never had she seen men who looked like the three who now came towards her. The first one, a tall man with a long white beard, came close to Ruth and said, "Canst tell us, child, where is born he that is called the King of the Jews?"
"I know of no king," she answered, "but last night while the star was shining, the angels brought a baby to lie beside my white lamb in the manger." The stranger bowed his head. "That must be he. Wilt thou show us the way to Him, my child?" So Ruth ran and her mother led the three men to the cave and "when they saw the Child, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and opening their gifts, they presented unto Him gold, and frankincense and myrrh," with wonderful jewels, so that Ruth's mother's eyes shone with wonder, but little Ruth saw only the Baby, which lay asleep on its mother's breast.
"If only I might hold Him in my arms," she thought, but was afraid to ask.
After a few days, the strangers left Bethlehem, all but the three—the man, whose name was Joseph, and Mary, his wife, and the Baby. Then, as of old, little Ruth played about the courtyard and the white lamb frolicked at her side. Often she dropped to her knees to press the little woolly white head against her breast, while she murmured: "My little lamb, my very, very own. I love you, lambie," and then together they would steal over to the entrance of the cave to peep in at the Baby, and always she thought, "If I only might touch his hand," but was afraid to ask. One night as she lay in her bed, she thought to herself: "Oh, I wish I had a [Pg 163]beautiful gift for him, such as the wise men brought, but I have nothing at all to offer and I love him so much." Just then the light of the star, which was nightly fading, fell across the foot of the bed and shone full upon the white lamb which lay asleep at her feet—and then she thought of something. The next morning she arose with her face shining with joy. She dressed carefully and with the white lamb held close to her breast, went slowly and painfully down the stairway and over to the door of the cave. "I have come," she said, "to worship Him, and I have brought Him—my white lamb." The mother smiled at the lame child, then she lifted the Baby from her breast and placed Him in the arms of the little maid who knelt at her feet.
A few days after, an angel came to the father, Joseph, and told him to take the Baby and hurry to the land of Egypt, for the wicked King wanted to do it harm, and so these three—the father, mother and Baby—went by night to the far country of Egypt. And the star grew dimmer and dimmer and passed away forever from the skies over Bethlehem, but little Ruth grew straight and strong and beautiful as the almond trees in the orchard, and all the people who saw her were amazed, for Ruth was once a cripple.
"It was the light of the strange star," her mother said, but little Ruth knew it was the touch of the blessed Christ-Child, who was once folded against her heart.
* Used by permission of the author and the publishers, Henry Altemus Company.
|Acrylics by John W. McKinstry on Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer|
You may find the entire book at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/17770/17770-h/17770-h.htm. I think Phebe Curtiss's Foreword is worth noting her intent.
No greater teaching force has ever been discovered than the story and no one has ever lived who used that force so skillfully as did our Great Teacher.
It is not strange, then, that among all the stories that have ever been written or told none are so dear to us as the stories and legends which center in His birth.
Young and old alike delight in them and never tire of hearing them.
. . .
It is our earnest wish that this little book may find its way into many homes and schools and Sunday Schools and that its contents may help to give a deeper appreciation of the true Christmas spirit.
And if you see the star I hope you think about this story and the first Christmas star.
UPDATE: I fell in love with a video of Jack Beck and his wife, storytelling colleague, Dr. Wendy Welch (her doctorate is in ethnography which Wikipedia defines as " a branch of anthropology and the systematic study of individual cultures. In contrast with ethnology, ethnography explores cultural phenomena from the point of view of the subject of the study." I'd just say "folklore.") I further said thievery is part of advancing the folk process. She conceded if I'd mention her most recent work in the scholarly work, Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories, which has the subtitle of "QAnon, 5G, the New World Order and Other Viral Ideas."
It's not that long (109MB), combining a brief bit of Christmas songs with the factual explanation of the Planetary Conjunction, but I tried to download the Google Drive video here and blogger said it was too large! At least clicking on that link lets you see their "pedantic" correction of songs dealing with the "Christmas Star."
- There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection. I have long recommended it and continue to do so. He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
- You may have noticed I'm no
longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his
offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking
specific types of stories. There's another site, FairyTalez
claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales,
folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for
phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
- Zalka Csenge Virag - http://multicoloreddiary.blogspot.com doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links. Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job. In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it. Possibly searches maintained it. Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine. It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!