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Friday, December 22, 2023

Marzials - Holly - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

I have a new resource I am delighted to find and share:  (and where I first found her and today's illustration.)  Like VenetiaJane, it will always be Twitter to me.  X can mean too many things and is so impersonal.  She shares the wonders of flowers and nature, gardening, plant history, folklore, art, and poetry accompanied by her photography.  Her photographs are available on note cards,Christmas cards, prints and calendars.  That photography also supports  a few related charities in the United Kingdom. 

Her December 1 "tweet" about holly had this photograph which almost looks like a painting.

Going to her website for the Holly notecard, be sure to scroll down to the "Floral Notes."  It will give you additional folklore and yet another legend about this plant seen at this time of year.

Today's story comes from yet another of the Skinner sisters' books of seasonal stories with a jewel name, The Pearl Story Book; Stories and Legends of Winter, Christmas, and New Year's Day.  There are two stories of "Holly."  This is the second, found in the section of "Christmas Everywhere." The earlier one by Janet Harvey Kelman in the "Winter Woods" section is more factual, but this blog is all about the stories. It's a story not only about Christmas, but also about peace and war and is most appropriate this year.


Ada M. Marzials

Highty-tighty, Paradighty, Clothèd all in green. The King could not read it No more could the Queen. They sent for a Wise Man out of the East, Who said it had horns but was not a beast. (Old Riddle.)

There was once upon a time a very war-like kingdom where they had never heard of Christmas. The men spent all their days fighting, and the women spent their days in urging the warriors to further deeds of valour.

This had gone on for a very long time, and no one had ever yet said that he was tired of it. There was but one person in the whole kingdom who had openly declared that war was hateful, but as she was only the Youngest Princess nobody paid any heed to her.

Then came a time, just before our Christmas Day, when the King was preparing a great campaign against a far-off country. He called together his Council of War—grave old warriors, dressed completely in armour.

“My friends,” said he, “we are about to wage war on the distant kingdoms of Zowega. Up till this time the people of that country have been our very good friends, but as we have now conquered all our enemies, there seems no one but our friends left to fight, and of these the King of the Zowegians is chief.

“You will remember that his youngest son, Prince Moldo, spent some of his boyhood at our court in order to gain instruction in feats of arms, and that the Prince left us to travel over the world. A few months ago his father sent word to me that the Prince had returned home, bringing with him the news of a Pearl of Great Price, which contained the Secret of Happiness. It is this Pearl which I have made the excuse for war, for I have demanded it in payment for the services that we rendered to Prince Moldo. In my message I have said that if the Pearl, and the Secret which it contains, are not brought and revealed to us here within the next five days, our troops will descend upon the kingdom of Zowega and wipe it off the face of the earth.”

Loud and long cheered the Council at the speech of their King, as, indeed, was their duty, though in their hearts of hearts they had no wish to fight against the King of the Zowegians, who was their very good friend. The Queen and the Princesses smiled graciously upon them, all save the Youngest Princess, who had been Prince Moldo’s playfellow. She disgraced herself by bursting into passionate tears, and was forthwith ordered out of the Council Hall.

At the end of five days the Council once more assembled to await the arrival of the messenger with the answer from the King of Zowega.

The day was bright and cold, and there was snow on the ground. The King and Queen were wrapped in thick fur cloaks. The Princesses were all assembled, too, even the Youngest, who was dressed in ermine and looked as pale as death.

It was Christmas Eve, but there were no Christmas trees preparing and no presents. No one was thinking of hanging his stockings up. The Hall was not decorated, neither were the churches; indeed, there were no churches to decorate, for, as you remember, the people in this kingdom knew nothing about Christmas.

The Council sat and waited in the big bare Hall.

At last the great doors were flung open, there was a blast of trumpets, and the messenger appeared.

He was tall and fair, and held himself proudly. His eyes were bright and shining and there was a smile upon his face. He was completely dressed in bright green and the Council noted with astonishment that he was without armour of any kind. He wore neither breastplate, shield nor helmet; he had neither sword by his side, nor spurs on his feet. He was bare-headed, and in his right hand he carried something green, horny and prickly, with little red dots on it.

Looking neither to the right nor to the left, he walked with firm and steady step up the long Hall between the rows of armed warriors.

As he passed the Youngest Princess she blushed deeply, but he did not seem to notice her.

When he reached the throne he bowed low before the King and Queen, and laid the prickly object on the table before them.

“Your Majesty,” said he in a clear, ringing voice. “From the King of Zowega, greeting! He sends you this token. It is the symbol of the Secret of Happiness.”

The King stared, so did the Queen.

They had expected a Pearl of Great Price, accompanied by a scroll on which was written the Secret of Happiness, and the King of Zowega had sent them this!

Amid dead silence the King took the token up in his hands in order to examine it more carefully.

He dropped it hastily, for it pricked him, and little drops of blood were seen starting from his hand.

“Highty-tighty!” said he. “’Tis surely some kind of beast and a symbol of war, for it pricked me right smartly. Truly the King of Zowega deals in riddles which I for one cannot read! Take it, my dear,” added he to the Queen and pointing to the token; “perchance your quick wits may be able to understand this mystery.”

She picked up the token and examined it carefully.

It rather resembled the branch of a tree, but the leaves were thick and resisting and edged with very sharp spikes, and there was on it a cluster of round, bright red objects like tiny balls. But even as it had pricked the King so did it prick her, and she dropped it hastily into the lap of the Eldest Princess, who was sitting beside her.

“Paradighty!” exclaimed the Queen in her own language. “It is certainly a beast. See, it has horns!” and she pointed to the spikes.

“But I certainly cannot read the riddle—if riddle it be.”

Then it was passed to all the Princesses in turn, but they could not read the token any more than could the King and Queen. At last it reached the Youngest Princess, and, though it pricked her little hands sorely, she took it up tenderly and kissed it.

“’Tis a token of love,” said she.

The messenger turned his shining eyes full upon her.

“The Princess has read the riddle of the token aright,” said he, and he stepped forward as though to kiss her hand.

“Stay!” said the King imperiously springing to his feet. “A token of love, forsooth! But I sent the King of Zowega a Declaration of War! What does he mean by sending me a token of love? The Princess must certainly be mistaken—and as for you,” he continued, turning fiercely to the messenger, “you shall be marched off to prison until we have had time to consult with our Wise Men as to the real meaning of this extraordinary token.”

So there and then the messenger was marched off to spend the night in prison, and all the Wise Men in the kingdom were bidden to appear in the Council Chamber the very next day, especially one very old Wise Man from the East who was reputed to be wiser than all the others put together.

The next day, of course, was Christmas Day, but, as these people had never heard of Christmas, there were no bells ringing, no carols were sung, and there was neither holly, ivy nor mistletoe upon the walls.

Slowly and painfully the Wise Men began to arrive.

They were all dressed alike, in black flowing robes, and on their heads they wore long pointed black caps covered with weird devices.

The very old Wise Man from the East wore a red pointed cap, but in all other respects was dressed just like the others.

They assembled round a large circular table at one end of the Hall. In the middle of the table was placed the token.

At the other end of the Hall were gathered the warriors, and above them on a double throne sat the King and Queen with the Princesses grouped on either side of the dais.

The Wise Men examined the token in silence.

“’Tis a curious beast,” said one of them at last.

“Of a new and quite unheard-of species,” said another.

“It has neither legs nor tail,” said a third.

“Yet it has a number of globular red eyes,” said a fourth.

“And it certainly has horns,” said a fifth.

And so said they all, until it came to the turn of the very old Wise Man from the East.

He looked long at the token.

“It has horns,” said he at last, “but it is not a beast.”

“Not a beast!” said they, one to the other.

“But what is it then?”

“It is a token of love,” said he.

“Highty-tighty,” interrupted the King. “Read us then the full meaning of the token.”

“I cannot,” said the very old Wise Man; “but let the youth be brought hither who carried it. He will be able to explain it more fully than I.”

“Paradighty!” said the Queen in her own language. “Why did we not think of that before! Fetch him back again at once!”

So two of the warriors fetched the youth from prison, and he was soon standing before the Assembly, with his head held as high and his eyes as bright and shining as before.

“Read us the token!” commanded the King.

The youth bowed low. “The Princess read it aright yesterday. It is a token of love.”

“Explain yourself!” said the King. “How can a beast with horns be a token of love?”

The youth drew himself up to his full height.

“It is not a beast,” said he. “It is the branch of a holly-tree. On this day of the year, which in my country we call Christmas Day, our people decorate their houses with branches of this holly or holy tree as a token of love and peace and good-will. This is the message that I have brought to you—a message that we in our country know very well, but which you have never heard before.”

The King and the Warriors, the Wise Men, the Queen and Princesses all listened to his words in silence.

When he had ended there was a long pause.

“And in what particular way does your message affect us?” said the King at last.

“Thus, your Majesty,” answered the youth, approaching the Youngest Princess and taking both her hands in his, “on this day I, Prince Moldo, would have peace and good-will between my kingdom and your kingdom; and I would seal it for ever by taking the Youngest Princess home with me as my bride. You, O King, recognized me not, for I have much changed since I lived here with her for playfellow, but in all my wanderings I found a Pearl of no greater price than this, and I would proclaim to all the world that the Secret of Happiness is Love.”

So on that very Christmas Day they were married, amid great rejoicings, and war ceased throughout the kingdom. And on every Christmas Day for ever after, the people of that country decorated their houses with holly, the symbol of love and peace and good-will, and wished each other a Merry Christmas, even as I do now to you.


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.

Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-

  • 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.

  • 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!"

The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:        

         - David K. Brown -

         - Richard Martin -

         - Spirit of Trees -

         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for December 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.

       - World of Tales - 

           - Zalka Csenge Virag - 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!

    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.

You can see why I recommend these to you. 

Have fun discovering even more stories


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