Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mr. Penguin Sings the Opera: The Story of a Black and White Tie Event

Once there was a penguin named Emperor born on the Antarctic coastline in the Southern Hemisphere. Unlike most penguins, he loved to sing—even if his penguin friends and family didn’t appreciate his talent. 

“Aaah, aaah, la di da, la di da, la di da di da,” he sang, floating on the ice in the cold ocean water. 

“Oh, Emperor, is that you singing again?” Pete, one of his brother penguins teased him. “Penguins don’t sing.”

“Penguins do sing!” Emperor argued. “I am a penguin, and I sing. That’s the only proof you need.”

Then, one cold winter day when the sun was shining bright, he came across a pamphlet drifting in the ocean.

“What’s this?” he said, grabbing it with his beak and pulling it onto his thick ice raft. 

As he waddled to his igloo on the Antarctic shore, he spread the pamphlet across the ice-room table.

“‘The Marriage of Figaro’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City,” Emperor said, reading the pamphlet aloud. 

As he studied the booklet, he noticed a male vocalist named Alberto Matteo dressed in a black and white outfit.

“He’s dressed like me in a penguin suit with tails,” Emperor exclaimed. “We both love to sing! I’m born to sing the Opera. I’m already wearing my own penguin suit. I must go to New York City to Lincoln Center!”

“What’s that Emperor?” Blubber, his father said, snatching the pamphlet from him. “This man is dressed like a penguin!”

“Papa, he sings the Opera, and so do I,” Emperor said, “I’m leaving for New York City in the morning!”

“What do you mean you’re leaving?” Oceana, his mother cried. “You’ll never make it! You’ll drown in the ocean.”

“Your voice is so beautiful,” said Carol, one of his sister penguins. “The whole world deserves to hear it!”

“Why can’t you just be a penguin like the rest of us?” his father grumbled. “Why do you have to be special?”

“You just bring me so much joy!” his mother said in tears. “You can’t leave us! You’re my baby.”

“I must be courageous and fulfill my destiny,” Emperor proclaimed. “Once I build an igloo in New York City and start a career, then the whole family can visit me in North America. Maybe you can even live there with me!”

The next morning, the Antarctic penguin community stood on the shoreline and waved goodbye to Emperor.

“Goodbye, everyone, goodbye!” he called, tearing up a bit, as he watched his family and friends shake their heads at him. 

“I hope you make it to New York City in one piece,” his father chided him. “Who wants to sing the Opera?”

“I’m dressed in a penguin suit, too, but I don’t want to sing the Opera,” his brother Pete said. “I’ll miss you!”

“I love you so much!” his mother called. “I hope your ice raft doesn’t melt when you sail through the tropics.”

“I’m going to come visit you in New York City,” Carol cheered. “Send us a message when you get there.”

After saying farewell, Emperor set off on his ice raft with the pamphlet toward the Atlantic Ocean. Although the dark nights were lonely and stormy, he stayed on course for North America through the winds. 

“I’m bound for the Metropolitan Opera House where I’m going to sing the Opera like Alberto Matteo,” he sang. 

“You have such a lovely voice,” said a dolphin that suddenly swam to his side in the waves. “My name is Delfina Dominique. I like to sing, too. I’ve never met a penguin that can sing. What are you doing out here by yourself?”

“I’m on my way to New York Harbor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway,” Emperor said. 

“Well, of course you are,” Delfina said. “I’ll swim with you until you get there to keep the sharks away!”

Delfina’s dolphin family jumped out of the waves, singing, and making merry noises in the ocean. 

Every time a shark came near Emperor’s ice raft, the dolphins defended him with their hard noses, and Emperor just kept singing. “I’ll take the solos,” Emperor said, making up a new song with his adopted ocean family. 

On one especially long day, an albatross smoking a cigar landed on his ice raft without introduction or warning. 

“Oui, oui! My name is Jack. Might I just rest my wings awhile?” the bird said. “I’ve flown for days without landing.”

“Excuse me, sir, but this is my ice raft,” Emperor said, standing up straight and eyeing the bird. 

“Any sailor that meets an albatross in the ocean is bound for disaster!” Delfina told Emperor in a whisper.

“Oh no! I have to make it to New York City. I can’t be delayed by a silly old bird,” Emperor said firmly.

“I’m the luckiest of all the albatross because I just met you,” the bird said. “I have nowhere else to land, so it’s better that we just get along on this journey. Besides, I can swoop down and grab fish from the ocean for you.”

“If you insist,” Emperor said, considering how tasty a fish or three might feel in his stomach. 

As Delfina and her dolphin family kept the sharks away, Jack fished for supper for Emperor. 

“I wonder how many octaves I have in my voice,” Emperor said, practicing his scales. “I’ve got at least three!”

He looked at his ice raft, noticing it had shrunk in half since leaving Antarctica. “I do hope I make it soon!”

“You can always ride on my back,” Delfina said, “but I think your ice raft will last. It’s soon winter in New York.” 

            Persevering through miles of endless ocean waves, Emperor arrived weeks later in the New York City Harbor. Although his ice raft had shrunk in the warmer Northern ocean water, he still had enough to stand on.  

By that point, he had practiced hours and hours of Opera singing on the Atlantic Ocean waves. He floated around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, paddling to shore alongside the Staten Island Ferry. 

“I’m so sad to say goodbye to you and your family, Delfina,” Emperor said, bending over to hug her in the ocean.

“I’m going with you to the Opera,” Jack said, accidentally cracking what was left of the ice raft. “I’m good luck!”

“Oh, I don’t know about that, Jack,” Emperor said, balancing himself in the Harbor. As Jack popped a fish into Emperor’s mouth, he climbed up the steps of the New York Harbor pier. “I’ve arrived in one piece!”

“I’m going to send word to your family back home that you made it safely to New York,” Delfina said. 

“Tell them that I love them and ask them to come see me perform,” he called as she swam away. “Thank you!”

As Emperor waddled his way into the big city, Jack searched for fish to pop into his mouth from fish tanks at the local seafood markets. “It’s almost just like fishing in the ocean,” Jack said to Emperor, not realizing his crime.  

“I’m here everyone!” Emperor said to passersby, eventually reaching Times Square. “I was born in a penguin suit to sing the Opera. Don’t you love my one-of-a-kind bowtie? I knew I was bound for something special!”

However, most of the pedestrians shook their heads wondering what a penguin was doing on the sidewalk.

“Did you get out from the zoo?” one passerby said. “Maybe I should call the Central Park Zoo to get you!”

“You can go live in the Zoo, but I am destined for the Metropolitan Opera House,” the penguin said.

He waddled down the street as fast as he could to escape the New Yorkers and their screeching cars. Jack swooped down and temporarily picked Emperor up to escape an out-of-control motorist. 

“I’ve found it at last!” the penguin said, standing in front of the Opera House’s five arched windows and fountain.

Walking to the front doors, he tried to budge them open until a manager said: “Sorry, we’re closed. Come back tomorrow for tickets. We open at 10 o’clock in the morning. I’m sure we can help you then . . .”

“Well, you see, I’m bound for the stage of the Opera House,” the penguin called through the glass. “Can you please tell me how to audition? I’ve been practicing for hours on my ice raft. I can start performing next week.”

Jack, who flew a little too close to the glass windows, knocked his head and nose-dived to the sidewalk.

“Penguins don’t sing buddy! You’re living in a fantasy,” the manager said, turning off the lights. 

“Mister, as a matter of fact, penguins do sing,” Emperor said, crooning in front of the Opera House.

It was the most beautiful baritone voice to ever come out of a penguin, more pleasing than most human voices. 

“He sings better than I do,” Jack said, popping his head up from the pavement. “Maybe this city is not for me!”

As the penguin kept singing, a crowd gathered near the fountain, watching with skepticism.

“Is that a penguin? I thought penguins lived in Antarctica. Maybe he should go back there,” an onlooker said.

“But his voice is so gorgeous and stunning,” another listener said, closing her eyes to his melody. 

“Maybe he’s a child in a penguin suit,” someone else from the crowd said. “You never know these days!”

Then, the manager burst through the doors of the Opera House, saying: “Come back tomorrow morning for an audition. You deserve a chance! Everyone should get a fair shot. A penguin who can sing might just attract crowds. Just don’t bring that bird with you! Didn’t anyone ever tell you that an albatross is bad luck?”

“Thank you very much, sir!” Emperor said. “One day, I will sing with Alberto Matteo. It’s my destiny!”

“I’m the best luck there is!” Jack said, screeching at the manager. “I’m nothing but good luck!” 

“We’ll see about that,” the manager said. “Let’s take one thing at a time. I can get the penguin an audition.”

“By any chance, could I spend the night sleeping in the Opera House, please?” the penguin said to the manager. 

“You want to sleep here now? Isn’t an audition enough?” the manager said, scratching his beard.

“I’ve come all the way from Antarctica on my ice raft, and I haven’t had a chance yet to build an igloo,” the penguin said in the most earnest tone imaginable. “I’m afraid to spend the night alone in New York City.”

“If anyone ever finds out that I did this for you, I could get fired!” the manager said, cracking the door open.

“Please, I beseech thee with the utmost gratitude for your fine service to singers everywhere!” Emperor said.

Before the manager could agree, the albatross flew through the door, swinging it open for Emperor to enter.

“Fine! Go pick a soft chair in the audience! Just try not to snore! Be up and ready by 9 o’clock,” the manager said. 

“Sir, I’m forever grateful for your kindness to me, a humble penguin,” Emperor said, rushing to find a chair. 

“And make sure that bird stays out of trouble,” the manager said. “I don’t want to clean up any bird droppings!”

After a cozy night sleep in the Opera House auditorium with Jack at his side, Emperor awoke with anticipation.

He stood inside the stage door, sweating nervously and sipping ice water while waiting for his audition. 

“I will now sing the part of Count Almaviva from ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’” Emperor said, clearing his throat. 

After the penguin finished singing a gorgeous passage from the Opera, he bowed and stood with pride.

“If you don’t mind me asking, are you a penguin?” the casting director said, taking notes on his clipboard.

“Yes, sir, I am definitely a penguin,” Emperor said, straightening his tail with the best of manners. 

“At least you’re already dressed to sing the Opera,” the casting director said, adjusting his glasses and squinting at Emperor. “It seems like it might be meant to be. You wouldn’t believe the fashion problems that we have around here. I’ve had to find penguin suits and tailcoats last minute to fit vocalists, and it causes nightmares.”

“I can only imagine the problem that improper attire might cause,” Emperor said, flaunting his suit. 

“Mr. Penguin, you’re hired. You’ll start today as Alberto Matteo’s understudy. He’s the best,” the director said.

“Sir, I knew it was meant to be! I was born with this suit—born to sing, even though no one has known it but me until now,” Emperor said. “I can’t wait to start! Please tell Mr. Matteo that he’s my hero and inspiration.”

“Put me down!” Mr. Matteo yelled, as Jack carried him by the collar to Emperor’s side. “Penguins don’t sing!”

“Now, sing once more, Emperor,” Jack said as he dropped Mr. Matteo right in front of the penguin. 

“Is that really a penguin?” Mr. Matteo said. “Are you kidding? How could a penguin be my understudy?”

“I already got the job, stupid bird!” Emperor said to Jack, swatting at his albatross wings. 

Then he opened his mouth to croon out a lovely vocal passage with perfect pitch and vibrato. 

“Gorgeous!” Mr. Matteo said, gasping in awe. “Absolutely amazing! I suppose everyone has to follow their dreams. It’s just like when I had to leave Italy to sing in America. I’ll teach you everything I know.” 

Months later, with the help of the Dominique dolphin family, Emperor’s own family arrived in the New York City Harbor on their own ice rafts, eager to see him perform. The penguins waddled into the Opera House and sat in the front row for one of Emperor’s best performances. “We’re so proud of you!” his family cheered. 

“Mama, Papa, Pete, Carol!” Emperor said, rushing from the stage after his performance. “I love you so much!”

As time passed, Emperor the Penguin became as famous as Alberto Matteo, not only for his voice, but his suit. 

It all started because Emperor had enough courage to go on a journey alone on an ice raft through unchartered waters.

Copyright 2019 Jennifer Waters

Popsicles: The Story of Rainbow Ice Pops on a Stick

Popsicles, popsicles, oh, what a treat!

How wonderful to eat something so sweet!

The ice in the freezer cools my tongue.

I’ve eaten popsicles since I was young. 

On days I am happy, I eat red ice on a stick. 

Red popsicles make your lips look slick. 

The days I am tired, I try the orange kind.

Orange gives you energy and frees your mind.

On mornings it rains, I eat the color yellow. 

I need bright sunshine when the sky is mellow.

On afternoons outside, I enjoy ice that’s green. 

Green is delicious and tastes nothing like a bean.

On nights I feel sad, I eat two color blue. 

One isn’t enough of the melancholy hue. 

When I feel brave enough to be crazy, 

I eat indigo popsicles like a seaside daisy. 

When I can’t sleep, I try the violet flavor.

It puts me to bed with a dream I can savor. 

And when I’m hungry, I have one of each. 

A rainbow of popsicles is a like a day at the beach. 


Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters

Friday, May 13, 2016


With enough faith and courage even a dream of the impossible can come true.

Christina dreams of exchanging her leg braces for ballerina slippers and confides this to her faithful wooden rocking horse. Her cobbler grandfather makes her some beautiful ballet slippers, but a jealous sorceress casts a dark spell on them, and Christina can never take them off. She doesn’t care. With her braces gone and forgetting the loyal rocking horse, Christina joyfully dances and dances, making the sorceress so jealous she strikes her with a curse. Only Christina’s and her grandfather’s faithalong with the rocking horse’s lovecan break the spell and transform Christina and the horse into ballet dancers.
Young Christina Rose worries she will need to wear leg braces all her life. Grandfather Renato, a shoemaker who fibs to her often, tells her no one ever notices her clumsy legs and puts roses behind her ears every morning. Christina’s parents run a barbershop and never have time for her. Years ago, Grandfather Renato made a wooden rocking horse named Sam—even clumsier than Christina. Every day after school she rides Sam for hours, putting roses behind his scraggily ears. She tells him she must be a ballerina and he’s pleased to think that someday soon the two of them will dance together.

One day Christina tells her grandfather she must be able to walk without braces and that her only true friend is Sam. Her grandfather promises to help. Christina stumbles home and throws her arms around Sam, falling asleep on the rocking horse. Grandfather Renato stays up all night making a pair of pink ballerina toe slippers. Then Grandfather Renato asks the village priest to bless the slippers. But before he can give the shoes to Christina, the village necromancer stops him. Sorceress Lucinda says if he really wants Christina to dance that he will cook the shoes in her witch brew. The only condition . . . she will never ever be able to take the slippers off her feet. Grandfather Renato agrees, thinking that’s better than Christina wearing braces her entire life. At sunset the Sorceress hands him the previously pink slippers, which are now black.

Grandfather Renato hurries to find his granddaughter—who is of course sitting on Sam, her faithful rocking horse. Before he can explain that the slippers can never be removed once put on, she shoves them across her toes and ties the black ribbons as tight as possible. Then the braces fall off her legs, and she dances across her bedroom floor with tears in her eyes. When he tells her that she will never be able to take the slippers off, she says that she would never want to take them off anyhow. As days turn into weeks and months, Christina puts a blanket over Sam and shoves him into the corner. She dances her way through the village to much acclaim and has forgotten that she ever rode Sam and told him secrets. Soon after that the Sorceress—full of jealousy for Christina’s dancing—hangs a black silk tutu on her window at night. She is angry that she never received credit for the slippers.

The next morning, wearing the tutu, Christina collapses in her grandfather’s shop, breaking both ankles. Her grandfather admits the village witch cursed the shoes and says the tutu must be cursed as well. Grandfather Renato carries her to the priest’s cathedral in tears. Her grandfather fears she will die. The priest prays for Christina. As Grandfather Renato tucks Christina into her bed, her parents weep. After her mother says maybe God meant for her to wear braces and her father argues that she never needed to dance, a loud brave voice booms from the corner of the room, saying: “I am the only one who has ever really loved her.” The moment Christina kisses Sam she transforms into a tall slender woman, wearing pink ballet toe shoes. Then Sam changes into a tall fit man in a blue body suit wearing his own gentleman ballet slippers. As they dance across the village, the Sorceress collapses dead in the street, and Grandfather Renato never doubts his faith again. Christina’s parents finally love and accept her. Christina and Sam dance together in beautiful ballerina slippers for the rest of their lives, and so do their children.

Copyright 2022 Jennifer Waters

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Christmas Goose: The Story of Holiday Feathers and Pennies in a Hat

“Christmas is coming!” said an old man from a street corner near London’s Tower Bridge. “Please put a penny in an old man’s hat!” Several passersby dropped coins into his hat. “The geese are getting fat, and I’ve got to buy Christmas dinner.

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. Something is better than nothing! Bless a poor old man like me.”

The old man had been standing on the street corner all morning in the blistering cold winter with his hat. 

In between asking for pennies, he belted out Christmas carols, thinking that it would attract more charity. 

“This is for you,” said a beautiful woman with long, golden hair. Her face glowed, and she emptied her purse into his hat.

A trail of snow that looked like diamonds followed her as she walked, and the gems blew in the wind. 

“God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day,” he sang in a deep baritone voice. “To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.” After he finished the first verse, he kept going for six more. 

Now the mistake was to think that the charity was for him. In fact, it was for the family next door to him.

Although the old man had no family, he was more concerned for his neighbors than he was about himself.

The father had been out of work for more than six months, watching over his sickly son, who would likely die any day. The mother had passed away from tuberculosis a few years ago during a very hard winter, and the boy had lost hope. 

So, the old man had decided that a toy soldier and trumpet were not enough to give the child—there must also be a goose. 

“If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you,” he called to the busy people on the sidewalk carrying packages. 

People dropped a penny here, and a ha’penny there. One after the other, they added up, and his efforts amounted to much.

After several hours of singing on the street corner, the old man had enough money to buy a goose for his neighbors.

While walking home through Trafalgar Square, he tossed the money in his pocket and placed the black top hat on his head. He admired the Christmas tree in the Square with carolers circled about it sipping hot chocolate and spiced apple cider. 

On Christmas Eve morning, he set out for Portobello Market in West London for two brilliantly fat Christmas geese: one for himself and one as a gift. Indeed, it would be hard to pick the geese. As lovely as their feathers looked, they must be plucked before cooking. Sometimes, the feathers could be used for a soft pillow for a bed or an armchair. 

“Come here goosey!” the old man said, chasing after the largest goose at the Village Butcher. “Oh, you can’t get away!”

After he caught the first goose, he was in a quandary about choosing a second goose, being that the remaining geese at the shop were much smaller. He wished he could find a larger goose for his neighbors, but his options were limited.

“Ouch!” he said, grabbing the closest goose next to him as its feathers poked him in the eye. “I’ve got you now!”

Noticing its golden-colored feathers, he thought it was the best of the group. Its coat almost sparkled. 

As the old man walked home with the geese swung over his shoulders, he debated which goose to give to the neighbors. 

“I think I’ll give the golden goose as the gift,” the old man said. “I’ll cook the large goose and share the leftovers.”

Happy the geese would provide a hearty Christmas meal the next day, he penned the birds up in the kitchen with helpings of grass. Then he grabbed his coat and top hat and went to Christmas Eve service at All Souls Church in Langham Place. 

The church towered next to the British Broadcasting Corporation, which played Christmas carols on the radio all day.

“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” the minister said, reading from the pulpit. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

After the service, the old man spotted his neighbors a few pews in front of him, looking less than festive. 

“Merry Christmas Eve!” the old man said to the neighbor boy. “Early Christmas morning, I will visit you with surprises!”

“We could use a few surprises,” the boy’s father said, as his son buried his face in his father’s wool coat.

“A penny for your thoughts!” the old man said to the boy who quietly cried. “Now then, it’s going to be the finest Christmas ever. Keep my hat if you’d like. It looks like it’s just your size,” he said, putting his hat on the boy’s head.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” the boy’s father said, taking his son’s hand and walking out of the church. 

The old man decided to sit in the pew for a bit, admiring the sanctuary decorated with holly, candles, and garland. 

As he sat in the pew, the church emptied—all except for one beautiful woman with long, golden hair and diamond jewels.

“Don’t I know you?” the old man asked. “I think we met when I was collecting pennies at the Tower Bridge.”

“I’ve seen what you’ve been doing for that boy,” she whispered to him. Then she sat down next to him in the pew.

“Your generosity will save his life, and he will not leave his father alone at Christmas for the years to come,” she said. 

“Your hat will protect him from the blistering winter wind, and the goose will be his new best friend.”

“Pardon me, but who are you?” the old man said. “How do you know that? It was just a hat. Too big for his head.”

When the old man blinked, she disappeared, and he felt as though he was speaking to a ghost—or maybe an angel. 

“Where did you go? I know I wasn’t seeing things. You were definitely sitting here with me,” the old man said.

“Well, I don’t know how I am going to save the boy’s life. Are you an angel? Aren’t you supposed to do that?”

As the man walked home through the snow that night, his bare head felt cold, so he wrapped his scarf extra tight. 

He would need to buy himself a new hat for Christmas, now that the little boy was wearing his hat instead of him.

The next morning, the old man woke up with the sunrise and plucked the feathers out of the largest goose. 

Then he shoved him in the oven and seasoned him with black pepper, salt, paprika, dark brown sugar, and dried rosemary.

However, he wrapped a bright red bow on the golden goose and grabbed the toy solider and trumpet for the neighbor boy.

“I hope they’re already awake,” the old man said, knocking on the neighbor’s door. “Merry Christmas!” he called. 

The neighbor boy opened the door wearing the old man’s hat. “It’s just my size,” the little boy said, covering both eyes.

As the goose waddled into the neighbor’s house, the little boy threw his arms around him, giggled, and laughed. 

“We can just cook him up and eat him for Christmas dinner!” the father said, clapping his hands together. 

“Father, he’s my new pet!” the little boy said. “We can’t eat him! His feathers are so soft. I could use him for a pillow.”

“Don’t worry, I have another goose cooking,” the old man said, as the little boy’s father sighed. “Let them be friends.”

“Are these for me?” the little boy said, noticing the toy solider and trumpet. He grabbed the trumpet and blew it hard.

Then the old man looked out the window and spied the beautiful woman from the church as she walked down the street.

“Merry Christmas!” the old man said, swinging open the front door, but the woman had vanished before he could find her. 

All that remained was a trail of sparkling snow that resembled perfect diamonds. The wind blew them toward the old man, and at first, he thought they were icicles. He caught them in his hand, not realizing they were actual diamonds until they felt hard as rocks and would not melt. In awe, he put them in his pocket, whispering a prayer of thanksgiving. 

“Just thought I spotted a friend out the window!” the old man said to the boy. “Must be too much snow and ice!”

In the weeks ahead that passed, the Christmas Goose and the little boy became such good friends that the little boy never felt sick again. There was something magical about the goose. In fact, it lay dozens of goose eggs, more than would be expected. And as legend has it, when no one was looking, the goose even laid a golden egg, or two, or three, or even four.

As for the diamonds, they turned out to be real, and the old man had no explanation other than the beautiful woman was an angel. Of course, only an angel would know how icicles become diamonds, but the diamonds were enough money for the father to take care of his son and himself and remarry a beautiful wife. All because an old man with a hat asked for pennies during Christmas.

Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Swedish Christmas Dance: The Story of Reindeer Prancing Round the Christmas Tree

“How in the world did I end up in Sweden on Christmas Eve?” said Prancer the reindeer, standing up in the snow. “Ouch, my head hurts. I must have hit a cloud and fell to the ground. On the most important night of the year!”

Prancer stood up, almost losing his balance, kicking the snow. He wandered into the nearest village, saying: “I’m such a failure. I hope Father Christmas comes back for me. I can’t be sure at all which way he went or where the sleigh is now.”

As Prancer walked through the village, he noticed Christmas trees decorated with white candles and silver ornaments that caught the starlight. Then, a 12-year-old girl noticed the reindeer while admiring the glowing Bethlehem Star in her front window. 

She ran out in the snow in a white dress with a red sash around her waist. As she ate a lussekatt bun, a crown of candles sat on her head in a wreath of Lingonberry branches. She said: “Did Father Christmas send you?”

Then she gently touched his nose and examined his flying antlers, which were larger than antlers on normal reindeer. 

“I got separated from Father Christmas and his sleigh,” Prancer said, startling the girl, who didn’t expect that he could speak. 

“Oh, you can talk!” she said. “My name is Lucia Johansson. Would you like to spend Christmas Eve with my family?”

“Thank you! I’d love to spend Christmas Eve with you. I hope Father Christmas comes back for me by morning,” he said. “How did I get lost at such an important time? I must’ve hit a cloud or a star and crashing onto the ground knocked me out.”

“I hope you can dance,” Lucia said, brushing snow off his tender body. “In Sweden, we dance around the Christmas tree!”

“I usually fly,” Prancer said. “I forgot to tell you that my name is Prancer. Almost like my brother Dancer. He can dance!”

When Lucia opened the front door to her home, a Christmas tree with white candles glowed with straw ornaments. Straw angels, flowers, and stars hung from the tree, and under it stood a Christmas goat from braided straw.

Beside the goat, a large wickerwork basket sat full of gifts that overflowed onto the red and green Christmas tree skirt. A room full of people ate from a smorgasbord, including pickled herring, salads, lutfisk, boiled potatoes, and rice dessert.

As the party went on, guests brought turkey, roast beef, Christmas ham, cheese, meatballs, sausages, stuffed cabbage rolls, jellied pigs’ feet, pork ribs, vegetables, bread with butter and mayonnaise, liver pate, and sweet pastries.

Next to potted red tulips and candles, a manger scene sat as a centerpiece on cotton wool snow with the various animals. Blue and pink hyacinths and lilies-of-the-valley surrounded the tulips in an extravagant flower display. 

“What beautiful flowers!” Prancer said, smelling the tulips. “Oh, how I love to eat red tulips! May I, please?”

“No, but I can get you Christmas cookies with coffee instead,” Lucia said, placing her candle headpiece on the table. 

“Lucia, what is a reindeer doing our home?” her mother said, laughing. “Is he a gift from Father Christmas?”

“It’s just for tonight, Mother,” Lucia said. “Please tell Father that the neighbors sent him for holiday fun!”

“Well, the neighbors must have sent him for fun!” her mother said. “Where else would he have come from?”

All of a sudden, Lucia’s extended family joined hands while thumping their feet and danced in a ring, holding a lighted candle. The dancers sang: “We fain would like to start up a judge’s dance now, but he’s not at home for the present.”

“Dance with me, Prancer!” Lucia said, jumping on his back. The duo went round and round the table and down the halls of the house. When the halls were danced, Prancer and Lucia went through each room and up and down each staircase. 

“I wish you could stay with me forever!” Lucia said to Prancer, kissing him on the cheek. “You’re so much fun!”

“I know, but my whole family will be worried, and I’m usually helping to pull the sleigh on Christmas Eve,” he said. “I have a feeling that good ole’ Father Christmas is running behind tonight because of me. I messed everything up.”

“Maybe by morning Father Christmas will find you,” Lucia said. “Why don’t we sleep next to the Christmas tree and wait for him? I can use you as a pillow, and you can keep watch out the window for him on his sleigh.”

Tears filled Prancer’s eyes at the thought of never seeing Father Christmas or his reindeer family again. 

“I don’t even know if I could find my way back to the North Pole,” he said. “I’ve always flown with the reindeer pack.”

“If Father Christmas never comes back for you, you could always stay here with me,” Lucia said, hugging his neck. 

As Christmas Eve went on, Lucia’s family exchanged gifts and ate Christmas cookies and rice dessert. 

“Father Christmas didn’t come yet!” one of Lucia’s sisters said to her parents. “I’ve been good this year. I want my gifts.”

“I’m sure he’s on his way,” Lucia said, looking at Prancer. “Maybe he’ll come tomorrow instead of tonight.”

“He always comes on Christmas Eve!” another cousin said, blowing his nose crying. “What’s the party for without him?”

“I’m really sorry,” Prancer said, curling up beneath the Christmas tree and burying his head in his forearms. 

When every disappointed relative had left for the night, Lucia’s mother, father, and three sisters sat with Prancer.

“The neighbors didn’t exactly send the reindeer, did they?” Lucia’s father said. “He’s a lost Christmas reindeer, isn’t he?”

“I’m the reason Father Christmas is late on Christmas Eve,” Prancer said. “I’m so very sorry. Please, forgive me.”

While Lucia’s parents and sisters went to sleep in their bedrooms, Lucia snuggled up with Prancer as he wept.  

Then, early in the morning, when it seemed that Father Christmas would never complete his rounds on Christmas Eve, there was a thud in front of Lucia’s house, several whinnies, and a large, red glowing reindeer light. 

“Are there any good children in this house?” Father Christmas said, knocking on the front door with a sack of gifts.

“Father Christmas! You found me,” Prancer said. “I’m so sorry. I hit a cloud or something and fell to Earth and lost you!”

“Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” Father Christmas said. “Not a worry, we made do. Now go join your brothers. I have seven other reindeer, but I had to go after the lost one until I found you! We flew all night. I didn’t forget you.”

As the story goes, Prancer made sure to be especially alert when flying on Christmas Eve and never got lost again. 

Father Christmas gave Lucia extra Christmas gifts for taking care of one of his most precious reindeer. Even if Christmas was a bit late that year, it was on time every year after that because of a Swedish girl who took in a stranger. God Jul!


Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters 

Winter Masquerading: The Story of a Festive Season Masked Ball

“Do you have your dress for the Christmas Masquerade Ball?” Margaret’s father said, drinking his breakfast coffee.

Mr. Bayard, a former United States Senator, had put marrying his daughter to an upstanding man on the top of his Christmas wish list. It was above a new, hand-woven stocking. After all, Christmas was more than just a stocking holiday. 

“Father, I still have two weeks to buy a dress, and I already told you that I’m in love with James Miller. Must you really present me to high society, especially at Christmas? If I have to attend, at least I can wear a mask,” the 23-year-old said.

“Everyone will know it’s you.  I will tell them!” her father said. “I’ve never liked James. He’s not good enough for you.”

“Not good enough?” Margaret said. “I’ve only known him since I was a child. He’s been my best friend my entire life.”

“He’s not the son of a former President of the United States, or a diplomat, or nobility or any ambassador or governor,” her father said, folding the morning newspaper into a stack on the table. “Your mother would want better for you.”

“Mother would want me to marry James,” Margaret said. “She always loved him and said he reminded her of you.” 

“She’s been gone now almost a year. I can hardly believe it,” Margaret’s father said, looking out the window.

Hiding her disappointment in her mother’s death, Margaret changed the subject.

“Besides, James is in law school,” she said. “He was a marine. I’m sure he could be a Senator one day. Just because his father wasn’t a Senator means nothing.”

Margaret picked up the golden invitation to the Christmas Masquerade Ball and put it in her purse. Not only would the event be held in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria on Fifth Avenue, but there would also be a week of parties leading to the Christmas Eve Ball. She would be escorted by one military cadet and one civilian, but neither of her choice. 

“Fine, I will go only to prove you wrong!” Margaret said. “And I’m not telling James a thing about it . . .”

“James won’t know anything about it! By the end of the evening, you’ll be engaged to someone else,” her father said. 

As Margaret finished her breakfast, she remembered that she must meet James in Central Park by noon. 

“I promised James that I would go on a carriage ride with him through Central Park today,” Margaret said. “He loves me.”

“Don’t be late!” her father chided. “You might lose your glass slipper or something. Of course, fairytales are fiction.”

When Margaret arrived in Central Park, she found James as it started to snow. “You look lovely,” he said, kissing her. 

The couple climbed in the carriage and bundled themselves in a red blanket as the driver started the ride. Jingle bells jostled as the stately brown horse pulled the carriage through the winding trails of Central Park. 

“Marry me, darling!” James said to her, pulling a small red box from his pocket. He opened it to a heart-shaped diamond that glistened in the winter sunshine. “I’ll love you my entire life. Please let me have the honor of being your husband.”

“Yes, yes, yes!” Margaret said, kissing him. “But we mustn’t tell father until after Christmas . . .”

Margaret slipped the ring on her left hand and enjoyed the rest of the journey. As the carriage stopped at the end of the ride, Margaret stepped from the carriage, holding James’ hand. When a large gust of wind blew, the invitation to the Christmas Masquerade Ball blew from her purse onto the sidewalk. James picked it up and glanced at the details.

“This is why we can’t tell your father until after Christmas,” he whispered to himself, shoving it in his jacket pocket. 

Of course, Margaret didn’t notice the missing invitation. She was so enamored with her ring that she could hardly speak. Later that evening when she returned home, she hid the engagement ring in its box in the bottom of her purse. 

“Where did that invitation go?” she said to herself. “Oh, Father probably has an extra one. I hope James didn’t see it.”

As she rode the elevator up to her father’s penthouse apartment, she considered where to get a Christmas ball gown. 

“I will tell James that Father and I are going on a ski vacation over Christmas,” she said to herself. “Then I will get this horrid Ball over with and announce my engagement to James on New Year’s Day. That seems the best idea . . .”

For the next week, Margaret searched for the perfect gown and outfits for the week of parties leading up to the Ball. She found an ideal half-mask—covering her eyes, cheeks, and nose with red accents, gold leaf, and music note paper.

As the week of festivities approached, Margaret phoned James to tell him that her father insisted on taking a ski trip.

“A ski trip?” James said. “Well, can’t I come with you then? I’ve never been good at skiing, but I can learn.”

“Oh, no. It’s my last big hurrah with father before we marry. New Year’s Day we’ll announce our engagement,” she said.

“If you insist,” James said. “I’ll spend Christmas with my mother. She always likes to bake this time of year.”

Margaret hung up the phone feeling guilty that she fibbed to James, but she had to prove her father wrong once and for all. She took the box with her engagement ring from her purse and hid it underneath the mattress in her bedroom.

“Father will never find the ring now,” she said, making sure it was tucked between the mattress and the box spring.

In the days leading up to the Ball, she sipped wine at the parties, trying to be interested in the superficial conversation. 

“Most of this is gossip and very uninteresting,” Margaret said to herself, eavesdropping on the couple next to her. 

On the night of the Ball, she slipped into her red and black lace Christmas gown and pulled her hair up in curls. 

“I’m leaving for the Ball, Father,” Margaret said, kissing her father on the cheek. “You will see. James is my true love.”

“Yes, I will see you later,” her father said, adjusting his black tuxedo. “I wouldn’t miss this event for anything.”

As Margaret arrived in a limo at the Waldorf Astoria, the men turned their heads at her astonishing beauty. 

“Maybe I should have worn an ugly dress,” she mumbled. “Everyone will want to dance with me now . . .”

When she entered the Grand Ballroom, she was escorted by two masked gentlemen: one military cadet and one civilian. 

After all the guests arrived, a moderator called the debutantes by name with their escorts to the front of the Ballroom: “Please welcome Margaret Bayard, daughter of former United States Senator George Bayard and his deceased wife, Jill.”

Walking forward, Margaret gained her composure and breathed deep. The cadet held onto her arm tighter than the civilian. 

After the introduction, the cadet in a black tuxedo said in a deep voice: “You’re so beautiful. May I have this dance?” 

“Oh, well, yes,” Margaret sighed. “Yes, I would love to dance with you. How kind of you to ask . . .”

Now, the white and gold mask of the cadet covered his entire face, only allowing the viewer to see his eyes and lips. 

During the dance, Margaret felt more alive than she ever had in her life. In fact, she danced the entire night with the cadet. They waltzed, and he dipped her at all the proper moments. She rested her head on his shoulder during the slow numbers.

Near the end of the Ball, the cadet kissed Margaret and bowed, never revealing his true identity. 

“Wait!” Margaret called, taking off her mask and hoping the cadet would do the same. She handed him her mask. 

“Don’t leave without letting me see your face! I must know who you are,” she said, as he took the mask and ran off. 

“Where’s he going?” Margaret’s father said, stepping from the shadows. “You were having a wonderful time. 

He’ll find you because he knows who you are now. You took off your mask. I would marry him, not James.” 

“Father, leave me alone,” Margaret said, crying. She ran out of the Waldorf Astoria for a taxi, rushing home.

“I must find out who that man was,” Margaret whispered to herself. “What will I say to James? How can this be?”

As Margaret rushed into the elevator of her father’s home, she ascended to the penthouse and stumbled for her keys. 

In the hallway, she found James, sitting in a tuxedo on the bench at the front door, holding her music note mask from the Ball. He also held the white and gold mask of the mysterious cadet that she had danced with during the evening. 

“Where did you get those masks?” Margaret said. “Why are you all dressed up? Wait a minute . . . Oh my gosh!”

“It was me all along, Margaret!” James said, throwing his arms around her. “I couldn’t let you dance with anyone else.”

“I told my father that I was going to prove him wrong,” Margaret said, crying and resting her head on James’ shoulder.

“My father sent me to the Christmas Masquerade Ball, and he sent me right back to you,” she said, kissing him. 

By Christmas next year, Margaret and James were married, and they danced the Waltz in every spare moment.


Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters 


Yuletide the Christmas Goat: The Story of the Christmas Eve Yule Log

“There are witches in the neighborhood!” cried 12-year-old Ingrid Danielsen in the Norwegian village of Vestfold.

“Why did they have to come back again on Christmas Eve?” asked her friend Yuletide the Christmas Goat, eating hay. 

The witches liked to harass Father Christmas on Christmas Eve, threatening to steal the children and their presents.

“The children will serve as our slaves and do our dirty work that we don’t have time to do ourselves,” the witches cackled. 

Ingrid looked out her cottage window to see children dressed as shepherds and wise men caroling on the street corners. She cringed as she watched a witch on her broom swoop down and steal a paper star from one of the children.

Although the witches had bullied the children before, they had never succeeded in actually kidnapping anyone.

“I want to throw them off their brooms!” Ingrid declared. “I feel like charging outside with a sword and fighting them.”

“It is Christmas Eve,” Yuletide reminded. “There’s supposed to be peace on Earth. Maybe we should just ignore them.”

Then, another witch flew down, grabbed three of the children who were caroling, and flung them on her broom.

“Never!” Ingrid cried. “The witches just snatched my cousins! This is the worst attack from them that I’ve ever seen!”

“We’re going to have to clog the chimney so they can’t fly down it,” Ingrid planned, pulling Yuletide’s beard.

“Evil shuns the bright light of a Yule Log,” Yuletide explained, nodding at the fireplace. “But I’m not sure it will be enough!” 

“The witches are more determined than ever to undermine Julenissen and his Nisse,” Ingrid admitted, lighting a match. 

“Some people call him Santa Claus with his gnomes,” Yuletide whispered. “Oh, please, make it here without a problem.”

Ingrid had spent hours making Julekurver—heart-shaped, small paper basket Christmas tree decorations. She baked cakes and biscuits, especially the Julekake with raisins while singing “Musevisa,” a popular Christmas song.

“The witches must leave the children of the village alone,” Ingrid decided. “How are we going to get through this?”

“I’m only a goat. I don’t know how much good I’ll be at getting rid of the witches on their brooms, but I’ll try,” he whispered. 

Then Yuletide meandered to a large book on the side shelf and flipped it open with his nose and pointed to a map. He read: “There’s a Magic Yule Log, hidden on the peak of Vestfjellet Mountain, which is strong enough to destroy the witches.”

“Oh, how did you know that?” Ingrid asked, placing a jingle bell necklace around Yuletide’s neck. “We must find it!”

“It’s a legend that’s existed forever, but I suppose we didn’t need the power of the Magic Yule Log until now,” he quipped. 

“If we find the Magic Yule Log and burn it in my parents’ fireplace, its power should be strong enough to kill the witches, and they’ll have to give back my cousins,” Ingrid sighed to Yuletide, almost in tears. “It has to be strong enough!”

“But we have to burn the Yule Log on Christmas Eve!” Yuletide insisted. “Not one second past midnight, or it won’t work.”

“Then we must set off now,” Ingrid determined. “It’s not even noontime, so we have at least twelve hours to succeed!”

“You’re not going anywhere!” Yuletide resolved. “I’ll run up the mountain and be back before midnight. Keep the witches away ‘till I return! After Julenissen arrives, he can help us fight the witches if they aren’t gone, but he must arrive first.”

“Mother and Father should be home shortly from the coast,” Ingrid reminded. “They only work half-a-day at fishing today!”

“I’ll leave now. If they ask my whereabouts, tell them I went wandering in the snow. I’ll be back soon,” Yuletide urged. 

“Don’t let the witches catch you!” Ingrid prayed, opening the door for Yuletide and kissing him on the cheek. 

As Yuletide journeyed to the mountaintop to retrieve the Magic Yule Log, he tried not to look in the sky at the witches. He stayed close to buildings, and then trees, trying to hide from their view, so they couldn’t snatch him with the children. When he reached the base of the mountain, a huge snowstorm ensued, hindering his sight in front of him. 

“I just have to put one hoof in front of the other up the mountain,” Yuletide encouraged himself. “The witches have to die!”

In the meantime, Ingrid huddle by the fireplace, building a large fire with the regular logs and twigs. Waiting for her mother and father, she ate one too many Christmas coconut macaroons, until she had a stomachache. By the afternoon, she became concerned that her mother and father might have been sidetracked by the witches as well.

“Now what?” Ingrid wondered. “I have to wait here for Yuletide and my parents. This is too much alone . . .”

Then, as she looked at the fireplace, she saw a broom handle sticking down the chimney with the heel of a boot.

“Oh, no!” Ingrid cried, growing the fire so a large flame caught the boot. “Go away! Back up the chimney!”

“It will never be a Juletid for you!” Ingrid heard a voice cackle. “Christmas and julefryd is over in Vestfold.”

“I will fight you until you leave me alone,” Ingrid warned. “Don’t even think that you’re going to come into my house!”

Ingrid looked out the window to see other witches snatching the caroling children onto their brooms. 

“Where are my parents?” Ingrid whispered. “If they were here, they might be some help in fighting back the witches.”

“I hate those stupid Christmas carols!” the witch spooked. “It hurts my ears to hear children sing about wise men and angels.”

“Well, then I must sing ‘Musevisa’ for you until you leave me and my village alone!” Ingrid countered, fanning the fireplace. 

Ingrid set every candle in the home at the base of the fireplace to burn along with the wood and cinders. 

“Do you really think this little flame will keep me away?” the witch menaced. “I will conjure a spell for rain and douse it!”

As the witch threatened to use her dark magic, the front door swung open, and Ingrid’s parents ran to her defense. 

“The witches are everywhere!” Ingrid’s father cried. “They’re almost overtaking the village and kidnapping children.”

“Is that a witch broom?” Ingrid’s mother inquired. “Oh, is a witch trying to invade our home? Ingrid, how did this happen?”

“I’ve been trying to fight her off,” Ingrid clarified. “The fire is growing, but it doesn’t seem to be enough.”

“Try adding herbs to the fire to make it grow,” her mother instructed, throwing dried rosemary sprigs and dried sage on the fire.

“Where is Yuletide?” Ingrid’s father noticed, as the fire jumped to its height. “The witches didn’t get him, did they?”

“He went wandering in the snow,” Ingrid lied. “He’ll be back soon. He’s only a goat, and the witches won’t want him.”

As Ingrid looked out the window, hoping Yuletide returned any minute, her mother threw more herbs on the fire. Every time the fire died down for a moment, the witch retaliated worse, sending sparks into the kitchen. 

“This is not getting rid of the witch in our chimney!” Ingrid’s father realized. “Maybe I should go on the roof and fight her.”

“Dear, please don’t do that,” Ingrid’s mother lamented. “Maybe Father Christmas will save all of us, if he can get here!”

“The witches surrounded the village in the sky in a circle!” Ingrid bemoaned, peering into the sky. “How will he ever visit us?”

“I’m going to kill you and your village! There’ll be no more Christmas anywhere in the world!” the witch yelled.

“I douse you and your fire with rain and pain,” the broom-riding woman yelled, sending a downpour on the fireplace.

The fire instantly vanished, and the witch placed both feet on the brick floor of the fireplace and struggled to crawl out. 

“Quick! Light the fire again,” Ingrid charged, throwing flour on the wet logs and lighting new dry logs to singe the witch.

As Ingrid and her parents fought back the witch and her spells for hours, Ingrid kept hoping for Yuletide’s quick return. The clock on the wall tick-tocked closer and closer to midnight when the Magic Yule Log would no longer be effective. 

“We’re about to be out of wood to burn in the fireplace!” Ingrid’s father regretted. “Then what will we do?”

“Run out of wood? We’re about to run out of matches to light the wood!” Ingrid’s mother bawled. “That’s even worse!”

Just when Ingrid wanted to give up fighting the witch, Yuletide marched in the front door with the glowing Magic Yule Log. The goat’s knees were bloody, and he hobbled through the front door as though he might collapse at any moment.

“Yuletide!” Ingrid cheered, running to him in tears, grabbing the Magic Yule Log, and throwing it into the fireplace.

Although there was already a small fire burning, she took the last match in the box and struck it to light the log. It caused a huge explosion to shoot from the chimney that stretched over the village, sending the witches into the oblivion. 

The kidnapped children riding with the witches fell from the brooms and magically landed feet-first in the snow.

“It’s Christmas again!” Ingrid celebrated, dancing in the kitchen with her parents and Yuletide in celebration.

“I almost didn’t make it,” Yuletide mused. “The snow froze the Magic Yule Log, and it was hidden on the mountaintop.”

“Did you see Father Christmas?” Ingrid hoped, cleaning Yuletide’s wounds and trying to warm him by the fire. 

“Oh, yes,” Yuletide enchanted. “I did see him on my way. He told me thank you and that he can’t right all the wrongs in the world. He’s fought the witches for years. He was so grateful for my help on Christmas Eve.”

At that, Ingrid’s family fell asleep by the fireplace with Yuletide, and Father Christmas made his visit in the snow with presents, because a goat decided that he could overcome every evil spirit at Christmas. 


Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters