“Can I please come inside?” cried a little child freezing in the cold on Christmas Eve in Fourcés, a small town in France. He knocked on the ice-and-snow-covered kitchen window of the home of a poor woodcutter.
“Come sit by the fire,” begged Valentine, the woodcutter’s only son. Marie, the woodcutter’s younger daughter, wiped the snow off the child’s face. The wife of the woodcutter warmed the last of their supper stew for the boy.
“Thank you, kind people,” the boy whispered, nibbling on day-old bread from their table. “I am far from home.”
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost,” the father read in their nightly Bible devotional by candlelight.
The mother poured the child the last of their milk from their icebox, hoping the family cows would give more in the dawn.
“Now let’s join in a round of ‘Silent Night,’” the mother suggested, quietly singing the first verse of the carol.
As the family and little child finished the carol, the father cheered: “Time for bed. Christmas Day is tomorrow!”
Marie and Valentine’s father and mother had saved money all year for the candies and treats the children would find in their stockings over the fireplace in the morning. The woodcutter had also carved each of them special toys.
“You can sleep in my bed tonight,” Marie insisted to the little child. “I will sleep on the kitchen bench instead.”
“How very sweet,” the child agreed, admiring the hand-carved table, chairs, benches, and ornaments in the home.
“Our father made the bedframes and benches,” Valentine bragged. “He made all the woodwork. It’s so beautiful!”
“Thank you for your kindness,” the little child smiled, crawling into Marie’s bed underneath a soft quilt.
As the family settled into their beds, Marie drifted to sleep on the hard bench with one pillow and blanket.
“This definitely isn’t like sleeping in my bed,” Marie considered. “I will hardly get any sleep at all . . .”
Trying to sleep, she watched the snow out the window with a shooting star drifting into the distant night sky.
“Do you hear the singing and the harps?” Marie asked aloud hours later, sitting up, wondering if she had a dream.
Valentine slipped into the kitchen to peer through the window, and the children realized they had been visited by angels.
“Look, they are dressed in silver robes with golden harps and lutes,” Marie gasped, whispering to Valentine as her heart leapt.
While the cherubim and seraphim sang, a group of children gathered beside them also appearing in silver robes.
Then, Marie and Valentine turned to see the little child standing next to them in a golden robe and crown.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,” the little child announced. “I am the Christ Child, the one of whom the angels sing. I bring good gifts to children.”
He opened the front door of the poor woodcutter’s home in the breaking dawn and snapped a bough from a nearby fir tree. Amidst the excitement, the woodcutter and his wife hurried to the front porch with their rifle.
“What is going on?” the woodcutter yelled, only to be stunned at the gathering in front of his home.
After a moment to realize what was happening, the woodcutter and his wife fell to their knees in reverence.
The angels and children continued to sing and dance on the early Christmas morning in the French countryside.
With jubilation, Marie and Valentine joined the other children in their celebration, making merry music.
“I bless you with the bough of this fir tree,” the Christ Child declared, planting it deep into the ground. “Let it bear much Christmas fruit every year.”
Then the child who was also God disappeared into the early morning air.
“Glory to God,” the woodcutter called into the fields. “Who am I that you would choose me, a humble servant?”
The fir branch shot into the sky, growing into a full fir tree, decorated with golden apples, silver nuts, and wooden toys. Marie and Valentine took the gifts from the tree and delivered them to the other homes in the town.
“We must never forget what just happened, even if no one believes us,” Marie told Valentine on their way home.
“No one will believe us,” Valentine chided, “but that doesn’t mean that the Christ Child was in our imagination.”
“I know he is real,” Marie pinched herself. “I gave him my bed, and the bench was very hard for the night.”
To this day, children everywhere decorate Christmas trees in honor of the little child, remembering the faithfulness of the woodcutter and his family.
Copyright 2021 Jennifer Waters