Merry Christmas to all my lovely followers! For today, I share with youse all a Christmas story I wrote a couple years ago. I love the actual Legend of the Christmas Rose, which is the tale that inspired the story below. I hope you enjoy it. Have a gorgeously lovely Christmas!
The Miracle of the Christmas Rose
It was dusk. Mother was reading her favourite Christmas story aloud to little Maria; the Legend of the Christmas Rose.
The two of them were snuggled cosily together on her day bed while the two older girls, Veronica and Anne, sat nearby, listening. It was not a very long story, though Mother always managed to make it longer by adding imaginative conversations.
But Mother was feeling worse than usual tonight. In the middle of one sentence, Maria was alarmed to hear a little sound of pain and see tears start into Mother’s eyes. The story came to a halt.
Anne and Veronica got to their feet.
Mother murmured, “I think I need a pill, Annie.”
Anne hurried over to her with the bottle of pain medication, shaking one of the pills into her hand. Veronica fetched a glass of water.
While no one was watching, Maria slipped down to the ground and hid beneath Mother’s bed. She lay there silently as Anne dispensed the pill and Mother drank it down with the water. Maria heard the sound of Mother’s breathing like little cries of pain. She lay there in the darkness, watching the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle on and off.
At last, Mother succumbed to sleep. Maria sucked quietly on her fingers and listened to Anne and Veronica murmur together.
“She’s so far gone.” Anne whispered to Veronica. “She can’t last much longer.”
“If only Christmas miracles still happened,” Veronica whispered back, her voice trembling with tears. “But they just don’t.”
Anne didn’t reply. Maria shimmied forward on her stomach and saw them standing at the foot of Mother’s bed, the tears on their faces shining first white, then red, then yellow in the flashing Christmas tree lights.
Maria felt tears in her throat, as bitter as the ones that gleamed in her older sisters’ eyes. She swallowed them away before she made a sound. “No Christmas miracles,” she whispered. “But Mother needs one.”
She waited until her sisters left the room before she scurried to the door. Quietly she wound a scarf about her neck and pulled on mittens and a warm coat. She crept outside.
The air was very cold and dark. The sky was clear, the first evening stars twinkling in the darkness, seemingly reflected in the shadowing mounds of snow that lay upon the earth. Maria knelt, scooped snow into her mitten. She stared down at the thousand distinct snowflakes she could see, so small yet so perfect. She leaned too close; her breath melted the flakes together into crystal droplets, like tears. Tears for Mother everyone tried to hide.
Mother was ill; that Maria knew. No one realized she knew Mother was dying. They all thought they had managed to keep that secret. But Maria knew.
Maria stood, shaking snow off her mittens, feeling the cold of winter sharper than she usually did. It did not seem like Christmas with such unhappiness invading the home. She turned, looked back at her house whose every window beamed with Christmas lights and scented candles. Each little candle shone like tapers of hope.
There was a wreath made of evergreen branches hanging on the door, twined throughout with red ribbons and gold beads. Inside, before one of the windows she could see the Christmas tree winking joyfully at her through the glass pane, the lights sending glints off the silver garland and the glass ornaments. She could see the Nativity Scene sitting on the windowsill before the tree. All the figures except the Infant were within the stable. Maria had put the figure of Mary in it that morning for Christmas Eve. Tomorrow was Christmas, but there was no joy. There was only sorrow. Mother was dying.
Resolutely, Maria started down the road. There were Christmas miracles. Mother believed it still, and Maria believed it because Mother did. She was going to find one for Mother.
All the houses she passed were decorated with lights, and here and there displays lighted up yards, and snowmen grinned their pebbled smiles at her. She walked while her fingers got cold in their mittens and her boots pinched her feet. She walked while the darkness settled its cloak-like folds about her and the first tingle of fear touched her spine. She stopped, looked behind her down the road, but the darkness was so thick and the lights illumining the houses confused her. She wasn’t sure which house down that long glowing street was hers.
Maria sucked a mittened finger, shivering now, and despite herself a tear trickled from the corner of her eyes. She was tired, afraid, and disheartened. She had expected to find a Christmas miracle a little way down the road. She hadn’t expected it would take longer. Mother was going to die, and Maria couldn’t do anything to stop her. She sat down beneath a tree where the snow did not lay so thickly, and she cried. She cried because she knew Mother was dying and no one could tell her why she would die, and because Christmas miracles no longer happened.
Someone said, “Why are you crying?”
Maria squeaked and wiped away her tears. She looked up. A girl she had never seen before stood before her, wearing a cloak with the hood pulled over her head, carrying a basket filled with white roses over her arm. Costume clothes, Maria thought, for the clothes were old-fashioned; laced leather boots, a simple brown robe belted at the waist, and a rosy brown cloak to keep away winter chill. The girl had a smiling face, framed on either side with curls of brown hair, and Maria put a hand to her own hair, wishing hers looked like the girl’s.
The girl said, “Why are you crying? Couldn’t you find any flowers either? The bright Person helped me find my roses, and I am going now to lay them before the Baby. Would you like to come with me? I should enjoy your companionship, if you’d like to come.”
Maria said, “My mother is sick and dying, and there are no more Christmas miracles. Veronica said so, and I’m very sad. Tomorrow is Christmas, but it doesn’t seem like it, with Mother so sick. Who are you, anyway? I don’t think you live here, do you? And where did you find the roses? Who are you giving them to? Is your mother sick, too?”
The girl smiled and said, “No. I live far away, and the roses are a gift from the bright Person. I am giving them to the Infant Babe this night. But as I was hurrying by I heard you crying, and remembered what happened to me when I cried as you did. So I have come to help you, as I was helped.” She put out her hand. “Come Maria. Take my hand.”
Maria hesitated. “I shouldn’t,” she said. “I’m not supposed to be out here by myself, especially this late. I’m going to be in trouble. But I can’t cry at home. Everyone tells me to hush when I do.”
Gently the girl took Maria’s hand in hers and pulled her to her feet. “No one will miss us,” she said. “I promise you. Come, Maria. Come with me to see the Infant Son.”
Snow started to fall out of the clear sky, snow like wind made visible. Maria could almost see each perfect snowflake as it fell, and she cried out her pleasure. Then the girl stepped into the air. Surprised but willing, Maria followed. The snow lifted them up, into the sky, and kissed Maria. She put out her hands and caught the white flakes.
Time, and yet no time passed, and then the girl stepped forth and touched the ground with her feet. Maria, secure in her clasp, followed and looked about her in wonder. They stood upon a hillside that was dusted in the falling snow, looking down upon the glimmering lights of a small town below. Maria gazed, enraptured. The lighted town looked like fairy lights glinting through the snowflakes.
The girl turned her gaze to a stable. “Look, Maria.”
Maria saw the stable, pushed dark and lonely in the side of a hill, and a little gleam of light shone through the chinks in the door. She took a step forward, and noticed that the girl stayed behind. Maria looked at her and said, “Aren’t you coming?”
The girl shook her head. All of a sudden she seemed ancient, as though she were but a memory of one who had lived long ago. Gently she said, “I had no gift until I wept before the stable. This is your turn, Maria. Go. See that Christmas miracles still happen, even now. Go.”
Maria trod the silent path alone. Before her the pale light from the stable shone out like a ray of hope. Behind her lay the darkness of the waiting hillside where the girl stood watching.
Maria walked, and put her hand to the door of the stable. It was latched. She leaned harder on it, but though a timber protested the door would not open. Maria tapped upon the door with a tentative hand. No one answered.
The air no longer kissed her. Instead, the cold ate into her bones and the helplessness of her plight overwhelmed her. Again, she began to cry, the tears mingling with the droplets of melting snowflakes on her face and she knelt in the snow before the door. Her tears dropped to the ground, hot as steam. She cried, until her throat felt raw and her heart, tight with hopelessness, eased. As her sobs quieted, she noticed, peeping its white petals through the snow, a white rose, white as the roses the girl carried in her basket.
Tenderly, softly, Maria reached her fingers down the cold stem to the ground and plucked the rose from its snowy bed, and held it in her hands. It almost glowed in the darkness, so bright that for a moment Maria wondered if the moon had taken root in the earth. She ran her fingers up and down the stem but she could not feel a single thorn. As she knelt there in the snow, her face tear-stained, colder than she could ever remember being, the stable door before her opened of its own accord.
She looked up, hesitating on the threshold, blinking in the light of a small fire that cast dancing shadows on the stable walls and wondering at the brighter light that framed the face of the young woman and the Babe she cradled in her arms. Maria knelt, and wonder kept her still.
A man came unto her, reached down his hand and helped her to her feet, then stooped so he could look into her face.
“You are Maria,” he said, and smiled.
The rose stem was cold and soft against her fingers. Maria clutched it tighter to be sure she did not dream. “I came for a Christmas miracle. I have a gift, also, to give.”
“You are welcome here, Maria. Come.”
The man took her hand in his large one and led her to the side of the woman. Maria laid her hands in the woman’s lap. The white rose lay cradled between her loose-knit fingers, the drooping petals vivid against the blue of the blanket. Maria looked down into the face of the Babe. He was sleeping, His face a wreath of flame, His body a kindled taper shining even through His swaddling garments. Maria thought she now understood what was meant by heavenly peace. It lay here, in this Mother’s arms, within the flaming body of this little Child.
Maria said, “I never realized He is so beautiful. He is the Christmas miracle, isn’t He?”
“Yes,” the Mother said softly, “He is.”
Maria laid the rose upon the Baby’s breast. She said, “I promised to give a gift in exchange for the Christmas miracle. This is my gift.” She stood away. She was so happy. She’d never been happier. “Thank-you.”
The Mother picked up the rose in one of her hands, held it to her face to catch the scent of it, looking over the petals at Maria with a clear, smiling gaze. Then she said, “Would you like to hold Him?”
Maria looked at the Mother. “Oh, yes,” she whispered, and put out her arms. The Babe was laid against her breast. Maria looked down into His Face, felt the warmth of His body, took one of His small hands in hers and kissed it. The warmth of that kiss swept through her whole body, and she sat down beside the Mother and held Him. How much time passed she did not know. She lost her sorrow and troubles in the warmth of His body.
Then Maria stirred, feeling as though she had been asleep for a long time. “Oh,” she said, “It is very late, isn’t it? I must get home. Everyone will be so worried.”
The Mother took her Babe back into her arms. “No one will be worried, Maria. I promise you this. Go now. Madelon will take you home.”
Maria turned. The girl stood behind her, her hood pushed down her back, her arms full of roses. She knelt for a moment and laid her roses at the Mother’s feet. They shone like kindled snow, each one more perfect than the last and yet each as perfect as the other. Maria’s Rose lay alone on the Babe’s blanket, and yet it seemed to shine brighter than any of the other roses, as thought the brightness of the Babe’s body soaked into the rose petals. Maria stood and looked down at the Babe and her rose. The rose smelled sweeter, lovelier than any other flower Maria had ever smelled. She turned and smiled at the girl. It was as though a light had turned on in her heart. She recognized who the girl was. This was Madelon of the Legend of the Christmas Rose. Maria wondered how she could not have recognized her before.
“It is time.” It was the Guardian-father that spoke, and Maria felt her heart give a dull thump. She took Madelon’s hand for comfort, and it was then that the Mother spoke again.
“This is for you.” She held out the rose that Maria had lain upon the Babe’s breast. “Take it back to your mother, Maria.”
Wonderingly Maria bent her head into the perfection of the rose petals and breathed deep of the scent, looking over the top of it at the Mother. Then she saw that which almost seemed to stop her heart.
The Babe was awake, and He looked at her. His eyes were pools of heaven, and in them Maria saw reflected the image of herself, and the Christmas Rose. If she wept, she did not know it.
She stood a moment, entranced by the gaze of His eyes, warmed by the Mother’s smile, secure in the shadow of the Guardian-father’s body. Then, snow came from somewhere, cold and white yet warmer than the inside of a flame. Maria and Madelon were lifted in its white clasp and blinded for a moment. Maria was conscious only of the rose stem in her hands.
She seemed to waken. She raised her head, baffled and unsure where she was. She looked about and saw she lay before the fireplace, clothed in her nightgown with slippers on her feet. The heat of the flames lay around her, as warm and soft and tangible as the fleece blanket upon her.
She sat up, looked around her. The lights of the Christmas tree flickered brilliantly, shining off the garland; it was the only light in the house. Veronica lay on the couch, asleep, and Anne slept with her head on her hands on the floor beside Veronica. There were packages about the foot of the tree, wrapped in bright paper and decorated with colored bows, and the stockings were lumpy with surprises.
Maria stared at the tree, her head whirling and a feeling of unreality in her heart, and a knell of fear beat in her breast. Had she only dreamed? Had none of what happened to her been real? Had Madelon been nothing more than the residue of the story Veronica had read aloud? Were Christmas miracles, then, untrue? And where was her rose that Madelon gave her? Maria scrabbled about on the floor looking for it. It was gone. Maria felt like crying.
Maria got up off the floor, depressed and uncertain. It had been a dream. Mother was dying and Christmas would never be happy again. Mother…Maria’s eyes darted to where her mother slept on her little bed, in the corner where, before she had gotten so sick, the big sofa used to sit. Mother had insisted that her bed be put out there so that she could be around her family more, and Maria liked the arrangement. She felt as though she had seen much more of Mother than she had ever had before. But now Mother seemed to be lying too still, and in terror Maria hurried to her side.
She looked down, her relief a gasp in her ears. Mother slept like the Babe had slept, soft and smiling, the sound of her breath a calming whisper on Maria’s face. Her head was turned to one side, and Maria found it so easy to lean down and lay a kiss on her cheek.
As she bent, Maria smelled a scent. It was the sweetest, loveliest scent she had ever smelled, and she pulled back the covers on Mother’s body and saw, clasped in her hands, the perfect, full-bloomed beauty of the Rose. It glowed in the darkness, like the face of the Babe had glowed, a wondrous light in the darkness. Maria stood so still, only her eyes were alive. Gently she touched the unfurled petals, feeling the softness like velvet on her fingers, and in the shimmering light of the Rose she saw, like a vision, the face of the Babe. She slipped the Rose closer to her mother’s breast and kissed the thorn-less stem. Then she slipped beneath the covers and snuggled into Mother’s arms, and in that secure embrace Maria fell asleep.
“Christmas miracles do happen,” Maria would tell her children at the end of the story. She would look over at her Mother, smiling, and all her children would say, “Yes they do, don’t they Grandma?”
Maria’s mother rarely answered, but she would stroke the petals of a fragrant Rose she would hold in her hands during the telling of the story. It was sweet and fragrant, and the stem of it was thorn-less. Maria knew that only she and Mother could smell the matchless scent of the Christmas Rose.