Today I share with you a short story that I wrote 10 years ago. Although it is a magical fantasy Christmas story, the overall theme speaks of two things important to me: my love for all things international and the need to keep your inner child alive. I am passionate about all things international because I feel that if we take the time to learn about each other’s cultures, traditions, and beliefs, our understanding and compassion increase while our fears and uncertainties dissipate. It is important to keep you inner child alive because a child’s traits can be so renewing. A child’s innocence and open heart is more accepting of others. A child is more open to newness and adventure. A child has dreams and believes in the possibilities. A child believes in the magic.
The Magical International Christmas Tree
(By Ariadne Petrucelli 2003)
Have you ever wondered what happens after you turn off your Christmas tree lights and go to bed at night? Well, this is the story of what happened to me after I turned off the Christmas tree lights on my tree and went to bed one Christmas Eve.
I was almost asleep when I suddenly heard a noise. I wondered what it was. Maybe my dogs had gone downstairs but when I turned to look to their beds they were sound asleep. Maybe it was just part of my dream. But then I heard the noise again. I quietly went downstairs to check to see what could be making this noise. I peeked around the corner of the family room and to my great surprise my Christmas tree lights were back on. Surely, I had turned them off before going to bed. As I rubbed my sleepy eyes I looked with amazement at what was happening with my tree. There before me, I could see my ornaments moving all around the tree. Once again, I could hear the familiar noise that had awoken me. By now, I could distinguish many sounds. I could hear voices in different languages, some deep and some high. I could hear music of all kinds and many bells jingling. I could even smell food and candy. It was one big party happening in my tree. And as much as I wanted to join this party I kept quiet for I did not want to startle anything or anyone. I found a comfortable spot and covered myself in my thick burgundy fleece blanket that I had worn downstairs. And from this spot I spent hours watching my Christmas tree from afar. On this night, I experienced a magic that I had never seen or heard before. My tree ornaments had come to life. My tree ornament collection was made up of things that I had either bought as souvenirs or that I had received as gifts. Every ornament had a special meaning. It either represented a special occasion, a special place, or a special person.
I could now hear the song “It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, playing in the background. Mr. and Mrs. Gnome had come all the way from Stockholm, Sweden. Their names were Peter and Annika Gnome. They were dressed in similar grey knit outfits with red and burgundy accents and wore pointy red hats. Tonight they danced to Jingle Bells in Swedish. But my attention turned to Annika who was calling to Peter saying it was time to ride the horses. That’s right, I remembered I had bought two hand carved and painted horses in Sweden too. To my amazement, the horses were standing by Mr. and Mrs. Gnome, looking as regal as a pair of stallions with their beautiful colorful bodies. One was red and the other blue. There was a smell of farm hay in the air. Joining the group of Swedes was my Danish Viking ornament. I had named him Olaf. He was made of wood with plastic horns in his hat, and rabbit fur hair that covered all of his face. He had no visible eyes. Olaf was looking for his Viking ship hoping to get to Copenhagen, Denmark in time for Christmas. Then I heard the sounds of a boat horn. It turned it out to be a wooden boat I had brought from Florence, Italy. The captain on the boat signaled Olaf the Viking to come on board. The boat captain started serenading everyone in Italian.
Suddenly, an explosion of white powder distracted me. After the powder settled I realized it was flour. The Italian cooking utensils were busy making dough. The miniature cooking utensils had come from Italy as well. But wait, at first I thought the utensils were moving by themselves, but I soon discovered the three Hungarian chefs were working the kitchen tools. Were they making Italian pizza or Hungarian goulash? I could smell meat browning. It was being browned in my miniature silver pan. It was part of a set I had bought many years ago in a cooking store. So maybe it was Hungarian goulash after all. The chefs were sprinkling paprika everywhere. It fell off the tree like red shiny sprinkles. I could barely keep up with the flurry of culinary activity. By now, one of the Hungarian chefs was forming Russian tea biscuits and the other chef was making biscotti. Then I heard the sound of a tea kettle whistling. The miniature tea kettle was also part of my silver miniature pan set. The chef called to the regal guard and said, “Her majesty’s tea is ready”. The guard, tall and handsome, showed up at once. His uniform was made of red and black felt with gold buttons. He whisked the tea-tray straight away. Where did he go? I had trouble seeing from so far away. Was there a Queen? Of course, I remembered I had gotten her at Windsor Castle, in England. She was so elegant in her gold dress with her shiny red shawl. She seemed delighted to see the tea and the delicious biscuits. A Beefeater then joined the Queen for tea.
The cowbell from Switzerland began ringing. It joined the many other bells on the tree that were making the most beautiful music. There were the English and Spanish porcelain bells and American crystal bells. There were even jingle bells. And there in a bright spotlight was the Hungarian dancing girl. She had a porcelain hand-painted face and hands. Her dress was colorful and embroidered in traditional Hungarian style. She danced gracefully to the sounds of the bells. Humming to the music was the wooden Santa egg from Hungary. All of sudden I looked to the top part of the tree. Lilly, the ornament doll was moving from her top spot on the tree over to see Luz the other doll. Lilly was the doll my aunt Lilly from Colombia gave me with a box of chocolates when I was eight. My other aunt, Luz, had given me a doll too, which I had named Luz. Whenever I have received something special from someone I turn it into an ornament. I noticed that Lilly must have picked up the porcelain coffee ornament pot on her way to see Luz. Was Lilly pouring Luz a cup of coffee? No it was not coffee, the smell was of hot chocolate or in Spanish, chocolate caliente. A smell from my childhood filled the air. I could smell buñuelos, deep-fried cheese dough balls. Yummy. My stomach grumbled as I continued to enjoy the smells. Within seconds the Colombian bus screeched its brakes right in front of Lilly and Luz. The bus ornament was a replica of what old buses in the countryside used to look like. They were colorful and had windows without glass. I heard the driver call out,“ Rio Negro next”. Rio Negro was a town near my birth city of Medellin, Colombia. I could hear the engine running and smell the fumes of gasoline. The radio on the bus was blaring out Colombian Christmas music. I wanted to stand up and dance. It all seemed so real.
I heard the sound of a train moving and blowing its whistle. I knew it was not my own train set since it was set up with my winter village in another room. But then I remembered the ornament I bought in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. I had taken my two children and parents on an old locomotive train ride. The flat red ornament shaped like an engine was now a beautiful 3-dimensional bright red locomotive machine spewing steam from its engine and chugging away. I could hear the conductor yelling, “All aboard, next stop, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico”. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico by train? Well, why not I thought. Then I heard Mariachi music playing, guitars and horns, and strong loud voices belting away ranchera songs. Oh how I loved Mexican music. The wooden violin ornament I purchased in Salzburg, Austria was accompanying the sounds of the Mexican mariachi band. It was all so festive. The Mexican dolls danced zapateo, the traditional folkloric dance. The girls swung their skirts from side to side as they tapped their shoes. The music was rhythmic and joyous. Even the small Mexican sombrero made of red velvet and gold ribbon was swaying in the air to the music.
The music was so engaging that even Japanese lady could not resist the music and got up from her yoga position. I had bought Japanese lady in Tokyo, Japan on my first business trip there. She was a cute and chubby, made of porcelain, and sat on a shiny red silk cushion. But she was no longer sitting; she was dancing away on her little feet, little feet that I had never seen. The samurai on the paper kite was also swaying to the song. The tiny little Japanese wooden dolls with small bells jingled to the tune.
The music seemed to change gradually to Arabic music. The colorful Moroccan red silk slippers floated in the air and tapped to the rhythm of the music. They sparkled with the lights of the tree. These had been my souvenir from a trip to Morocco years earlier. They were shiny red children’s slippers with pointed tips curved upward. The miniature silver tea set from Dubai was brewing with an exotic tea blend. The smells of frankincense and myrrh filled the air. Accompanying the Arabic music was another familiar sound, the sound of Spanish castanets. I got these authentic hand-painted castanets on one of my trips to Spain. The music transitioned from Arabic to Spanish flamenco. Then I heard a choir of angels singing “Feliz Navidad”. It was my porcelain ornament of angels in the shape of a bell. Even the Amish baby dolls from Lancaster, Pennsylvania joined in the song.
An amazing smell of chocolate filled the air. Three little elves were making chocolate truffles. The set of three elves had been a gift from a friend. The little elves had gotten the chocolate from Brussels, Belgium. The golden ornament of the Brussels Grand Place, (main square), was brightly lit and busy with people eating in its out-door cafes. I could make out the Dame Blanches, hot fudge sundaes, they were having. I had lived in Brussels for many years and felt it was another home away from home. Next to the Brussels miniature ornament was the miniature Eiffel Tower ornament. The music I heard was distinctly French accordion music. People walked below the little Eiffel Tower with their French black berets and striped shirts. The smell of crepes filled the air, crepes dusted with white powdered sugar and others drizzled with chocolate. There was the smell of fresh baguettes too.
Again, the music changed. This time I could hear John Denver. John Denver had been a favorite singer of mine growing up. Last year I had found the cutest ornament with John Denver playing Annie’s Song. What a find! This music transported me to the United States. I then heard a San Francisco trolley honking as it made its way up the tree. This ornament had been a gift from my mother-in-law. The conductor blared out “Next stop, New York City”. New York City? What happened to San Francisco? Then again, everything and anything seemed possible on this magical night. I had an ornament with the Radio City Music Hall Rockets sitting on top of a ball and another ornament with the Rockets dressed as toy soldiers. Well, they all popped off of their ornaments and started doing their famous dance, with the straight rhythmic kicks in the air. Their dancing was synchronized to “Jingle Bell Rock”. And who was that joining them? Wait, she was green, she was holding a torch, and she was none other than Lady Liberty. But what was that other green gummy thing? It was not quite human, oh, it was my miniature Gumby. Gumby had been a cartoon character from my childhood. The party just kept going. The Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream truck arrived from Vermont. This was my souvenir from the famous ice cream maker. The truck driver gave out ice cream to everyone. The skiers arrived in their chair lifts and started skiing down the tree. The little soda pop boy started giving out drinks to everyone. The polar bears and the penguins drank some too. The snowman ornaments added to the wintry scene. The Frosty ornament stood by the mailbox waiting for Christmas cards. His snowman cousins, Greta and Hans were visiting from Cologne, Germany. My husband had bought me the cutest little Christmas pig one time. He joined in the festivities too.
And what were all the Santa Ornaments doing? Well, one Mr. Santa was sitting by the light of the moon checking his list. The other Santa was wishing everyone Merry Christmas in Greek. He had come all the way from Athens, Greece. There was another ornament of a little boy mailing his letter to Santa and another of the Little Drummer boy playing his drum. Both of these ornaments had been gifts from my parents. Then I heard ships and boats in the background. They were leaving the ports of Mystic, Connecticut and Annapolis, Maryland on their way to Florida. The smell of sea salt was in the air. The shell ornament from Florida shimmered in the light. The pretty pastel-colored houses of Bermuda opened their doors to visitors. The palm trees swayed to Bing Crosby’s Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas). I could hear the sound of ocean waves crashing and sea gulls singing their song.
I lost track of time. I was very tired but I could not stop gazing at this magic happening in my tree. Then the clock struck midnight. The golden Angel on top of the tree glowed even brighter. All of the ornaments became very quiet. My ornament of the world globe started rotating and from it I could hear voices in many different languages saying:
Shèngdàn jié kuàilè
It was a reminder to me of what this special occasion was about.
“ Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men”
At this point, the party got wild again, and I could hear some Colombian Christmas music, “Voy Camino a Belen”, I’m on my way to Bethlehem. The disco lights started flashing and the disco ball turning. The music then sounded like European Techno Christmas music. Was there such a thing I wondered? The dancing started and this time it was all of the ornaments dancing with each other. Mr. Swedish gnome with Japanese lady, Lady Liberty with Hungarian chef, German snowman with Mexican lady, Lilly from Colombia with the Pennsylvania train engineer, and Olaf the Viking with Luz, the Colombian doll. The Hungarian dancing girl borrowed the red Moroccan slippers. The Queen from England tried out the Spanish Castanets while her royal guard stomped to the beat. The animals danced too. The bears with the penguins, the sea gulls with the dogs, and the starfish with the pigs. The food table looked delicious. All of the ornaments had brought their special goodies: chocolate from Belgium, crepes from France, goulash from Hungary, pasta from Italy, sausage from Germany, hummus from Morocco, sushi from Japan, and BBQ from the United States. My international collection of Christmas ornaments was a tiny example of the world getting along. They had shared the joy of celebrating Christmas together. My ornaments had shared and enjoyed each other’s customs and traditions.
By now my sleepy eyes could not stay open much longer. The rest of my memories are vague. I awoke in my own bed the next morning. I don’t remember how I got there. I started to think that the night before had been all a dream. It was now Christmas morning, and I could hear my children coming into our room to wake us up. We all hurried downstairs to see what Santa and Niño Jesus (Baby Jesus) had brought. We all sat by the International Christmas Tree and turned on the tree lights. And then I noticed something strange. I quickly looked to my husband and children to see if they had also noticed. But they were too excited with the gifts under the tree. The ornaments were sitting quietly on the tree as always but none of the ornaments were in their original spot. As a matter of fact, the tree looked quite messy and disorganized. I seemed to be the only one to notice this. By now my husband was playing Christmas music and making coffee. I could hear “Silent Night” playing in the background. What had really happened last night, I wondered. My night had been anything but silent. I turned to look at my tree and its beautiful ornaments. I squinted my eyes to see the lights twinkle even more. The song “White Christmas” started playing and I listened to the lyrics, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”. It reminded me of my dream of the night before. And then for a split second, I saw, Lilly the doll, wink at me. I smiled a great big smile and my heart felt warm and cozy. I don’t think it had been a dream at all.
May you never forget the magic of Christmas.