Pedagogical Project “The Joy of Reading
It was late on Christmas Eve. Rachel lay in bed, wide awake, wondering why the time went by so slowly when you very much wanted it to go quickly. She had tried all the tricks she could think of for getting to sleep: counting sheep, saying her numbers backwards starting from 100, going through her favourite nursery-rhymes, but nothing seemed to work. The landing light made a golden triangle on Rachel’s carpet and the ornaments on her chest-of-drawers all had shadows stretching out behind them.
‘I wish,’ Rachel said aloud, ‘that there was someone to talk to.’
‘There is,’ said a voice. ‘You can talk to us.’
‘Who’s that?’ Rachel sat up in her bed and looked all round the room.
‘It’s me,’ said a small wooden camel. ‘Your camel, up on the chest-of-drawers.’
‘I didn’t know you could speak,’ Rachel said. ‘Are you quite sure I’m not dreaming?’
‘All animals, even ones made of wood and clay and metal, can speak on Christmas Eve,’ said the camel. ‘It’s the magic in the air. And, of course, the lion lies down with the lamb, and the wolf with the young kid. There are no hunters and hunted on Christmas Eve. All the animals are friends, just for this one night.’
‘Even cats and mice?’
‘And foxes and chickens?’ Rachel asked.
‘Even them,’ the camel said.
‘How wonderful,’ said Rachel. ‘What shall we talk about?’
‘I was going to tell all my friends about my great adventure,’ said the camel.
‘Yes, please do,’ said a tiny copper elephant. ‘We’ve all been wondering where you disappeared to. You were gone for a whole week.’
‘Yes,’ said a rooster painted all over with red flowers, ‘one day you were up here with all of us, and the next, you were nowhere to be seen.’
‘Rachel picked you up’ said a porcelain frog, ‘and ran out of the room. We’ve been longing to ask you all about it.’
‘I know where he went,’ said Rachel. ‘I’ll tell you...’
‘Ssh!’ said a mouse made from a cluster of seashells. ‘Let Camel tell us himself.’
‘I went to Rachel’s school,’ said Camel. ‘All the children in her class were making a Nativity scene to decorate the classroom. Everyone had brought something. One boy brought cotton wool to make clouds out of...’
‘That was Vivek,’ said Rachel. ‘His dad has a clothes out of...’
‘Another little girl had pretty material to make clothes out of... ‘
‘That was Sharon. Her mother does a lot of sewing,’ Rachel told the listening animals. ‘And Patsy brought straw, because she’s got a rabbit.’
‘Marion and Jack brought a lot of plastic farm animals,’ said Camel. ‘And Rachel brought me. At first, some of the children thought I shouldn’t be in the Nativity scene.’
‘But then,’ Rachel interrupted him, ‘Mrs Ellison explained to the class that there were lots of camels in Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and I told everyone that you’d been sent to me by my grandmother who lives in Jerusalem, as a gift. Jerusalem is very near Bethlehem, so you became very important.’
Camel coughed modestly. ‘I had a little notice pinned to the table beside my feet. It said: "This camel comes from the Holy Land. It is carved from the wood of the olive tree. Jesus would have seen many olive trees and many camels during His lifetime." It was a beautiful Nativity scene. Everybody said so.’
‘Yes, they did,’ Rachel agreed. ‘And at the end of term, some of the things we used in the scene were given out as presents. I got one of the extra sheep, made out of a cotton reel with cotton wool stuck over it. Rukshana gave me the star, which was pinned to the roof of the stable. Look!’
Rachel took the star, which was really a brooch belonging to Rukshana’s mother, from its place of honour on her bedside table and held it up for all the animals to see. It glittered in the light and threw small rainbows into the corner of the room.
‘How kind of Rukshana!’ said the copper elephant. ‘What a lovely gift! What are you going to give her?’
Rachel hung her head. ‘I don’t know what to give her. I don’t even know if her family has gifts at Christmas, and anyway, all the shops are closed now.’
‘Gifts given at Christmas time are lovely,’ said the flowered rooster. ‘It doesn’t matter at all whether you always have presents at Christmas or not. I was a Christmas gift myself.’
‘So was I,’ said the copper elephant. ‘I’d only been one of a herd of elephants on the shelf in the Oxfam shop until your father chose me for you. Oh, I was excited! How wonderful to be wrapped in paper with pictures on it, and unwrapped by a real child! Heavenly!’
‘But I can’t give one of you to Rukshana as a present. I’d miss you,’ Rachel said.
‘What about the toy snowstorm?’ asked the porcelain frog. ‘It’s a very pretty ornament. I’m sure anyone would want to have it. You think it’s beautiful, don’t you?’
Rachel loved the snowstorm. It stood right at the back of the chest-of-drawers, up near the wall and half-hidden by a china pig. Rukshana, whenever she came to play, used to look and look at the way the snowflakes whirled around the little castle, and drifted over the tiny princess who stood in front of it in a long blue and silver dress. Rachel knew she would miss it, but thought of how happy Rukshana would be when she saw it, and that made her feel better.
‘You’re brilliant, Frog!’ she cried. ‘I’ll wrap it up tomorrow and take it to Rukshana’s house. I’ll just lie down for a moment, now...’
Rachel closed her eyes, and heard, before she feII into a deep sleep, the small voices of her ornament rising and falling and fading away.
The next afternoon, Rachel took the snowstorm to Rukshana’s house. It was wrapped in shiny red paper.
‘I’ve brought you a Christmas present,’ she said to Rukshana.
‘Thank you,’ said Rukshana, ‘but I don’t really have Christmas presents. We don’t really have a proper Christmas.’
‘But you gave me your mother’s brooch. That was a Christmas gift, wasn’t it?’
‘No,’ said Rukshana. ‘That was just a gift given at Christmas time.’
‘So is this,’ said Rachel. ‘I want you to have it.’
‘Thank you, then,’ said Rukshana. ‘What is it?’
‘Open it and see.’
Rukshana opened the parcel and shook the snowstorm until the flakes filled the air around the castle, and the little princess had almost vanished.
‘It’s your beautiful ornament!’ said Rukshana. ‘You know I love it. Thank you so much. And look, she pointed over Rachel’s head at the iron grey sky. ‘It’s just beginning to snow here. Isn’t that lovely? Maybe it’s a magic gift. If we stay on the doorstep, we’ll look just like the princess.’
‘But we’ll get cold,’ said Rachel. ‘I’d rather be a princess indoors.’
‘Come and play inside, then,’ said Rukshana.
All afternoon, as the snowflakes fell and floated outside, the two girls pretended that they were wearing blue and silver dresses and living in the little castle in Rukshana’s toy snowstorm.
Dennis Pepper (org.)
The Oxford Christmas storybook
Oxford, O. U. P., 1993