There are times that are good to read about, and times that are good to live. Often the best times of our lives are not very interesting to read about. The second of the two was the time in my life that was happening now. It was wonderfully pleasant and enjoyable, but will no doubt be rather dull to read about. The great autumn dance had passed and the participants had gone back to their everyday lives, back to their own homes. Old Oak and I lived side by side at the edge of the meadow. In a sense we became friends, though it was admittedly a rather strange friendship. We seldom talked, for we had very little in common. For me there was a wonderful security in knowing that the guardian of the forest and the glade was near at hand. And when we did talk, he could tell me wonderful things about the land, though he mostly talked about the land itself, and not what we would call it's history. He seemed to know very little about events. It was the land itself, the dirt, the rocks and rivers, the trees and the grass that were his concern and his knowledge. He said in part that was because there were very few events to tell about, at least the things that we could call events.

There were few others living in the area, and as with Old Oak, I had little in common with most of them. For one thing, while some of the creatures could come and visit me, it was not possible for me to visit most of them in their homes. Even the cave of Tumaus, the faun, was very small and cramped for me, more suited to the faun, or perhaps a human child than to a grown man. And as the weather turned cold the visits became all the more infrequent. Old Oak grew quite still and silent once his waxy leaves had turned brown and begun to fall. Many days went by that winter when the only thing I would hear from him was the rattle of his remaining dry leaves rustling in the wind.

There were only two significant events that first long winter. The first happened about three months after my arrival. It was evening and in the dark outside the wind howled and complained as it pushed the snow into drifts. I had finished my supper, cleaned up after, and had settled into the rocker the dwarfs had made for me, to enjoy a cup of hot spiced cider in front of the fireplace. Suddenly there was a knock on my door. I was quite startled, for I had heard no one approaching. I was puzzled, since Tumaus, my most frequent visitor, did not venture out on winter nights. I opened the door, a little cautiously at first, thinking that I really ought to make a peephole in it. I knew my visitor immediately, though I had never met him before, and really, in the most profound and explicit sense, was not expecting him. I stood for a moment, staring at him, most likely with mouth open and eyes wide.

He laughed a great and hearty laugh and said, "Well, son of Adam, may I come in and warm myself by your fire?"

I moved aside and bade him come in, offering him my chair by the fire. He said the cider smelled good, and I made some more, a cup for each of us. He carefully placed his large sack by the fireplace and settled into the chair, leaned back with a great sigh, and closed his eyes. I prepared the cider, but could not help looking at him. While I knew who he was, he looked much different than I would have expected. He was larger, I guess, than I would have thought, taller, but not as heavy, not as thick. And his face was both more jolly, and more solemn then I would have imagined him. It will sound strange to one who has not seen him here in Narnia, but he was somehow more real. He roused himself as I brought the cups of steaming cider.

"You know me then, lad?" he said merrily as I handed him the mug.

"Yes, of course I know you. Who would not know Father Christmas," I answered. "But why are you here, in Narnia? Isn't Christmas just for our world?"

"Ah, son of Adam, Christmas is for all worlds, if they will have it."

"Then the Narnians know what Christmas is, what it is about, what it means," I asked.

"Oh, certainly not!" he exclaimed. "They only know it is Christmas, and they know me. That is enough. In all of Narnia only you and I know what Christmas means, and you, son of Adam, do not know it very well either, not well enough. But you will know it better in the future, and understand it more. But now," he said, bounding from his chair, "now is the time for presents."

He opened his great sack and pulled out a great bundle of clothes, all in greens and browns, all in what he assured me was "the true Narnian style." Next was a great, long, hooded cloak, ideal, so he said, for long travels in the wild. It was dark in color. It was neither green nor gray nor blue, yet somehow a hint of all three. He gave me what I took to be a very knowing and somehow significant wink and a nod when he said it, then turned back immediately to his sack. Next he removed a beautiful bow and a quiver of arrows. I didn't even think about it until afterward (the wonder of the moment dazzled me) but the bow was much too long to fit in the sack at all! "Practice well with these," he said, "for you will someday need them, and the skill to use them well."

Last of all he brought from his sack a beautiful knife with a sheath and belt to match. The blade was long and silver, and glistened in the firelight when he removed it from its sheath. The sheath was silver as well, tooled with a tracery of leaves. The belt was of fine leather, also tooled with leaves, but the buckle was of gold, crafted with the head of a great lion. The handle of the knife was also of gold, finely crafted with a lion rampant on either side. It was an extravagant gift, one I felt I really ought to refuse.

"You cannot refuse a gift from Father Christmas," he laughed. "You can only use it, or not. And you must not refuse the Lion, son of Adam, you must not."

I gazed at the knife, turning it over in my hand. Suddenly I realized that he was closing up his bag, which looked no less full for all he had taken from it. He headed for the door. "No, son of Adam," he responded to my entreaty to stay. "I have many stops to make and much work to do yet tonight. Use them well, my son. Practice the bow, keep you knife sharp; you shall need them both in time. But for now, be merry. It is Christmas, after all!"

I followed him out onto the porch and watched as he bounded to a small sleigh, drawn be a single reindeer. Then with a wave and another hearty "Merry Christmas," he was gone.

I awoke the next morning wondering if it had all been a dream, for it seemed rather dreamlike to me. But there, lying next to my bed, were my Christmas presents. "So," I thought, "if it was true, if he was really here, this must be Christmas day." I wondered how Narnians celebrated the day. None of them had ever said a word to me about Christmas. It surely did not produce the same anticipation as the great autumn dance had generated. I pulled the great travel cloak about me and ventured out onto the porch. Perhaps Old Oak could enlighten me. It was no use. Old Oak would not respond at all, sunken deep into his winter dream.

I went back into the cabin, my mind made up. I decided to get dressed in my Christmas best and go see Tumaus in his little cave. It was an incredible feeling to put on those clothes, and strap that beautiful knife about my waist. The great cloak was a perfect fit, and the bow felt comfortable in my hand. I pulled the door open to leave and in tumbled Tumaus: he had been in the very act of knocking when I opened the door. Behind him on the porch stood a large, brown, lop-eared rabbit, holding his stomach and laughing uproariously at the poor prone faun at my feet.

Tumaus recovered his composure quickly, and introduced the hilarious hare as his friend Biscuit. It seemed that Biscuit had come to see Tumaus that morning, bringing a large basket of "Christmas carrots" to share with his friend. Tumaus, suddenly realizing that I might be alone at Christmas, suggested that the two of them come and visit me. Tumaus added a large jug of wild berry wine and some loaves of bread to the festive preparations, and they set out. In this way I learned the tradition of Christmas in Narnia was not to give presents, other than the gift of food and pleasant company. Only Father Christmas gave presents. My own contributions to the meal were three beautiful trout I had caught the day before, and a jar of the bear's best honey. We ate honey on the bread, glazed the carrots with it, and even basted the roasting fish with it. The wine needed no improvement.

Each of us had received a visit from Father Christmas, and they had brought part of their presents with. Biscuit had a beautiful gold medallion on a golden chain around his neck. On one side was a castle by the seashore, on the other the head of a great lion. He had also received a new shovel to use in his carrot garden, but he left that in Tumaus's cave. Tumaus had been given a new flute, with which he serenaded us after we ate, dancing all around the cabin in a rather comical way. He also had a new wine press, which was too large to bring, but which he promised to put to good use and share the results in the future. Both of them thought that my gifts were particularly meaningful, indicative of things in my future, or as they put it, "the adventures that Aslan would send me."

It was a very enjoyable Christmas. In fact, it was the best I could remember. The Christmas's I remembered from the orphanage were not that pleasant, and I had chosen in recent years to devoutly ignore the holiday altogether. But this Christmas, this way of celebrating the holiday, I enjoyed profoundly. My friends stayed as long into the afternoon as they dared, as they wanted to get back to Tumaus's cave before it was completely dark.

I said earlier that there were two significant events that first winter. The other, though I did not then know the meaning or how significant it would be, was that shortly after Christmas I began, from time to time, to notice footprints in the snow in the valley. These were not hoof prints or paw prints, but real footprints, such as would be made by a human, wearing shoes or boots. The first time I found them they were several days old and half drifted in, so I simply assumed them to be my own. It was several weeks later that I found more tracks, in an area I was reasonably sure I had not been. These, too, were rather drifted, and not fresh tracks. Finally, in a fresh early spring snow, I saw fresh tracks, and knew they were not mine. They were too long, and too narrow for my foot to make.

Copyrightę2001, John Nelson



Copyright © 2001 John Nelson, Hermit of Lantern Waste.
Created - March 25, 2001 ~ Revised April 21, 2001