Living Arts Weekly SPECIAL EDITION: Sharifa’s Early Winter Stories

December 24, 2018

This month we have enjoyed three early winter stories from Sharia Oppenheimer.  In today’s special blog post, we have included all three stories for you, PLUS the final story in the series, Sharifa’s Christmas Story.

 


Sharifa writes:  Just before Christmas, I like to tell these winter stories.  They are stories of transformation, which image for the young child the forces of growth, in the natural world as well as within the kingdom of humanity.  I tell each story for one week, with the Christmas story as the last one.

There are many winter stories from various traditions and cultures, especially within our temperate climate, which use the images of light being born out of darkness. I have chosen to focus on this particular tradition because it is familiar culturally. For me the telling of these stories is a way to wrest the deep spiritual significance of the cyclic transformation of light (and its corollary importance in the human soul) from the societal marketers and money magicians. These stories image the transformation of consciousness, beginning with the story of the mineral kingdom in the crystalline formation of the snowflakes, moving through the plant kingdom with the story of a little fig tree, and on to the animal kingdom in a story of the birds and the animals’ speech.  The final one is the transformation of our humanity, the story of the “child of light,” the Christmas story itself.  In each story, we see the central figure take a step in evolution; we see something brand-new appear.  I have been told these stories come from an ancient medieval tradition.  They are stories to delight and inspire!

 

The First Winter Rose (first of a series)

Once upon a time, in the deep cold of winter, an old man and a young woman began a long journey.  They packed their few belongings onto the back of a little gray donkey, and so they went along, up one hill and down the other.  As they traveled, the winter wind began to blow.  The young woman pulled her cloak more closely around her shoulders.  She shivered. The day wore on and her footsteps became slow.  Finally, as they stopped to rest, the old man said to her, “here, my dear, let me carry our bags, so the donkey can carry you.”  Wearily, she climbed onto the donkey’s back.

At last, as the sun moved toward the horizon, they saw the first lights of the evening twinkling in the town below.

“Soon we will be warm, and well fed”, said the old man, “I know of an inn just at the edge of town.”

“Thank goodness”, said the young woman, “for it has just begun to snow.”

Snowflakes fell, like silent diamonds, as they hurried toward the lights.  But when they arrived at the inn, they found all the rooms had been taken.  There was no place for them to sleep.

“Never mind”, said the old man, “do not worry.  There are other inns further ahead.”  But at each inn they found the same thing: all the rooms were taken, and they had no place to sleep.  At length, they came to the last inn.  “Surely here, there will be a place for us”, the young woman whispered, “what will we do, if not?”  A tear glistened on her cheek.

Alas, this inn also, was full.  Just as the inn-keeper began to turn them away, he saw the look in her eye, and found himself telling these weary travelers they might stay overnight in his stable, out behind the inn.  “My animals will keep you warm, and the stable boy will bring extra hay, that you may have a fresh bed.”  Gratefully, they followed, as he led them around the corner toward the back of the inn.

Inside the stable, the hay was golden and fragrant upon the earthen floor.  The curious animals came close, their breath warm and sweet.  The old man arranged her cloak upon the hay and the young woman lay down.

Then, something wonderful happened! A baby was born to them that night.  The man, the woman and all the gentle animals, gazed into his shining, brand new face.  Soon, though, the baby grew cold, and although they wrapped him close and snug, he began to cry.  The old man gathered a bit of hay, and a few twigs and sticks.  He began to build a small fire to warm them all, for the cold had grown bitter.  When the tiny fire burned bright, he put on his cloak, that he might go outside to gather some bigger branches.

Outside, he found the snow had fallen deep. Everything lay under a thick white blanket.  He had to walk far, up to the top of a hill, to find a great old fir tree.  There, under the fir, sheltered by its limbs, still green in the middle of the winter, he found dry sticks and large boughs, which he gathered in his arms.  Slowly he made his way back toward the stable.

Once inside, he quickly built the fire up again, placing the wood this way and that, till the flames danced merrily before them.  The baby quieted down, no longer crying, now that he was warm.  When he opened up his little eyes, he saw, on the old man’s beard, a tiny snow drift glittering in the firelight.

Seeing the twinkling snow, the baby just laughed out loud for pure joy.  When the snowflakes heard the baby’s laughter, they became so happy that their sparkling little hearts burst into bloom!  And there stood the old man, in the middle of winter, his beard full of tiny white roses!

Everyone was very happy, indeed.


 

The Fig Tree (second of a series)

Once upon a time, there was a little fig tree.  She grew happily on a hill, close beside a stable.  She loved her hillside, and all the busy goings-on at the stable close by.  In the spring, she watched as the shepherd maiden brought the new lambs and their mothers out into the green meadow, to eat the soft spring grasses.  In summertime, she saw the shepherd maiden bring the flock up higher on the hill, to catch the cool breezes.  At autumn’s harvest, she breathed the fragrant perfume of fresh-mown hay, as bales were stacked into the stable for the coming cold.  In winter, she thrilled to the silent snow, shimmering under the light of the moon.

She knew everything there was to know about life on her hillside.  And so, you can imagine how very surprised she was one frosty winter night.  The shepherd maiden had brought fresh hay, the animals had been fed, and the stable door was locked that the animals be snug for the night.  All was as it should be.  Until, surprisingly, the innkeeper led an old man, a young woman and a little gray donkey out to the stable.  “What on earth is this?”  she wondered to herself.

The innkeeper returned to the house, but the other people stayed inside the stable.  Humans did not sleep in the stable for the night, except perhaps an occasional shepherd on a warm summer’s eve.  Surely these people couldn’t mean to sleep here!  Humans had such thin skin, not properly thick and rough, like her excellent bark, or even sensibly furred, like her friends, the animals.  How would they survive the cold?   She wondered these things as she watched from her place close by.

Suddenly a brilliant light was kindled, right there inside her stable!  This light began to pour out through all the cracks between the boards, reflecting off the glistening snow.  What was happening in there?  She became ever and ever more curious.  Soon the stable door opened, as the old man wrapped tight against the cold, began searching on the ground for something.  He made his way up the hillside, stopping finally to bend down again and again below a giant old fir tree.  When he returned, the little fig tree saw his arms full of pine boughs.  She knew he was bringing the wood back to the stable.  She determined that this time when he opened the door, she would stretch out her neck and peek inside.  She wanted to see what this was all about, and where that dazzling light came from!  But when he opened the door, stretch as hard as she might, she could not quite see inside.  Now what would she do?  She became more curious than ever.  She just had to find out!

In the distance, she heard the tiny sound of flute music wafting over the frozen fields.  Soon, she heard the happy voices of the neighboring shepherds, singing their rowdy evening songs.  When she knew they, also, were coming toward the stable, she was thrilled!  When they opened the door, all she needed to do was stretch a little farther, to see all of this wonderment in the night.  She swayed a little in the breeze, waiting in anticipation.  Finally, they arrived all breathless, and scrambling along.  When the door opened, she stretched her farthest, and even a little more….but still she could see nothing.

Then she did something that no other of all the green-growing-things in the world had ever done!  She let go of all the stones and crystals, which she had held so tightly with her root-y little toes.  She pulled one brown and bark-y foot up above the earth, and then she pulled up the other.  Then step by step, roots and all, she walked to the stable door.

And can you imagine what she saw?  She saw that all the glowing light came from the shining face of a tiny new baby.  There, in the manger, lay a fresh sweet baby!  She was so happy to see this child of light, that she gave him his first birthday present.  She bowed low before him, and offered him all of her round ripe figs.  Every one smiled at the baby, at the delicious present, and especially at the little fig tree.  It was a very happy night indeed.


Robin’s First Christmas (Third of a series)

As you remember, once, a very long time ago, an old man and a young woman took a long icy winter’s journey.  Because there was no room at the inn, they slept at night in a humble stable, with the animals’ sweet breath warming them, and golden hay for a bed.  A baby was born to them that night.  Although the old man made a small fire to warm the baby, still the infant was cold.  At the baby’s cry, the old man put on his cloak.  He went out into the snowy night to gather more wood, that the fire might burn warmer, to comfort the baby’s tears.

So, the young woman was left alone.  She needed to rock her baby and keep him wrapped snug, but also to tend the tiny fire of straw and sticks, keeping it alive till the old man returned.  This was not easy for the young woman.  She was quite cold herself.  Every time she stood up to gather a few more sticks, the baby’s wrappings loosened, and he cried more pitiably.  Each time she sat holding and rocking her baby, the little flames burned low, threatening to go out altogether.  Back and forth she went, working between the fire and her very cold little baby.  She tried not to cry, herself, knowing it would upset him even more to hear her tears.  Yet her eyes glistened in the firelight.

Now, this stable was made in such a fashion that up above, in the roof rafters, there were snug places, out of the wind and weather.  Here a flock of little brown birds nestled through the winter.  The birds had been watching, with their bright and curious eyes, all the surprising events of the evening.  They saw the young woman’s plight, and chatted, in their chirping voices, together.

“That poor baby is so cold.”

“Do you know, humans don’t even get to have feathers when they are babies!”

“Why, in the great blue sky, not?  It would help everything so much, don’t you agree?”

Many little feathered heads bobbed up and down.

“Well, feathers would certainly help keep him warm, but he hasn’t got any.  So, maybe we can help in another way.”

There was a flurry of wings, and tiny birdcalls.  Suddenly the young woman saw a wee brown wing swoop low over the fire.  She saw one piece of straw drop from an orange beak onto the smoldering fire beside her.  The flames licked up the hay, hungry for more.  Straw by straw, the flock of birds gathered and fed the flames.  The fire burned more steadily, now, and the baby grew calmer.

One bird, in particular, loved the baby’s dear smile, and wanted to stay close beside him.  So, this special little brown bird made it his duty to stand near the fire.   He flapped his feathered wings to fan the fire until the old man might return.  He was happy to just be near this tiny new human being.

At last, the door opened with a whoosh of snow and cold.  The old man threw down a great bundle of pine boughs, and got to work quickly.  When at last the fire was cheery and the baby slept soundly, the young woman saw that one small bird was still standing on the stable floor, close beside her and her son.  She looked carefully at him, and then she saw something that touched her heart.  He had stood close to the fire, fanning the flames for so long, that his little round tummy had been burned!  Now, his tummy was red!  She reached out her hand and touched him, and then all the hurt went away.

“Because you love my baby so much and stood so close to the fire, from now on you and all your children, and all your ever-ever-so-great grandchildren will have red breasts.  And you will be the bird best-loved by children all over the world.”  So, the very first robin red-breast twittered happily and merrily flew  to his family in the rafters above.

And everyone was happy indeed.


Christmas Story

Once upon a time, on a cold and snowy winter day, an old man and  young woman started out on a long winter journey.  Their little sweet donkey carried their bags upon her back and so, they trudged up and down one snowy hill after another.  After they had gone a long way, the young woman said “Oh, my I am so tired, I don’t think I can go any further!”  But the old man replied “Never mind, my dear, I will carry our bags and the donkey can carry you.

Mother and Father walk uphill and down

Uphill and down, to the little town.

Mother on donkey all shaggy and brown

Father beside her with staff smooth and round.

Uphill and down, uphill and down

To the little town.

 

Finally, as the sun began to set, they saw in the distance the twinkling lights of the town.  Soon, they came to a small inn on the outskirts of town.  The old man said, “Here we are, my dear, I am sure we will find a bed so we can rest and sleep.”  He went to the door of the inn and knocked, asking for a place to sleep.

Knock, knock, knock at the door

“Is there room here to sleep,

On the bed, on the floor?”

But the innkeeper said

“No, no. No room at the inn

I have no room to let you in.”

So they went on their way through the snowy dusk, looking for a place to sleep.  At each inn they said,

Knock, knock, knock at the door

“Is there room here to sleep,

On the bed, on the floor?”

But each innkeeper always said,

“No, no.  No room at the inn

I have no room to let you in.”

Finally they came to the last inn at the edge of town, and again they asked,

Knock, knock, knock at the door

“Is there room here to sleep,

On the bed, on the floor?”

Again this innkeeper said,

“No, no. No room at the inn

I have no room to let you in.”

But now the innkeeper looked at the young woman’s face and saw how very tired she was.  And so he said,

“But, my animals live close-by in a stable

It has no bed, no chair, no table

Upon the floor is straw and hay

There I’ll gladly let you stay.”

They  were so happy to have a roof over their heads, they went right into the stable.  The old man made a soft bed of sweet-smelling hay for the young woman.  Although the friendly animals came close to her, their warm bodies and breath were not quite warm enough.

So, the old man began a fire to build

For the air was cold and chilled

And to them this wintry night

Soon, very soon would come

 The Child of Light.

On the hillside close by, shepherds were tending their sheep, preparing them to go to sleep.  When the sheep were cared for, the shepherds lay down and slept as well.

Stars shone bright and brighter still

Shepherds slept upon the hill

But to them this wintry night

Came an angel dressed in white

The angel sang:

 “Shepherds, wake this holy night

 Shepherds, seek the Child of Light.”

Shepherds shake their drowsy sleep

from this night filled with dreams so deep.

To them, again, this wintry night

sang the angel dressed in white:

“Shepherds wake this holy night

Shepherds seek the Child of Light.”

 

Finally the shepherds woke up!  The first one said,

“Child of Light, this holy night?

A bottle of milk I’ll take”

The second one said,

“I’ll take some flour, to bake a cake.”

The third one said,

“I’ll take soft wool, for a pillow to make.”

So, they set off singing through the snowy hills.

 

“We have heard the angels bright

Singing in this holy night

Now we go to seek the Child

Little baby meek and mild.”

 

Away they went, singing and dancing up hill and down, uphill and down.  Finally they saw a bright golden star shining in the cold night, and below it was a  humble stable.  They could see a rosy golden light pouring out from between the cracks in the stable walls, so the snow glittered in crystals.  They went and knocked upon the door.

           “Open up the door we pray

Shepherds we are from far away!”

 

When they went inside they saw that all of the golden light was shining from a new little baby that had just been born!  They brought their birthday gifts:

 

            The first one said, “I beg you this milk to take.”

The second one said, “I brought some flour to bake your cake.”

The third one said, “I brought soft wool, for a pillow to make.”

 

The old man and the young woman, the warm and friendly animals and even the stars were so happy to welcome the shepherds!  The all sat by the fire and smiled and smiled at the new little baby, who had come from so far above, down to the earth below.

A child is born, and by this birth, a rosy glow spreads over the earth.

(Sharifa’s note: “This is an adaptation of a circle-game offered by Janet Kellman many, many years ago.  Janet’s words are indented in verse.  My story-line ties them together. Many thanks Janet for inspiring decades of children’s Christmas dreams!”)


Sharifa Oppenheimer is the author of Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children and What is a Waldorf Kindergarten.  She taught young children for 35 years and now loves teaching adults through the LifeWays trainings. She also travels offering lectures which explore the ways in which the latest findings in brain research support Steiner principles. Sharifa lives with her husband in an enchanted forest in Virginia, and is the mother of three grown sons, who were raised within the Waldorf tradition.

2 Comments for “Living Arts Weekly SPECIAL EDITION: Sharifa’s Early Winter Stories”

robin

says:

Thank you so much for sharing this story. I enjoyed reading and rereading each part through the different weeks of Advent. I felt my imagination more awake and playful during this year’s holidays, in part due to these stories.
With gratitude,
robin