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Monday, May 27, 2024

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Monday, May 27, 2024

Emma’s Christmas Tree

Christmas is a time everyone looks forward to, a festive season laden with carol singing and merrymaking and bringing with it glad tidings of great joy. But setting aside the festivities, it is also a time to share our abundance with the poor and underprivileged. In this moving story, Ravindra Bhalerao tells about an old lady living in poverty, abandoned and ignored by others, and how she finds her joy at Christmas time.

By Ravindra Bhalerao

The lights danced playfully as Emma added the last finishing touches to her Christmas tree. This time it was going to be a genuine tree, she had decided, quite unlike the make-believe stuff to be found in the stores. She had spent the afternoon in the nearby woods looking for a bough that would look just right. And when she returned a quarter of an hour later, she triumphantly held in her hand a pine branch with shoots that looked every way as though it were a tree in miniature.

Back in the home, the old lady carefully set up her tree in a large-sized flowerpot topped with sand. Now she could go on and add the decorations she had bought. There were tiny glittering globes and stars, a baby Santa Claus, coloured candles in decorative shapes, and a huge star which was really a specially shaped oil lantern that would glow in the dark when lit up.

Evening came, and Emma began to light the candles, her fingers trembling with every move. She had set up her tree close to a large window so that people who passed by would take notice. Finally, with the star-shaped lantern at the top lit up, Emma stepped back to survey the tree, looking pleased. It wasn’t the best Christmas tree in town, but it sure looked great, the candles burning amidst the branches of pine creating a spectacular show of light and shade.

Emma glanced out of the window of her home. Smoke could be seen curling from the chimneys of nearby homes. Voices came floating across the still air—men yelling, boys laughing as they carried about firewood, women murmuring. These bright folks were preparing for the night ahead. Emma wondered if any of them had noticed her decorated tree, if anyone would care to call on her. They were nice folks who would smile pleasantly when you met them on the street; only they didn’t seem to give much thought to an old widow living all by herself in a poorly home. But you can’t really blame them, Emma thought. That’s the way people are, and maybe she wasn’t of much use to them anyway…

The evening slipped by till the hands of the clock showed that it was close to nine o’clock. There was nothing much left to do now. In a little while, she would have dinner, read maybe for an hour and then retire to bed.

She had begun to lay out the plates when the soft strains of ‘Joy to the World’ came floating in through the night air. They were singing carols out there, a merry band of singers going from home to home, bringing tidings of great joy.

Emma paused to gaze at her Christmas tree. The candles had burned halfway through, wax running down the sides in large ponderous globes. She took a seat by her window and was lost in reflection for a while. Who said Christmas wasn’t for her? Christmas was here as much as it was everywhere around. Her tree by the window was there to proclaim this to all the world.

A gentle knock on the door startled the woman. Emma flung open the door to find a group of urchins from a neighbouring area, about eight in number, assembled in her yard. Their eyes shone in the faint light, and they had grubby faces and wore tattered clothes.

A little girl stepped forward and spoke in a silvery voice: “We’ve come to see your Christmas tree. It looks kind of great with the shiny star up there!”

“We’ll sing carols for you, if you please,” pleaded a boy who stood at the back.

Emma stood still for a moment, staring at the kids in amazement. “Come in!” she said, delighted. “Do come in. I’ve been waiting for you all along!”

She led the children joyfully into her sitting room where they stood gazing at the glittering lights in wonder. Emma brought in a plate laden with doughnuts. She sat on a chair and drew the children around her. They immediately began to chatter excitedly, asking her all kinds of questions.

The little girl who had spoken earlier snuggled up close and threw her arms around the lady. “Who gave you this Christmas tree?” she wanted to know. “Did Santa come with a sack of presents?”

Even as the soft strains of ‘Hark the Herald…’ came floating in, a burst of fireworks shot up in the air with a whoosh and spread across the night sky breaking into myriads of colored twinkling specs. The children rushed to the window to watch the star-spangled display of light. Then came another whoosh, followed by still another, and then a loud crack-bang! How the night sky glittered with twinkling lights!

Emma could feel her heart throbbing with joy. If others chose to keep aloof, let them do as they please. None of them would ever guess her little secret on this blessed Christmas Eve.

“Ummm.. will Santa get us presents?” the little girl spoke again, drawing close, poking her finger gently against Emma’s wrinkled cheek.

“Santa? Ah, yes… Santa was here last night, dear,” Emma spoke in a whisper. “..And he’s brought this tree specially for you!”

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