The Christmas Cardinal

Growing up in a large family, one of the more exciting parts of the Christmas season was Pollyanna where we would pick each others names out of a hat and secretly leave little gifts or candy for the person we picked.  With the boys as young as they are, we really can’t do that, so,  at the start of advent, I started placing the little toys from a Playmobile Advent Calendar under the kids Christmas tree at night, not really thinking about how it would unfold.  Through the four weeks there were lots of questions and a story started to write itself.  On Christmas morning, the kids found a modeling clay cardinal in the Christmas tree and the story below.

In the backyard of quiet suburban home within the glare of the Star of Christmas City two boys explore their new home.  They run silly through the grass and their laughter and giggles and screams of joy fill the air as they do what little boys do.

In a quiet corner of the property a bright red cardinal watches the boys carefully from the bow of a tall evergreen tree.  The music of the children’s voices is not lost on his heart.  He lets out a little song himself and the boys stop their play for a moment to look around for the sound, before resuming their play.

He watches as a new play set rises not far from his home and then as the boys themselves rise up into the play set.  He watches the pictures in chalk come and go and is mesmerized by the swings going back and forth.

It seems with each day that passes a new magic moment is born.  He longs to play in the leaves as he observes the boys jumping in themselves.  He lets out a little chirpy laugh when the older boy goes flying off the slide covered in snow.

He is kept warm through the winter watching the boys squeak and squeal in the ever deepening snow.  Through the cold nights he is kept warm by the memory of their laughter.

In springs return, he watches as the children play baseball and soccer and drive a toy car in circles around the house.  He softly chirps trying to give hints as they search for the last of the hidden Easter eggs.

At times, the ever changing backyard is filled with other children who seem to fill the whole neighborhood with their joy.  He roots on the small child as he struggles (but laughs) to keep up with his older brother and their daddy in races around the yard.  He is touched by the little picnics in the play set that their mommy provides.

He so desperately missed them when they disappeared for a week two separate times in the heat of the summer and his heart leaped for joy when they returned.

After a long night hidden deep within the branches of his evergreen tree during a raging hurricane, he cries tears of happiness as the family emerges in the morning, safe and sound themselves.  He quietly followed them around as they went from house to house for Halloween.  He was thankful for their safe return after the weird winter storm that sent them from their home.

Then, one beautiful fall morning, he watched as they carefully decorated their play set, hanging shiny ornaments and sparkling lights and bows of evergreen and bright red bells.  When night came, it became the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.  He was so overwhelmed by it that he sang a cheerful prayer…a prayer asking that he would be given some way to thank these children.  He then fell asleep staring at the pretty lights.

The next morning, he awoke to find a box of small toys and a small silver pail decorated with little bells.  There was also a note and a small green wreath, also decorated with bells.  The note said:

“My dear little red friend, your beautiful song,
Has brought me great joy.
A favor I must ask of you,
On each night will you deliver a toy?

This tiny tinseled wreath has a special magic,
When the Christmas lights start to shine,
Wear it around your neck with love and joy,
And the magic will be yours like mine.

Follow your heart and sing your song;
You will know what to do in the light;
You will have the power of this magical season,
To deliver your gifts each joyful Christmas night.”

The poor cardinal while excited and happy to bring gifts to these children, feared his mission, worrying about what might await him in the house.  He had never been in a house before and he worried he would wake the children and scare them.  He fretted for nights until the last night of November came, the first night of his mission.

Still afraid and dreading what he might find in the dark of the chimney, he put the tiny wreath around his neck as bravely as he could.  But he felt no magic and soon found that he didn’t have the strength to lift the pail with the first toy in it.  He tried and tried for an hour and more before giving up.

He sat in his tree crying until he fell asleep.

The next day, feeling sorry for himself, he sadly watched the boys play with their LEGOs through the back door. It wasn’t long before the smiles on their faces cheered him up.  Their playing made him chirp loudly, and when he did so, the bells on the wreath and pail started to jingle.  He chirped some more and the bells rang more.

With the sun now set and the streets lit up with Christmas lights, he decided to put the wreath around his neck, once more, with only a lingering fear and joy in his heart.  This time, the wreath started to glow and sparkle.  He was suddenly encircled in a cloud of sparkles and light which landed on his wings and crest, causing them to brightly sparkle in red.  This made him sing even louder!

After the house went quiet that night, he easily lifted the pail and spread his glowing wings and flew right up to the chimney with ease.  He then flew down the chimney, his wreath lighting the way.  He was filled with happiness and he flew through the house and finished his mission.

After finishing his delivery, he was so excited; he flew around the whole neighborhood looking at all the lights and Christmas trees.  He then flew up to the star of Bethlehem and landed at the very top.  From there, he could see all of Christmas city.  He would fall asleep there, with peace in his heart.

And so, every night, the cardinal slipped his magical wreath around his neck and took a small toy and put it in the small pail and flew up to the chimney where he waited for the house to become quiet.  Some nights, he had to wait longer than others for the daddy to go to sleep.  He would then fly down into the darkness of the chimney and, as he approached the gate at the inside opening, it would magically open for him. He would then fly up to their room and quietly place the small toy under their tree.

Some nights, they left notes for him and on others he left them a feather or matching magical wreaths to give them clues to who he was.  He could sense their own excitement and joy.  One night, he came down the chimney too fast and was forced to land on one of the charred logs, sending up a cloud of ash.  He accidentally left behind footprints when he hopped out of the fireplace.

Those sweat boys even thanked him and asked him his name.  He had never had a name and wondered what the boys might call him.

He was overjoyed by the pictures they drew in the house and the gingerbread houses they decorated. He couldn’t help but notice how the trains under the tree would be crashed on some nights.  He was happy for the boys that the money jar was nearly empty.  He smiled with a tear in his eye when he saw his feathers taped to their door.

And every night, he flew though the towns and cities of the valley before falling asleep atop the star.

Early on the morning of Christmas Eve, he left his last gift under their tree and lingered through the house.  He said goodbye to the boys and their trains and cars and toys and began to wish a new wish, a wish he dared not pray.  After one last look around, he flew up the chimney and out to his evergreen tree.  He took off his magic wreath one last time and fell asleep in certain sadness.

The next night, he eagerly watched for Santa and his reindeer until finally he arrived.

He was left in complete wonder as he watched through the windows as Santa went about his work, setting out the toys, eating his cookies and setting up the icicles and snowflakes in the hall.  He smiled as Santa made his way to the fireplace and disappeared up the chimney.

Before he had a chance to fly back to his evergreen tree, Santa appeared behind him.  The cardinal turned with a happy chirp as a smiling Santa extended his hand.  The cardinal jumped up and into his hand and Santa gave the small bird a wink.  Suddenly, in a swirl of sparkling dust, his magic wreath was around his neck again and then he started to feel tingling in his toes.  The tingly feeling slowly rose up through the rest of his body, spreading through all his feathers and finally into his beautiful crest.  Suddenly, he realized he was no longer a real bird, but a toy!  In a flash, he was back in the boy’s house with Santa carefully placing him and his pail into the Christmas tree.  His wish had come true.  He would get the chance to watch the boys come out of their room to the magic of Christmas morning.  He could watch them open their presents and play with their toys.  For one day, he was given the gift to watch these boys laugh and play.

And the beautiful cardinal had never been happier.

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