In celebration of the season, I’m pleased to present our special holiday series,
“Little Pine and Red Leaf and the Festival of Light.”
It begins on December 2 and runs through the end of the year.
May it add to the joy and meaning of your holidays and bring them a special glow.
He fell asleep immediately, drifting easily away. Fragments of his day danced through his dreams. His visit to the Elves’ house, the images of troupes of fairies dancing on the ornamental drums, and the wondrous songs of the golden grasses all wove themselves together. He saw his feet racing across a forest floor dappled with sunlight and striped with the shadows of the great trees. He felt the softness of moss and the crunch of fallen leaves beneath his feet as he ran.
Then the music of the grass choir returned and lifted him gently above the ground. It carried him high into the treetops and upward into a vastness where glittering stars hung in a velvet sky. He floated there for quite some time, borne on the flow of the choir’s soft music.
As he gazed at the stars, a cloud of light drifted toward him, shining with silver and gold. And when it was right before his eyes, the image of a shimmering silver maple leaf appeared and it spoke to him.
“I heard the question in your heart, my child,” it said, “as you ran across the layers of fallen leaves. I heard you ask, ‘Where do they go?’ and I knew that you had forgotten the place where your essence dwells. That happens when your spirit inhabits its earthly form.
“Because your love is so strong for those with whom you danced in the summer winds, I wanted to remind you of your heart’s true home.
“It was your request to have this earth adventure, to experience being an oak leaf. Do you recall? You and all your leaf friends had to practice a long time to be slow and steady enough to hold molecules of matter in your energy patterns. You had to study all the kinds of magic that a leaf performs and to master them. And when you finally passed all the tests, we sent you to curl inside a tight bud, right here, on this tree, in this forest. Remember?”
“Yes! Yes! I do remember, Silver Leaf!” the little oak leaf exclaimed.
“Then you remember, too, that when your tree releases your leaf-form, you float to the ground below. And the instant you touch it, your spirit is released, and your adventure complete, and you wake to find yourself back home, with all your beloved friends.”
“Yes, Silver Leaf,” the little leaf sighed, his heart filled with gladness. “And in the meantime, I get to be here, right now, as the Festival of Light unfolds! This is even better than I ever could have dreamed.”
And as he spoke, the Silver Leaf faded away. And the little one floated through the velvet, star-sparkled sky on the music of grasses until he was fast asleep.
You might think that their mothers were growing anxious. It wasn’t like young boys to be late for a meal, after all.
But worry is unknown in the hearts of the forest creatures. They know that all things happen by design at exactly the right time, and that each of us is perfectly and forever safe in the loving embrace of the Great Yes.
Nevertheless, the mothers were curious. They decided to ask Grandfather where the children were.
Grandfather was the forest’s elder spruce. He stood on a slope at the far end of the pond. From there, he could gaze across the entire expanse of the forest, and he watched its entire goings on with great love and care. He awakened the forest beings at the first sliver of dawn, and whispered good night wishes as the last hint of day faded from the western skies.
The moment that the mothers thought to ask him what had become of their children, he heard their requests in his heart. And they heard his laughter in return. “They’re nearly at your doorsteps,” he told them in his telepathic way, “and they’re famished and full of stories. If I were you, I’d turn down their beds. They have had quite a day.”
The mothers thanked Grandfather. And no sooner had they followed his suggestion and prepared the boys’ beds, than the boys were bursting through their doors.
“Mother! Mother!” Red Leaf shouted, filled with excitement. “I’m sorry that I’m late. But wait until I tell you about my day!”
Mother Oak reminded her son to wash his hands, then she poured him a bowl of soup and sat down to hear all his adventures.
At the far end of the pond, Grandfather smiled and watched the moonrise. The he began to sing his nighttime songs to all who dwelt within the circle of his loving care. And peace descended on the forest, and all its creatures were content.
For a moment, when they first heard the music wafting through the trees, they thought that they must have gotten turned around, that the sound was the whistling of the elves.
But then they realized that this was a different sound altogether, a rich and melodious harmony of tones sung by many voices.
It was so beautiful that they couldn’t resist following it.
The nearer they got, the more thrilling the song became. The high notes seemed to rise to the sky, and the deep ones to penetrate the very earth beneath them.
They felt as if they were floating on it, called by its source. And at last, as they rounded a bend, they saw the golden singers.
“Peace to all!” they sang. “Peace and love and joy! The Light has come! The Light has come! Let our hearts rejoice.”
The forest friends stood listening to the choir until the moon rose in the sky. Then, breaking from the music’s entrancing spell, they turned toward home. And still, even though their feet were on the ground, they felt as if they were floating.
Back on solid ground, after climbing down from the Elves’ house, the two forest friends headed for Holly Trail. As they walked along, they could see that the elf children had been hard at work. Every few skips and jumps they saw another decorated drum, each more beautiful than the last. They seemed to stretch in every direction all across the forest floor.
It was a good thing that Mother Elf had reminded them to listen for her children’s whistling. Otherwise, they never would have found them. Their handiwork was everywhere you looked and gave no clue about what direction they had headed.
But since the songbirds were gone now for the winter, there was no mistaking that the sound they heard up ahead was the whistling of the elves
They bounded down the trail and when they turned the bend, sure enough, there were the elves, putting the final touches on yet another gorgeous drum. They shouted to the elves in glee. “Look! Look! Some lunch from your mother!”
Soon the friends and their elf pals were seated in a circle on the ground, sharing the wintergreen muffins that Mother Elf had sent along. Red Leaf spoke up and asked the elves why they decorated the drums, and who would play them? (This was Red Leaf’s first Festival of Light and he found all of these preparations quite amazing.)
“We decorate them so that when the sun turns to make his southward journey, he will be welcomed by their beauty,” one of the elves said. “And on that day, all the creatures of the forest will rejoice. These drums are for the fairies’ celebrations. They will dance in wondrous troops, dozens to a drum. And all the forest will echo with the sound of their dancing.”
Red Leaf tried to imagine what it would be like to hear ten thousand fairies dancing. But he could not. So much magic would happen on that day! He could hardly wait for it to arrive.
The elves had to get back to work. Countless drums were still waiting for their creative hands. They thanked their friends for the snack and said goodbye.
So the two friends turned toward home. It would be nearly dusk before they got there. The sun was already starting to sink in the northwestern sky. Down Holly Trail they tumbled, the happy sound of whistling in their ears.
The climb to reach the house was tricky, perched as it was atop a pile of fallen, moss-covered logs. But that was half the fun.
They were surprised when they finally got there to discover that the front door was closed and the place was so quiet. Usually peals of elfin laughter rolled from a wide-open door.
But when they knocked, the elves’ mother opened the door and greeted them with a happy smile.
“Come in, boys! I’ve just finished baking wintergreen muffins. I’m sure you would enjoy one after your long climb.”
She poured cups of fragrant tea and set out the berry-studded treats for them to enjoy.
After politely thanking her, they asked, “Where are the elves? We thought they might want to come out and play.”
“Oh, there’s no time for play for them right now!” she laughed. “Elves have a lot of work to do to get ready for the Festival of Light.” Today they were out decorating the drums down by Holly Trail.
“I’ll tell you what,” she said. “I’ll make up a bundle of muffins, and you can deliver it to them for a lunchtime surprise. They’ll be easy to find. You know how they whistle when they work.” She piled the muffins in a bright, woven sack and handed it to the boys.
As they climbed back down the mossy slopes, they could hear her singing. Everything the elves did, it seemed, they did with laughter and joy.
Still, the air was crisp and cold. You never knew, when you greeted a December morning, what the day would hold.
They told their mothers about their dreams, and the mothers smiled. “What a gift!” the oak said to the little leaf. “How beautiful!” the mother pine said.
The children asked why there was no snow. And the mothers said that dreams had a timing of their own. Some of them foretold events that might take a while to unfold in our world.
“But it’s a very pretty morning, nonetheless, don’t you think?” the oak said. “Why don’t you get your friend and see what surprises the woodland might have for you today?”
And before the words had left her mouth, the little pine appeared on their threshold, eyes bright and ready for adventure. Off the two pals ran. And their mothers smiled and wondered what tales they would bring home with them today.
Come, bobwhites! Come, grouse and squirrel! I bring a winter treat for you.
Hear the song of my bright bells, calling you to Light’s feast.
I am bitter toward evil and sweet for truth. I am filled with the juices of healing.
Mine is the song of fidelity and trust, meant to protect you from sorrow.
Come, songbirds! Come, pheasants! Fill your bodies and hearts.
I am the fruit of Light’s love, sent for you, cherished ones, just for you.
The morning sky was milky with clouds and the air was thick with moisture. In the woods, the high branches shivered in the wind, rattling a signal to the woodland’s creatures and birds that a storm was on the way.
But beneath them, the holly stood tall and unshaken, its evergreen branches reaching to the sky. This, after all, was the season of its glory. From ancient times, the humans had sought its bright leaves and crimson berries to decorate their homes for the Festival of the Light. It served to carry the legends of many tribes from one generation to another.
Some of the legends spoke of man’s suffering and pain, and of redemption and forgiveness and renewal. Some told of elves at play. Some told of humble gifts given and graciously received.
The holly was pleased to represent the peoples’ stories and to play a part in their celebrations. But even more, it was glad to stand in the middle of the forest where its green leaves sang of the steadfastness of the Light and of everlasting life.
They drifted for a while into deeper and deeper sleep. And then, when they had left all traces of their everyday world behind them, suddenly a vision appeared.
Emerging from a field of white pine boughs and golden light was the most beautiful being they had ever seen.
Her face was kind and filled with love. And although she didn’t speak, they somehow heard her message .
“Hello, sweet children. I am the Snow Queen, come to tell you about the miracle of Light. Soon the glorious sun will begin his southward journey, and on the day he sets out, your world will rejoice. For the sun is Light’s messenger, and he brings to your world new life and new beginnings.
“I create the winter snows to reflect the light he brings. Every snowflake that falls celebrates its joy and peace.
“And all of this—our light, our hope, our promises and joy—are just part of the song of the Great Yes.
“The day of the Light’s return is a new note in that song. And it will find its way into your hearts and sing there, for we are all its children. And we, sweet ones, are dearly, dearly loved.”
And as the last words of her message floated into their understanding, the beautiful Snow Queen faded away, and the children sank into deep and dreamless sleep, filled with comfort and joy.
“Go play!” the mothers would command in stern voices, as if the children somehow needed to be persuaded.
The children would giggle and dash outside, glad to frolic for the afternoon in the fresh, December air.
“Tag! You’re it!” one would call, and the races would begin.
They played until dusk, being careful to freeze in their tracks if a human ventured past. (It was a primary rule never to ruin the humans’ illusions that you were immobile. It might frighten them very badly to see you racing across the yard.)
When the day’s light faded and they came inside the family’s fold, the grownups were relaxed, their eyes twinkling with secrets. “Did you have a good time?” the fathers would ask.
And the mothers would serve them supper, give them a special kiss, and tuck them in, crooning, “Sweet dreams, little one. Sweet dreams.”
And the children didn’t care whether they understood the grown-ups or not. It was enough that they were so happy.