A Lump of Coal

December 6 is celebrated in many countries as Saint Nicholas Day. In our home, this was the day our version of Santa Claus (Nikolaus) came to visit our house to leave something in the stockings my brother and sisters and I had hung up. If we’d been good, there might be a few treats in the stocking. If we’d been bad, there might be a lump of coal or some twigs tied together as a switch (but of course we never saw those in our stockings in all the years we were at home).

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas

We lived in northern BC where it was usually extremely cold in December but we never worried about how Nikolaus would fare out there in the cold. He must be used to it. After all, didn’t he live at the North Pole?

christmas-stockings

My mother told us we were not to watch our stockings constantly. Nikolaus was shy and wanted to leave the gifts secretly. He didn’t want to be seen. But not to spoil all our fun, she also told us that we would know when he came to our house because we would hear him jingling his bells. So we sat quietly, keeping our eyes averted from the living room where the stockings were hung, and listened for the jingle of Nikolaus’s bells. We passed the time playing with Jackie, our budgie, letting him sit on our shoulders and fingers.

Jackie, our budgie

Jackie, our budgie

But my mind was on the upcoming event. Being a bit older than my siblings, I wasn’t convinced of the fairy tale anymore, and made grumbling comments of doubt. Somebody had to be making those bells jingle each year. It had to be one of the adults in the house; an older brother, a cousin, or my parents. As the time came closer when Nikolaus would appear—usually conveniently after supper—I watched the adults carefully to see who might be slipping outside to run around the house jingling bells.

No one was missing, as far as I could tell, when we heard the jingling of bells and knew that Nikolaus had arrived. I rushed to the nearest window. Not wanting to let in the cold air, I opened it just far enough to stick my head out to look for the bell ringer. No one was in sight. I tried a window on the other side of the house. No one in sight.

back yard

I heard a shriek. My little sisters were crying. Jackie, our precious blue budgie, had flown out the window I had left open. Out into the bitter cold winter. My mother and I put on our boots and went out to look for him, but it was hopeless. The wind swirled the snow around and it was bitter cold. My only consolation was that Jackie could not have lasted long.

I suffered from guilt for days afterwards, imagining Jackie flying into the blizzard and being dashed into a snowbank by the howling north wind. I didn’t enjoy the goodies in my stocking that year. I felt I really only deserved a lump of coal.

32 thoughts on “A Lump of Coal

  1. We have had a few mishaps with birds.One time we were moving and the bird cage was not secure and the top came off and my daughter’s bird flew away.
    Another time a cat ate our little finches… sad moments..

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  2. Too bad it is a true story. In a fiction, I could imagine the whole crowd chasing the bird, some end up frozen, the bell-ringer is an escaped murderer,well, I read a different kind of stories I guess….

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  3. I’m shattered! It was you who left the window open! AHA! I vaguely remember that we were all in the living room and that it was some kind of special event, but until now I wasn’t sure what the occasion might have been. As far as the bell ringer goes, I remember Hanna admitting to the crime. Very sneaky of her, don’t you think?

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    • Ohhhhh! I didn’t even think of her. I was looking more at the men being brave enough to go out in the cold (or our mother, of course). Yes, very sneaky of her! Haha. So we’ve each solved a mystery for the other.

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  4. It was a tough way to learn what happens when you’re irresponsible. Part of climbing that hill you were talking about the other day. I was much more careful about taking responsibility after losing our budgie. I’ve packed that around for a lot of years. Some things are hard to forget. Thanks for your kind comment, Kristin.

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  5. A sad tale indeed. I have strong convictions about telling the Santa lie to my children. This story is another example of the casualties of the misleading story at Christmas. In my house we celebrate the Birth of Christ. Thank you for sharing your story. Blessings to you!

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  6. I agree with you about the Santa fairy tale. I think originally he was supposed to be a real person going about doing good, giving to the poor, but it has evolved into this myth. But for the record, we also celebrated the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve. The gifts under the tree at that time represent the gifts to Jesus and the tree is “visited” not by Santa, but the Kristkind (Christ Child). Now that I’m an adult, I’m afraid I don’t buy into any of it, but I respect those who do and allow them to have beliefs that are different from mine. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting.

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  7. Oh, Anneli! You poor thing. My heart goes out to your younger self. 🙂 We too celebrate Sankt Nikolaus in our house and I was telling the kids just this morning that there might only be a lump of coal if the didn’t stop arguing over who got to leave the house first. My favorite St Nick’s memory? Well, there are two. One is the day it snowed heavily (a little unusual for my home town in Germany) and we got a day off school, so my Mum took me sledging. Yay! And the other one was at a time when I had almost given up believing. That night, a book appeared in my stocking with a dedication written by an unfamiliar hand purporting to be St Nicks. Nobody in my family owned up to leaving it, and I would have known their handwriting anyway (I must have been eight or nine). To this day, I don’t know who brought the present but I have some firm ideas… Great post, thank you Anneli! XX

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  8. Thanks for your lovely St. Nicholas stories, Nicky…haha, St. Nicky. I enjoyed reading those. Dec.6 is not a much celebrated day here in North America, but my parents brought the old traditions with them when we came to Canada when I was six years old. I like your special book story. I didn’t know Santa did book signings!

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  9. Love the new look of the blog.

    Poor old Jackie 😦 I brought the school’s pet gerbil home one weekend and when we let it run around in the conservatory, my little sister accidently stepped back, right onto it. We had to buy a replacement. You can imagine the tears at the time and probably the mileage I still get out of this story to this day!

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  10. Okay, Sue! You’ve trumped my story, hands down! I don’t feel so bad about Jackie. OMG what a story. Thanks for sharing. It’s not funny, so why am I laughing. I’m not usually that mean…. It really is very sad.

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  11. I was totally blindsided by that one! But I like the image of your house full of people, together and warm and anticipating simple seasonal magic. Even poor Jackie had a moment of sublime freedom and self congratulations. Not a bad way to go.

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  12. Great photos. I love the last one. The landscape seems to be so wintry! By the way, Father Christmas lives in Finland in the Northern part of it which is called Lapland. Thousands children all over the world write to him and they tell what they want for Christmas. 🙂

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