* after a word means you can find an explanation under the fable
THE PACK DONKEY PLODDED THROUGH THE FOREST. He never was one of the swiftest but right now, he seemed slower than ever. Each year, when the dark days of winter were coming, the pack donkey disguised himself. He wore a red suit, trimmed with white fur, a buckled black belt and he even put a matching hat on his head. To be really unrecognizable, he also attached a long white beard. The young animals were always eagerly awaiting his arrival, because always he was heavily loaded with packages for all tastes. But the story also told, that he took naughty animals away with him to a far and barren place. So they were at the same time happy, but also a bit scared. *
“What do you want from the gift bringer this year?” the little lamb asked the piglet.
“Marzipan of course”, said the piglet, and sang a jolly song for the gift bringer to get in his good book. Some animals sighed deeply when the gift bringer had been spotted again. Unlike the young animals, they knew it was up to them to provide the pack donkey with all the packages. Others just liked it and wrapped the packages as complicated or as beautiful as they could. And there were those who wrote a song to it, that first had to be sung before the package could be opened. Like this, ‘package eve’ was always a feast full of excitement and fun.
“Actually”, said the giraffe, “I don’t think it right at all, that the young animals are fooled this way”.
“Nonsense”, said the eel, who very much liked to fool people, “it’s actually a good joke, isn’t it?”
The sheep looked around a bit, like only he could. He had never given this a thought before. The firefly pledged glowingly in favour of the magic of the feast and thought that the giraffe shouldn’t spoil that with his rational argumentations.
“You deprive the feast of it’s fun”, was the opinion of the firefly.
“But no!” said the giraffe, “the fun can still be there. You just have to tell that we all play pretend”.
“A reality-show for and by the whole forest”, shouted the bird of paradise enthusiastic, “a package-party, sweet cake for everybody”.
“Exactly”, said the giraffe, pleased with the approval, “we tell how much fun it is to pretend that the gift bringer is real and not the pack donkey in a suit with a hat and a beard. By pretending that he brings the packages, we keep it a secret what we have wrapped for each other. And we tell each other the truth in the song that we write to the packages. We then pretend it’s the gift bringer that made it up”.
“Wonderful”, said the owl jubilantly, “I often racked my brain over the dilemma of the fooling of our youth and at the same time, the fun of this feast. But this is the way to go!”
“Indeed”, said the giraffe, “yes, to the fun, no to the fooling”.
In The Netherlands, we have the tradition to celebrate Saint Nicolas on 5 december. He is a bishop that comes from Spain by boat, and then gives presents to the children that have behaved well. In the old days, it was said that he took the naughty children away with him in the empty gift bag.
The younger children are lead to believe that Saint Nicolas is real. When you get older, the feast is celebrated by wrapping gifts with a little artwork or very messy. We call that ‘a surprise’ and one can really be very creative. It is also tradition to write a little poem to the gift. There are even helpdesks these days if you have problems with putting a rhyme together.
In my youth, Saint Nicolas was a gift feast and Christmas was about the birth of Christ. We didn’t pay much attention to Santa Claus. Over the years, when religion vanished a bit, Santa became more and more popular and more people use Christmas for giving gifts. But we still have Saint Nicolas that brings presents on 5 december, with the surprises and the rhymes.
In the translation from Dutch to English, Marita and I adjusted a bit to ‘Santa Claus’, but also some ‘Saint Nicolas’ remained. Thanks again Marita Sporrong for all your help and inspirations with this translation.
Click the video to hear this blog entry read aloud.
You will remain on this page, so, you can listen to the video and read the words while listening.
I’m caught by the animal stories by the Dutch author Toon Tellegen and when I gave one of his books away, I let that present be accompanied by some own writings in this style. That’s how my own fables came to be, with animals and characters of my own, but inspired by the books of Toon who set the tone. Perhaps a new parallel universe of his animal forest will develop here 🙂
A part of those fables has been published in ‘Mensaberichten’, in those days the club magazine of the society Mensa Nederland.