Know any professional storytellers? I know an outstanding one, Karen Chace of New Bedford, MA. Every year, I ask Karen to send me a Christmas story I can share with my readers. You’ll find her 2013 selection intriguing. In fact, this will be a great story to read to your children and grandchildren.
O-Jizo san, The Grateful Statues ~ A Japanese Folktale
Once upon a time an old man and an old woman were living in a country village in Japan. They were very poor and spent every day weaving big hats out of straw. Whenever they finished a number of hats, the old man would take them to the nearest town to sell them.
One day the old man said to the old woman: “New Year’s is the day after tomorrow. How I wish we had some rice-cakes to eat on New Year’s Day! Even one or two little cakes would be enough. Without some rice-cakes we can’t even celebrate New Year’s.”
“Well, then,” said the old woman, “After you’ve sold these hats, why don’t you buy some rice-cakes and bring them back with you?”
So early the next morning the old man took the five new hats that they made and went to town to sell them. But after he got to town he was unable to sell a single hat. And to make things still worse, it began to snow very hard.
The old man was very sad as he began trudging wearily back toward his village. He was going along a lonesome mountain trail when he suddenly came upon a row of six stone statues of Jizo, the protector of children, all covered with snow.
“My, my! Now isn’t this a pity,” the old man said. “These are only stone statues of Jizo, but even so just think how cold they must be standing here in the snow.” So he unfastened the five new hats from his back and began tying them, one by one, on the heads of the Jizo statues.
When he came to the last statue he suddenly realized that all the hats were gone. “Oh, my!” he said, “I don’t have enough hats.” But then he remembered his own hat. So he took it off his head and tied it on the head of the last Jizo. Then he went on his way home.
When he reached his house the old woman was waiting for him by the fire. She took one look at him and cried: “You must be frozen half to death. Quick! Come to the fire. What did you do with your hat?”
The old man shook the snow out of his hair and came to the fire. He told the old woman how he had given all the new hats, and even his own hat, to the six stone Jizo. And then he said “I’m so sorry I wasn’t been able to bring any rice-cakes.”
“Oh husband, please don’t worry. That was a very kind thing you did for the Jizo. I am very proud of you. It’s better to do a kind thing like that than to have all the rice-cakes in the world. We’ll get along without any rice-cakes for New Year’s.”
By this time it was late at night, so the old man and woman went to bed. And just before dawn, while they were still asleep, a very wonderful thing happened. Suddenly there was the sound of voices in the distance, singing:
“A kind old man walking in the snow
Gave all his hats to the stone Jizo.
So we bring him gifts with a yo-heave-ho!”
The voices came nearer and nearer, and then you could hear the sound of footsteps on the snow.
The sounds came right up to the house where the old man and woman were sleeping. And then all at once there was a great noise, as though something had been put down just in front of the house.
The old couple jumped out of bed and ran to the front door. When they opened it, what do you suppose they found? Well, right there at the door someone had spread a straw mat, and arranged very neatly on the mat was one of the biggest, most beautiful and freshest rice-cakes the old couple had ever seen.
“Whoever could have brought us such a wonderful gift?” they said, as they looked around, but no one was there. Then they saw some tracks in the snow leading away from their house. The snow was all tinted with the colors of dawn, and there in the distance, walking over the snow, were the six stone Jizo, still wearing the hats the old man had placed on their heads.
The old man said: “It was the stone Jizo who brought this wonderful rice-cake to us.”
The old woman said: “You did them a kind favor when you gave them your hats, so they brought this rice-cake to show their gratitude.”
And the old couple had a wonderful New Year’s Day celebration after all.
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