Masterful Storyteller Provides a Christmas Gem

Storyteller Karen Chace

Every Christmas season I turn to a masterful professional storyteller, Karen Chace of East Freetown, MA, asking her to share a story that will warm the hearts of children and adults–and will personify the meaning of the season. Once again, Karen has come up with a gem.

Read the story, and then note how you can respond with your comments.

Also, after the story you’ll find Karen’s contact information–and the link to a 60 minute radio interview with her.

Adapted from a story by Johanna Spyri
Found in Educating by Storytelling Published in 1918

In the mountain land of Bohemia there lived in the long ago a miner with his wife and little daughter. They were happy in their hut in the forest, but after a time the father and mother died, and the child was left alone in the world. She had no money, and no aunts or cousins to take her in, and it seemed as if she would have to go hungry. But always there are kindly hearts among the poor, and one of the miners opened his house that she might have a home. He had six children of his own and little bread and meat to spare, but his good wife said, “We will divide what we have,” So little Hilda became one of the family, and they grew to love her very much.

It was midwinter, and Christmas day not far away. The children thought of nothing but the coming of St. Nicholas, who they hoped would not forget them on the Holy Night, when every boy and girl in Bohemia expects a visit from the gift bringer. But when they spoke to the miner about it he shook his head and said, “Do not set your hearts upon his coming. Our hut is very small and stands so far in the forest that he may not be able to find it.”

Gretchen, his little daughter, had a very different idea. She declared St. Nicholas could find a house in the dark if it were no bigger than an ant hill, and went to bed to dream of the toys and sweetmeats he would bring.

Day after day passed, and nearer, nearer came the season of Christ’s birth. The children talked of him as they sat by the fire at night, as they picked up dead branches in the forest, and as they bedded the goats and shut them in, for Bohemian mountain folk are a toiling people, and even boys and girls must work.

At last the day before Christmas came, and in the afternoon little Hilda started out with her basket to get some cones. She wanted the fire to be brighter and more cheerful than ever that night, and perhaps if she met a servant from the castle, he might take some to feed the prince’s fire, and give her a silver piece.

“And if he does,” she thought as she trudged on her way, “I can buy something for the miner and his dear children.”

Now, in that land of Bohemia, on the summit of a lofty mountain, a creature named Riibezahl made his home. He possessed all magic powers, and was so mighty that his sway extended to the very center of the earth. There he had chambers of gold and silver, and diamonds and jewels without number, and often gave of his treasures to those who were good enough to deserve them. He could change himself at will into any form. Now he was a bat flying in the night, now a country swain selling his wares at the fair, and now a woodman cutting down trees in the forest, because thus he was able to find out who was worthy and who unworthy, and to reward or punish them as they deserved.

Hilda had often heard of the strange ways of Riibezahl, and wondered if he would ever cross her path.

“I suppose not,” she murmured, “because I am just a little girl.”

As she came near the fir trees, a tiny white-haired man walked out of the shadow. He had a long white beard and a jolly red face, and looted as if he were the friend of children.

“What are you doing?” he called to her.

“I’ve come to gather cones,” she replied; “some for our fire and some to sell, if the servant from the castle will only buy.”

Then she told him of the miner’s family, of how eager she was to get some money that she might buy a gift for his children and of her hope that St. Nicholas would not forget them on the Holy Night.

The little old man seemed much interested, and when she finished her story he said, “The largest cones are on that tree. If you hope to sell, gather the best ones.”

He pointed to a great, dark fir just beyond them, and then went back into the shadows of the forest.

Little Hilda thanked him and ran to the spot. She could see the cones like beehives on the branches, and just as she came under them there was such a downfall of beautiful brown things it frightened her and she began to run. But thinking of what she could do with such big ones, she went back, filled her basket, and started homeward.

It was very heavy, and the farther she went the heavier it grew.

“I’ll have to ask little Gretchen to help me take it up the hill path to the castle,” she thought. But by the time she reached the hut it had become such a load she could not move it, and the miner had to carry it in himself.

“They are lovely big ones and of a beautiful brown color,” she said as the children crowded around to see.

But when they looked at the basket again, they saw no brown at all. Instead there was a gleam brighter than that of the moonbeams through the fir trees, for a wonderful thing had happened. In the twinkling of an eye every one of those cones had turned into shining silver, which sparkled and glistened so that they dazzled the eyes.

Then the little girl remembered the old man in the forest and told the miner about him.

He nodded his head in a knowing way and said, “Surely it was Riibezahl, and he has rewarded you for being sweet and gentle.”

All of which seemed like a dream to little Hilda, but when she looked into the basket she knew it was true. And so knew all the other mountain folk, when the stars of the Holy Night shone out and the children went from door to door distributing silver cones. The good folk who gave her a home received so many that never again were they poor. They built a fine house with a porch and twenty windows, and were as rich as anyone in Bohemia.

To make things lovelier still, St. Nicholas found the hut, just as Gretchen had said he would, and left some sweets and toys for the children. He laughed loud and long when he saw the shining cones, for he had heard all about it from Riibezahl himself.

Pronunciation – Riibezahl (re’be tsal)

Karen and I will welcome your comments.

Go to the end of the blog entry in the section below and click NO COMMENTS if none have been made, or if comments have been made click 1 comment, 2 comments, or whatever the comments button says. The comments section will appear.

Visit Karen’s Web site, where you will find valuable resources about stories. Read her blog, and enter your e-mail address in the slot to sign up for her newsletter. Use her contact information to talk with her about a professional presentation to your conference/convention. Not only has she attained high awards from her professional organizations, Karen has become a popular presenter to a variety of audiences. Her site link:

As the host of “The Communication Corner” on WBCX-FM, I was privileged to interview Karen about storytelling. This link gives you access to the full 60-minute interview:

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Lorrie will welcome your inquiries about her services.

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