On the origin of Christmas
|Once upon a time, an elderly woman was exiled from her village.
“Witch!” they called her, as they threw rotten fruit and even stones.
Of course, in truth, the woman was nothing more than a herbalist. Over the years she had helped many of the village recover from fevers, infections, and even reattached one man’s thumb when it had been detached in a lumber accident.
But although she had studied plants her entire life, even her skills were limited. Sometimes there was nothing she could do to help. Sometimes people died under her care. The villagers grew suspicious.
One winter, a plague struck. Child after child went into her hut and succumbed to the terrible disease she could do nothing to fix. Then even their parents began to perish, wasting away as she soothed them with water and Spiraea bark, ultimately powerless to help.
The villages blamed her, and cast her out. Hobbling through the snow with the help of her cane, she fled. Her few precious possessions were tied in a sac flung across her back.
Of course, the infections continued.
“She is too powerful.”
“But she’s gone! What more can we do?”
What indeed? One man, who was the shortest and slightest in the village, but was known for his aggression, had the answer:
“Death to the witch.”
“Death?” came the mutters. “Did he say death?”
The mutters grew stronger, for the villagers were sure she was the cause of their lost friends and children.
“Death, death, death.”
They took up field picks, kitchen knives, and even hammers.
“Death to the witch! Death to the witch!”
As one they took up the cry, and the mob pulsed and undulated. Individuals were unable to think above the group’s single minded determination. They pushed and shoved their way down the main street, and found the unmistakeable foot-and-cane prints that led out of the village.
Though she had left hours before, she was moving slowly, and it did not take them long to find her.
At the sight of mob, the old woman hissed in frustration. She had tried to help these people, she had left when they demanded. Her hair was still sticky with the juice of rancid tomatoes. What more did they want?
The small man was the first to reach her, and the first to attack. A kick to the shins made her stumble, and then a hit to the side of her head sent her to the ground. Her frustration quickly melted away, and was replaced ten-fold with fear.
“Stop,” she pleaded, but there was no reasoning with the mob. The villagers closed in around her.
Wild blows broke her brittle bones. Her head was caved in by hundreds of cumulative kicks and punches. They cut out her heart, and cut the heart in quarters.
With her dying breath she promised that they would never forget what they had done, and that the world would always know their story.
Her murderers returned stoically to the village, and passed her possessions amongst themselves as proof of her destruction. A beautiful, hand-carved wooden cat; a silver chain; and a bundle of sweet-smelling flower petals; all these were evidence. All these were cherished.
That night, they slept with satisfaction, thinking their plague was over. They were wrong.
That very night, the small man woke from his slumber with a great weight on his chest. He could not move, and he was frightened. He opened his eyes to see the healer, holding him down. Her white, translucent face bore all the marks of her abuse. Her twisted scowl and burning eyes declared her fury.
He screamed, and she dissolved, but the terror remained. With no thought to his bare feet or chest, he ran, screaming, from his too-dark hut. Outside, he was shocked to see others emerging from their homes, as oblivious to the cold as he was. They too had seen the witch.
True enough, the healer’s dying curse had come true. All though she had no magic, the force of her hatred and sadness haunted all those who had tormented her. Every year on the eve of her death, they saw her ghost in their sleep. For the rest of their lives, those that had participated woke to the sight of her haggard face, which begged them for her life once again.
The memory of their deeds stayed with them forever.
What’s more, the story was passed on, reaching the furthest corners of the earth. However, as all stories do, this one morphed and twisted over time. The evil witch became an evil wizard, the evil wizard became a jolly one. Somewhere along the line, the villagers shrunk to a copy of the small, bloodthirsty man that had started it all. They then became cheerful elves, not stealing, but delivering gifts too others on her benevolent command. Soon enough, the old lady was not a wizard at all, but a beaming, fat old man in a red coat.
Someone, somewhere, dubbed her “Santa,” which was their word for “Saint.”
That is the origin of Christmas.
~800 words (give or take 10%)