A short, children's Christmas story about a little boy who wanted to be a hero.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Rudolph. All Rudolph ever wanted was to be a hero. He would sit in front of the fire every evening, wide-eyed and holding a mug of dark, hot chocolate, while his grandmother told him the epic tales of Gunter the Bear, who saved a princess from a giant serpent, or Madga the Clever, who outwitted a dragon, or Hans the Bard, whose song was so beautiful that even the birds would stop to listen.
After these stories were done, after the logs in the fire were just glowing embers, and Rudolph's forgotten hot chocolate had long gone cold, Rudolph would leap to his feet, his eyes glowing with visions of honor and glory. "Tomorrow, I will go become a hero too!" he would say.
His grandmother would smile at him indulgently and ruffle his hair. "Yes," she would say, "one day, when you are 16 years old, you will be old enough to leave the village and seek adventure. But right now, you are only a little boy! You are too young to be defeating dragons, or rescuing princesses, or singing famous songs. Be patient, my dear."
But 16 was so far away! Rudolph would always think to himself. How could he possibly wait 8 more years before he could be Rudolph the Brave or Rudolph the Wise instead of being just Rudolph, just another little boy in a another little village?
One afternoon, Rudolph was running errands in town square. He had just finished his last errand and was treating himself to a roasted sweet potato from one of the wooden food carts, when he heard a yelp, followed by a loud crash, behind him. He turned around. Sprawled on the ground was a little girl, about his age, with soft, blond ringlets and blue eyes. She had been holding a tin box of cookies, but the tin had burst open when she fell, and now dozens of crushed cookies littered the snow.
"No!" the girl cried, "no, no, no!" Her round, blue eyes filled with tears. The girl's mother immediately rushed over to her side.
"Mama, I'm sorry!" the girl sobbed, "You and Papa saved so much money to buy these cookies, and I ruined them!"
"It's okay Mitzi," the mother said, "It was a mistake." The mother tucked one of Mitzi's blonde curls behind her ear. "Come here, let's go home. We'll buy another tin next month, when we have a little more money, okay?"
Mitzi nodded. She took her mother's hand, and the two of them walked away from the market.
"Nana, is there somebody named Mitzi who lives in this village?" Rudolph asked his grandmother later that evening.
His grandmother looked up from her knitting. "Yes, I think so," she said, tapping her chin with a silver knitting needle, "little girl with the pretty blond ringlets? I believe her papa is the woodcarver, Mr. Lindholm."
"Does she live nearby?"
"We've passed by their house before sweetie. They're the little cottage right next to the shoemaker."
"I saw her today in the town square. She had this really pretty tin of cookies, but then she slipped in the snow and dropped them all."
Rudolph's grandmother looked out the window towards the Lindholm's cottage. "Oh, the poor thing," she sighed. "I wish we could help."
Rudolph left the house early next morning. It was the morning of December 25th, and the snow covered village had just been touched by the blush of dawn. Soon, Rudolph knew, the peach sky would give way to clear, golden sunlight. The shopkeepers would wake first. They would climb out of bed and make a quick breakfast of coffee and toast while they prepared their wares for the day: bolts of vibrant cloth, drawers of cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg, and cups of caramel sweets for the children. After the shopkeepers would be the parents; fathers would come outside in thick scarves and hats to shovel the snow, while mothers would fill the house with the smells of frying bacon and warm, sweet pancakes. Finally, the children would wake, and the whole village would be filled with laughter and flying snowballs. Rudolph knew that all this life and activity was waiting just at the brink of morning, but right at this moment, it seemed to him as if the whole world was resting. A sharp gust of wind forced him to wrap his puffy red coat closer around his body. Rudolph was unused to waking up so early in the morning, but he had wanted to surprise Mitzi Lindholm, and to do that, he needed to be up before her.
The cookies had taken him all night. They were knobby, misshapen lumps of dough and chocolate chips, but he hoped that they were still good. He gripped the tray of cookies tightly as he made his way down the cobblestone street, taking special care to avoid patches of morning ice. He couldn't afford to drop these cookies too!
The Lindholm home was a modest cottage on the edge of the village. It's paint had faded from the elements and its wood had been replaced in parts, leaving the whole building with a curious patchwork appearance. Rudolph placed the tray on their door step and knocked on the door. As soon as he heard footsteps coming down the stairs, he scurried behind a grove of pine trees. He wanted to see if they'd like his surprise.
Mr. Lindholm was a thin, bookish man with a small face and round glasses. He stood on his porch in his threadbare pajamas, looking around for the missing knocker, then saw the tray of lumpy chocolate chip cookies. Rudolph watched him smile as he called his daughter down to the door.
"Mitzi, come look!"
Mitzi stumbled to the porch, one hand holding a worn-out teddy bear, and another one trying to rub the sleep from her eyes. The minute she saw the cookies however, her eyes lit up and she ran giggling into her father's arms.
"Papa! Did you buy these cookies?"
"I didn't. Somebody gave them to us."
"I don't know sweetheart, somebody very, very kind."
Mr. Lindholm looked around again, then called out into the woods. "Whoever you are, thank you so much!" Little Mitzi followed his lead. Cupping a tiny hand around her mouth, she yelled:
"Thank you for the cookies Mister or Missus Stranger! I'm so happy! You're my hero!"
They walked inside the house with the tray of cookies, laughing and smiling the whole time. From behind the trunk of a pine tree, Rudolph was smiling too, a delighted, ear-to-ear smile. 'You're my hero,' Mitzi had said. He had become a hero.
The mother closed the storybook, then smiled at her young daughter. "It's almost your bedtime, you should be going to sleep."
"But Mama," the little girl whined. "What happened next? Did Rudolph ever leave the village? Did he ever defeat dragons, or rescue princesses, or sing famous songs?"
The mother laughed, tucking the blanket closer around her daughter and then gently stroking her hair. "No sweetheart, Rudolph never did leave the village. After he saw how happy his cookies made Mitzi, he decided he wanted to make all the other children happy too. From that day forward, whenever Rudolph saw a child who didn't have very much, he would go and make something nice for them. He learned to make all sorts of wonderful toys and treats from his house, like caramel popcorn balls, sweet sugar plums, bright red train sets, and beautiful lace dolls. He always made his deliveries in secret though, so nobody ever knew who the stranger was that brought so much joy to the children."
"Eventually," the mother continued, "the children made up their own stories about him from the scraps of rumors and tall tales that floated in the village. They named him Santa Claus, and every year on December 25th, they came to honor the little boy in the puffy red coat who delivered presents to children when they needed it most."
"And what about the Lindholm family? What about Mitzi?" The little girl asked, "What happened to her?"
"After that year, Mr. Lindholm's business prospered. Mitzi could have all the treats she wanted, but she never forgot that first tray of lumpy chocolate chip cookies. She eventually started one of the most important Christmas traditions of all."
The mother opened a small tin of cookies. She poured the cookies onto a plate, then put the plate next to a glass of milk that was resting by the windowsill. "Every year, Mitzi reminded the children to leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa. It was a thank you to Rudolph for bringing joy into their lives, but to Rudolph it was also a reminder of the very important lesson he learned that first day."
"What lesson was that, Mama?"
"That you don't have to defeat dragons, or rescue princesses, or sing famous songs to be a hero. All you have to do is be kind."