“The Joy of Reading”
When Barbara woke up on December 4, it was a day like any other. Dad had already left for work. Mom told her to hurry—she was late again! Then, with a hug and a kiss, Mom was off to her job.
Barbara tucked her lunch into her schoolbag, put her jacket on and then slowly took it off again, and sat back down at the breakfast table. She was tired. She had spent too much time reading under the covers last night with a flashlight. She just wanted to sit for five more minutes, eat a banana, and think about the book she had been reading.
The phone rang just as she was taking her last bite of banana.
“Mmmpf,” she answered, then, “hello!”
“What does ‘mmmpf, hello’ mean?” asked a deep voice.
“Th-th-that means… I’m sorry, this is Barbara!” Barbara mumbled, embarrassed.
“Th-th-that sounds better already,” replied the deep voice. “This is Saint Nicholas, wishing you a happy Name Day!”
“Wh-wh-what?” stammered Barbara.
“Since when do you stutter?” laughed a familiar voice.
“Gosh, Grandpa!” Barbara sighed, relieved “You really fooled me!”
“Did I manage to do that again?” Her grandfather giggled happily. “Best wishes, my dear! What did you get for Name Day?”
Barbara didn’t answer. Neither Mom nor Dad had remembered her Name Day. She hadn’t even remembered it herself. The same thing happened last year, too, she recalled.
“Ooops,” she mumbled, “I don’t think we celebrate that.”
“Oh!” said her grandfather. “We’ll change that today! I hereby declare today a school holiday and invite you to come over to spend it with me! If you hurry, you can be here in half an hour! See you soon!”
She heard a click as her grandfather hung up. Barbara stood in the hallway, perplexed. Surely she couldn’t just skip school. Grandpa probably just wanted to annoy her parents again. He liked to do that. He believed that people worked too much in today’s society, and only did it so they could buy themselves silly things they didn’t need. Barbara had to laugh as she thought of the funny arguments Grandpa had with Mom. Grandpa didn’t take the arguments seriously, but Mom would hit the roof.
Barbara loved Grandpa, and that’s why it didn’t take her long to make up her mind. She dropped her schoolbag, bolted out of the house, grabbed her bicycle, and rode over to his house.
It was a mild morning, much too warm for December. It had rained overnight, but now the sun was shining and the wet leaves smelled good. Grandpa was waiting in front of his small house carrying his old sheepskin jacket, which Mom kept trying to get him to throw away.
“Come on!” he called. “Put your bike away. Let’s take a walk through the garden.” Typical Grandpa. A walk through the garden! For this, she had risked getting into all kinds of trouble with her parents and at school. Grandpa was already plodding toward the orchard without waiting for her. Barbara leaned her bicycle against the shed and ran behind him.
“Pick out the nicest twigs with the fullest buds and I will cut them for you,” said Grandpa when she caught up with him.
“Wh… why?” asked Barbara.
“You are stuttering again!” Grandpa grinned. “I will tell you why we are cutting twigs—because today is Saint Barbara’s Day!”
Barbara stood still and looked at Grandfather skeptically. Was this another one of his jokes? But Grandfather looked more serious than usual as he leaned against an apple tree and said, “You know, people forget all of the little things that are important in life. Each name has a meaning, otherwise we would all be called ‘refrigerator’ or ‘oven’!”
Barbara had to laugh. She had never thought about this. She found some names pretty, others boring or silly. But the idea that they had meaning had not occurred to her.
“What does Barbara mean?” asked Barbara, holding her breath for a moment.
“In Latin, it means the stranger or the barbarian. That’s fitting for you, isn’t it?”
Barbara grimaced. “Nothing else?” she asked.
“Yes,” her grandfather answered.“It was also the name of a strong young woman who has long been honored as a saint. She lived 1,700 years ago in Nicomedia, a city in what is now Turkey. She is said to have been very beautiful and wise, this Barbara. She was also Christian, which was dangerous, because Turkey belonged to the Roman Empire and the Romans persecuted all Christians. Barbara’s father was a wealthy merchant. He had absolutely no understanding of her faith in Christ. He thought she should marry, and that was that. But she refused. He became so frustrated with her that he locked her into a tower. But in that tower, her inner strength grew even more. At last, her father became so furious that he handed her over to the Romans.”
“What? Her own father?” Barbara looked at her grandfather in disbelief.
“Yes, her own father! Some fathers become very cross when their daughters don’t do as they are told!”
“And what did the Romans do with her?”
“Well, they demanded that she renounce her faith. Which, of course, she didn’t.”
Grandpa furrowed his brow and scratched his head a bit uncomfortably. “She was sentenced to death and died very bravely. Soon thereafter, the legend says, her father was struck by lightning.”
“Serves him right!” said Barbara.
“Yes, I think so, too!” said Grandpa. “Now you know that your patron saint was a very brave woman. Among Christians, she is known as a protector of the imprisoned and the dying. Youcan be proud of her!”
“And what about the twigs?”
“We will cut those now in honor of your Name Day. Then, you’ll put them into a vase, and they will bloom at Christmas as a symbol of the strength that Barbara received from God.”
They cut a bouquet of apple and cherry twigs in silence. Later, they drank hot chocolate and had a long conversation about Barbara’s name and many other names. It was the nicest day Barbara had ever spent with Grandpa. Before she left his house, he wrote her an excuse for missing school. Barbara placed her twigs into a vase and checked them carefully every day. And then, just before Christmas, the first ones bloomed, delicate white flowers in the midst of winter, reminding her of her namesake and the love of her grandfather.
Silke Lefler (org.)
A simply wonderful Christmas – A literary advent calendar
New York, North-South Books, 2006
We are a group of teachers with some experience in the area of storytelling and we would like to share our project – The Joy of Reading – with everyone who is in touch with children and young people in general but above all with everyone that enjoys reading.
This project consists of sending stories for free on a weekly basis. So this particular e-mail and the ones that will follow it in the next weeks are intended to share some small stories with you. All the stories we send have some values within: respect for nature, tolerance, tenderness, responsibility, solidarity and many more. They all aim at developing the reading skills among young people, as well as allowing some moments of reflection and dialogue about topics connected with human values, which seem to have been somewhat forgotten in these times of materialism and hedonism.
We thank you for your attention and hope you will welcome this project (which, it is important to say, does not have any profitable aims).
If you know anyone interested in receiving the weekly stories by email, please let us know by sending their emails to us.
Please let us know your opinion about the project.
The Pedagogical Team