A City Christmas was written 43 years ago when my husband, 5 children and and I were living in the ancestral apartment in Manhattan.
A CITY CHRISTMAS
It was Christmas Eve in the City.
Shoppers filled Herald Square and hurried along Fifth Avenue as it grew late. The streets emptied. Shop windows glowed like rich jewels and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree sparkled in silent and solitary splendor.
At home parents wrapped the last of the Christmas presents and cursed over unbalanced and empty checking accounts.
Teenagers gathered at parties – and you know what that means.
Only eight year old Teddy lay awake in the dark. He watched the shifting shadows in his room and the patchwork of lighted windows across the courtyard. He heard his parents’ voices in the next room.
Stub-cat, a stray cat Teddy had adopted and named because of his leathery, half-missing tale, strolled into the bedroom and drummed a tattoo on the radiator before he settled down to nap.
Then the Con Ed clock began to chime. It was midnight. Stub’s ears pricked up and his whiskers twitched.
He heaved himself up. He was very fat. Teddy turned on the night light and watched four mice creep out of a tiny hole in the wall. Tiny cucarachas (cockroaches to you) joined them.
A black squirrel leapt onto the window ledge and joined a pigeon that had flown down from the mulberry tree. (Even in the dead of winter, Teddy’s mother made him open the window at night.) The sound of their squeeks, purrs and coos filled the room – and all of a sudden Teddy realized he could understand what they said.
“Christmas greetings,” said Stub to his assembled friends. (At Christmas all enmities are forgotten.)
“Joyeux Noel,” said the papa mouse, for he was a very cosmopolitan mouse.
“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” squeaked all the young mice, eager to share their gifts.
“Merry Christmas!” sang the cucarachas as they did a little dance.
Stub turned to Teddy who was sitting up in his bed amazed with wonderment. “Merry Christmas,” he said.
“Merry Christmas, Stub.” Teddy was so amazed he could barely get the words out, but he was a polite child and did not forget his manners.
“How can you all be talking?” The words burst from him when he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer.
“On Christmas Eve all the animals can talk,” said the black squirrel.
“Yes,” continued Stub. “that is our gift because animals were the first to greet the Christ Child. No matter how small or insignificant, none of us was forgotten.”
The little mice chimed in. “And every year we celebrate together.”
“Buon natale,” cooed the pigeon. “We are honored to celebrate this night in good company.”
The animals settled into a sedate circle and the little mice and cucarachas distributed the gifts while their elders discussed the blessings of the year past with Teddy. There were hazelnuts and almonds gathered from where they had dropped behind the Christmas tree, as well as splinters of candy cane and slivers of cheese. The black squirrel had salvaged a nearly full tin of truffle pate from the cocktail party next door.
Then all the animals danced solemnly in a circle and sang.
“O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the lord.”
The mice and the squirrel’s voices were high and piping while Stub and the pigeon sang the base line.
But then the Con Ed clock struck one! The animals’ song hung on the air for a moment and then faded. The animals bowed to each other and then scampered off. Only Stub-cat remained.
Teddy jumped out of bed and ran to his parents in the living room.
“Mummy, daddy, come quick. The animals are talking. On Christmas Eve even the mice and pigeons can talk. Hurry and wish Stub a merry Christmas!” He tried to pull them into his room, but they were busy.
“Teddy, it’s late. Back to bed or Santa will never come,” said his mother.
“I think you’re very tired, Ted,” said his father. “You’ve been dreaming, but now you have to go back to sleep.”
No! It wasn’t a dream. The city animals celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, too.”
“That’s enough, Teddy. Now back to bed. I have a lot left to do,” said his mother, and she turn to take pies out of the oven. She sounded impatient.
His father was stacking the newspapers, and gathering up the teacups. “Run along, now, Ted.”
Teddy slowly turned and went back to his room. He climbed into bed and turned out the light. Through the window the stars seemed to dance around the Con Ed Tower; he felt the vibration of music in the air.
The clamor of church bells woke him in the morning and though his eyes flew open he lay quite still and tried to remember. Was it a dream?
There at the foot of his bed lay Stub. Teddy whispered to him, “Stub, Stub, it’s merry Christmas.”
Stub opened his eyes slowly and purred. “Felizzzze navidad.”
“You said it again! I knew it wasn’t a dream, but they didn’t believe me. Merry Christmas, Stub. Merry Christmas.”
After suffering many hugs, Stub returned to the foot of the bed and gave Teddy a long look. And Teddy was sure that before he closed his eyes , Stub gave him a slow wink.
Merry Christmas to All!