Illustrations by Ilon Wikland
Of all the tales in Selma Lagerlöf’s Christ Legends and Other Stories, this one has always been my favorite. It is really a story within a story, and both stories are as near to my heart as any I’ve ever encountered.
The one story is about Selma as a very young child who is remembering how loving and deep and kind her grandmother was; and how very empty life became when grandmother died. Before that, though, Grandmother told many, many stories, each ending with “This is as true as that I see you and you see me.” And on one Christmas Day, Grandmother and Selma were both left at home because one was too old and the other too young. Both were sorry not to be taken to early Mass to hear the singing and to see the Christmas candles. And as they sat together Grandmother began to tell a story . . .
Thus begins the inner story of this tale, one of the truest of the many legends that have sprung up as humanity tries to grasp the wonder of the First Christmas. A man goes out to find fire to warm his wife and newly born son. He comes at last to a shepherd, who sits by the very fire he is seeking — but the shepherd has a hard, angry heart and is in no way inclined to be helpful to the father. From there we hear how all the world worked to help that father and soften the heart of the shepherd.
This is a story that still sends tingles of wonder through my body and brings tears to my eyes just to think about it. I hope you and your children come to love it as much.