My late father-in-law was a consummate storyteller who annually added the tale of a creature newly arrived at the manger in Bethlehem. A dozen of his tales were gathered in the collection “The Unicorn at the Manger,” published by The Pilgrim Press. Rog added a final tale in his last winter, a dozen years ago now. Here is that tale. Merry Christmas!
THE HAMSTER AT THE MANGER
by Roger Robbennolt
A tale written as a Christmas gift for my grandson, Phillip Robbennolt Jones,
as a personal addition to “The Unicorn at the Manger: Yearlong Stories of the Holy Night.”
December 20, 2003
A long, l-o-o-n-g, l-oo-oo-n-g time ago, hamsters had their homes in lovely tunnels in the hills of far-off Palestine. They were very much afraid of people. You see, every time they came out in the daylight, children would throw stones at them. So they decided they would only come out at night. It was harder to find seeds and nuts to eat. However, they were safe from the flying stones.
One hamster was unusually brave. His name was Lou. He sometimes stepped out in the daylight to find a delicious feast. He really moved quickly if he saw the shadow of a child creeping up on him.
One pitch-black night, Lou emerged from his hole. There was no moon. He felt very safe. Then, in the distance, he heard strange sounds. Singing! Words about “Peace on earth!” He wondered if that meant peace for hamsters as well.
Then a terrible thing happened. The world around him burst into light. He was sure he would be the target of children’s rocks. He crouched close to the ground. He heard the heavy tread of boots. Shepherds came shouting that they were on the way to Bethlehem.
Silas, an old shepherd, collapsed on the ground near Lou. “Oh my, oh me. I’ll be late to the manger. But my boot is undone and I must re-lace it.” Lou, the hamster, saw that something else was undone: Silas’ food pack. It would be dark in there-and perhaps there would be grains of wheat. Lou gave a long jump and landed in the midst of food and darkness.
Silas finished his lacing, got to his feet and began to move as fast as his old legs would carry him. Lou ate his fill from the grain pouch. As the old man swayed his way to Bethlehem, Lou fell asleep in the darkness.
It was the crying that woke him. A baby was sobbing its heart out. Lou poked his head up from the packet and saw a strange sight. They were in a stable. Light blazed from a great star. Lou saw no children with rocks. Rather he saw a beautiful young woman leaning over a sad baby.
A worried older man bent over her shoulder unable to do anything about his weeping child. There were shepherds and kings around the manger. The kings chanted strange songs. The shepherds whistled melodies from the fields. Nothing would quiet the baby.
Lou had an idea. He scurried out of the food pocket, up the side of the manger and stuck his head just over the top where the baby, Jesus could see him. Surprised, the baby stopped mid-cry. Lou kept disappearing and appearing. The baby was fascinated and started to giggle. The shepherds and kings stopped their songs as they watched the silly little hamster perform tricks on the edge of the manger.
Soon the baby Jesus began to giggle out loud. The doves in the rafters cooed sounds of joy. Lou felt a soft hand fold around him. Mary lifted him to her cheek and whispered her thanks while the little hamster licked the salt tears from her tired face. Joseph scratched Lou’s ears.
Then a wonderful thing happened. Mary slipped Lou into the manger. The baby’s hand rested on the soft hair of Lou’s back. They fell into a deep sleep. Together. And from that day to this, when a hamster meets a truly gentle child, like Phillip, they become the best of friends.
First Christmas Eve reading
by Evelyn Robbennolt-Jones, Dec. 24, 2003.
Detail of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus warm at the manger. With the cow keeping an eye out over the shepherd boy’s shoulder for unicorns (and others) inviting her to “confront the miraculous,” despite her best efforts to organize all things instead.