A beautiful Christmas story: The voice from his dream | Sunday Observer

A beautiful Christmas story: The voice from his dream

For over hundreds of years, Christmas has inspired many authors to write stories about its spiritual significance: the spirit that embodies charity, forgiveness, friendship, unselfish love and generosity.

Of all the Christmas stories, I admire most, “Papa Panov’s Special Christmas” by Leo Tolstoy. The story reminds us of the true meaning and spirit of Christmas through the eyes of a shoemaker and his experiences on Christmas day with a bit of scripture from Matthew.

The story goes like this:

It was Christmas Eve and although it was still afternoon, lights had begun to appear in the shops and houses of the little Russian village. Excited children moved about indoors and now only muffled sounds of chatter and laughter escaped through closed shutters.

Old Papa Panov, the village shoemaker, stepped outside his shop to take a look around. The sounds of happiness, the bright lights and the faint but delicious smells of cooking reminded him of past Christmas times when his wife had still been alive and his own little children. Now they had all gone.

His usually cheerful face, with laughter wrinkles behind the round steel spectacles, looked sad. But, he went back indoors with a firm step, put up the shutters and set a pot of coffee to heat on the charcoal stove. Then, with a sigh, he settled in his big armchair and pulled down the big old family Bible.

He read how Mary and Joseph, tired by their journey to Bethlehem, found no room for them at the inn, so that Mary’s little baby was born in the cowshed. “Oh, dear!” exclaimed Papa Panov, “if only they had come here! I would have given them my bed and I could have covered the baby with my patchwork quilt to keep him warm.”

He read on, about the wise men who had come to see baby Jesus, bringing him splendid gifts. Papa Panov’s face fell. “I have no gift to give him,” he thought sadly. Then his face brightened. He put down the Bible, got up and stretched his long arms to the shelf high up in his little room. He took down a small box and opened it. Inside was a perfect pair of tiny leather shoes.

Papa Panov smiled with satisfaction. Yes, they were as good as he had remembered- the best shoes he had ever made. “I should give him those,” he decided, as he gently put them away and sat down again.

He was feeling tired now, and felt sleepy. And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed that someone was in his room and he knew at once, as one does in dreams, who the person was. It was Jesus. When at last Papa Panov awoke, the bells were ringing out and a thin light was filtering through the shutters. “Bless my soul!” said Papa Panov. “It’s Christmas Day!”

This would be a very special Christmas after all, for he knew Jesus was coming to visit him.

Papa Panov put on a special pot of coffee for his Christmas breakfast, pulled down the shutters and looked out of the window. The street was deserted with no one except the road sweeper. He looked as miserable as ever, and well he might! Whoever wanted to work on Christmas Day - and in the raw cold and bitter freezing mist of such a morning?

Papa Panov opened the shop door, letting in a thin stream of cold air. “Come in!” he shouted across the street cheerily. “Come in and have some hot coffee and bread to keep out the cold!” The sweeper looked up, scarcely able to believe his ears. He was only too glad to put down his tools and come into the warm room.

His old clothes steamed gently in the heat of the stove and he clasped both red hands round the comforting warm mug as he drank. Papa Panov watched him with satisfaction, but every now and then his eyes strayed to the window.

The sweeper said, “You’ve given me a big chunk of Christmas cheer I never expected to have. I’d say you deserve to have your dream come true.” And he actually smiled.

When he had gone, Papa Panov put on a mixed soup for his dinner, then went to the door again, scanning the street. He saw no one. But he was mistaken. Someone was coming.

The girl walked so slowly and quietly, hugging the walls of shops and houses, that it was a while before he noticed her. She looked very tired and she was carrying something. As she drew nearer he could see that it was a baby, wrapped in a thin shawl. There was such sadness in her face and in the pinched little face of the baby that Papa Panov’s heart went out to them.

“Won’t you come in,” he called, stepping outside to meet them. “You both need a warm seat by the fire and a rest.” The young mother let him shepherd her indoors and to the comfort of the armchair. She gave a big sigh of relief.

“I’ll warm some milk for the baby,” Papa Panov said, “I’ve had children of my own- I can feed her for you.” He took the milk from the stove and carefully fed the baby with a spoon, warming her tiny feet by the stove at the same time. “She needs shoes,” he said. But the girl replied, “I can’t afford shoes, I’ve got no husband to bring home money. I’m on my way to the next village to get work.”

A sudden thought flashed through Papa Panov’s mind. He remembered the little shoes he had looked at last night. But he had been keeping those for Jesus. He looked again at the cold little feet and made up his mind. “Try these on her,” he said, handing the baby and the shoes to the mother. The beautiful little shoes were a perfect fit. The girl smiled happily and the baby gurgled with pleasure.

“You have been so kind to us,” the girl said, when she got up with her baby to go. “May all your Christmas wishes come true?”

But Papa Panov was beginning to wonder if his very special Christmas wish would come true. Perhaps he had missed his visitor? He looked anxiously up and down the street. There were plenty of people about but they were all faces that he recognized. There were neighbours going to call on their families. They nodded and smiled and wished him Happy Christmas! Or beggars- and Papa Panov hurried indoors to fetch them hot soup and a generous hunk of bread, hurrying out again in case he missed the important stranger.

All too soon dusk fell. When Papa Panov next went to the door and strained his eyes, he could no longer make out the passers-by. Most were home and indoors by now. He walked slowly back into his room at last, put up the shutters, and sat down wearily in his armchair.

Then all at once he knew that he was no longer alone in the room. This was not a dream, for he was wide awake. He saw again the old road sweeper, the young mother and her baby and the beggars he had fed.

Then came a voice. It was the voice from his dream- the voice of Jesus. “I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in every one of those you helped and welcomed. I bless you!”

Then, all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking.

A great peace and serenity seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov’s heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with joy. “So he did come after all!” was all that he said. 

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