Peter’s Present

(The Nationalist, 26 December 2003)


Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a land far away, there lived a boy called Peter. He was the eldest son in a farming family. They lived at a time when farm prices were low and there was little money to spare. But they were a happy family and they helped each other in their work.

Christmas came, and Peter’s thoughts turned to presents. He really wanted to get a present for his father, whom he loved very much. His father worked hard, but Peter knew that there was only just enough money for the basic needs of the family. There was no pocket money for Peter or his brothers and sisters. How could he get his father a present without money? Clearly he couldn’t buy one, so what could he do?

Peter thought a lot about this, but no answer came. However, he couldn’t spend too much time thinking about it – there was school to attend and then work to do on the farm.

Before long, Christmas Eve came and the family walked to midnight Mass. Peter loved the silence of stepping on snow, and the magic feeling of going into a church lit by candles, with the only sound the hushed whispers of prayers. It was a special feeling, like none other. With his brothers and sisters, he went to the crib and looked with wonder at the figure of the child Jesus. The people were singing the carol, ‘He came down to earth from heaven, who is King and Lord of all’. Without a word, Peter asked Jesus to help him find his father a Christmas present. For an instant, he felt as if a voice within him said, ‘You’re looking at it’. And then he knew.

When they returned home, there were mince pies and hot drinks for everyone. Then his parents said it was time for the children to go to bed. If they hadn’t been so tired it might have surprised them that Peter did not ask to stay up longer. Instead he went upstairs, tip-toed into his parents’ room, and pressed down the button on their alarm clock. Then he went to his own room, set his clock for four thirty and went to sleep.

It seemed like no time until the alarm rang under his pillow where he had placed it. The morning was very cold, but Peter rose quickly and dressed. He stole out of the house and went to the cow-shed. Quietly, he began the familiar work of milking. He had never before done it all by himself, but he knew the cows, the cross ones and the quiet ones. When he had finished, he poured the milk into the big churns and washed the buckets. He gave the cattle their morning hay and water, swept the floor, then quietly returned to the house and went to bed – but not to sleep; he listened.

After a very long time, Peter heard his father rise from bed and leave the house in a hurry. Only a few minutes later, as Peter watched, his father returned, looking relaxed and happy. He went straight to Peter’s room, saw him already awake, gave him a big hug, and said to him, “Peter, you rascal, you’ve given me the best Christmas present I ever had. I love you’. At breakfast, his father told the family what Peter had done, and they agreed that Peter’s present was the best of all.