Sunday 23 December 2018

A Gift from the Heart, a Christmas legend by Saviour Pirotta

Christmas Greetings from the team at Awfully Big Blog and many thanks to all our contributors and readers. ABBA is closing for a few days today, but leaving you with Saviour Pirotta's wonderfully apt seasonal story. 

Wishing you all a very happy holiday, full of peaceful moments and good reading, and look forward to meeting you here again on 1st of January 2019. 
Merry Christmas - and a Happy & Hopeful New Year! 

Hi all.  I'm up to my neck in gravy and brandy sauce today.  Feeding eighteen people tomorrow, so here's a story to keep you entertained while waiting for the spuds to parboil. It was originally published in the Kingfisher Book of Christmas way back when and I love how it brings a message of hope even when you think there is none. Have a good 'un.
A Gift from the Heart
A Christmas Story from Mexico
Saviour Pirotta

Once there was a Mexican girl whose father was a fisherman. She was called Maria Flores, after her mother who’d died when Maria was still a baby.
One night during supper, Maria’s father said, “My fishing nets have been empty for weeks, little one. We can’t go on like this, not being able to pay our debts. I’ve found work on a ship sailing to Europe. You’ll have to spend the winter with your abuela in the village of San Domingo.”
“But that means we won’t be together for Christmas,” cried Maria. “We always spend Christmas together.”
Papa gave her a big hug. “Sometimes we have to do things we find hard, little one. “It’s all been arranged; your grandma’s expecting you. If you leave tomorrow you’ll be in her village by Christmas.”
“I understand,” said Maria. “Perhaps we’ll spend Christmas together next year.”
Her father gave her another hug, then stood up and fetched the money tin from its hiding place behind the stove. “We’ll have to buy some presents, of course. You can’t go empty-handed.”
Maria agreed. No one she knew would ever call on a friend or a relative without bearing a gift of some kind. The next day she helped papa choose suitable presents at the market. They had very little money but they managed to get a shawl for grandma and cotton handkerchiefs for all her relatives.
The shopping done, and her clothes packed in a neat bundle, Maria kissed her father goodbye and set off for her grandma’s village, a remote hamlet in the mountains. The holidays had already started and lots of other people were travelling too, hoping to get home in time for a good Christmas dinner.
Her father had booked her a seat on a horse-drawn cart, which took her all the way to the foot of the sierra. Beyond that, the path up the mountain was too steep for the cart. Maria continued her journey on a mule, with the San Domingo chemist who’d come down the mountain to buy medicine.
It was late at night, and Maria had fallen asleep on her mule, when they finally reached grandma’s village.
“Wake up,” said the chemist. “We’re almost home.”
Maria rubbed the sleep from her eyes and saw lights flickering ahead. They reminded her of the lanterns her papa and the other fishermen put on their boats.
“Your relatives are waiting for you,” said the chemist.
The mule stopped under a tree, where several people were huddled together against the cold, the grown-ups holding lamps. No one spoke until an old woman stepped forward and said in a very loud voice, “Welcome to our village, Maria Flores. I am your abuela.” She kissed Maria loudly on each cheek, then all the others crowded round her, hugging her and shaking her hand.
“How was your journey?”
“You must be tired and hungry.”
“I am your cousin. I went to school with your mother, God rest her soul.”
Maria felt like a princess in a fairy tale as she was swept into Grandma’s house where a feast of cakes and hot chocolate had been laid out on the table. It seemed as if the whole village had gathered in Grandma’s kitchen, eager to see the visitor.
“Isn’t she a beautiful child?”
“The spitting image of her mother.”
“And so tall for her age too.”
Later, lying in a warm cot by the stove and feeling sleepy from too much travel and too much hot chocolate, Maria thought how lucky she was. She’d never met any of her mother’s relatives before but they had all come to welcome her.
“I’m glad I brought them all a present,” she said to herself. “It’ll show them that I love them too.”
The next day was Christmas Eve. After a special Christmas supper during which they exchanged presents, the people of San Domingo got ready to go to church.
“It’s time for Baby Jesus to get his presents,” said Grandma.
“What do you mean?” asked Maria.
“We have a statue of baby Jesus in the church,” explained Grandma. “Every year we place gifts at its feet. It’s an old local custom.”
“But I haven’t got anything to give Jesus,” said Maria.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Grandma. “You are a visitor. No one will speak ill of you.”
“But I cannot go to church empty-handed,” said Maria. “It would be rude.”
“I’m taking a basket of almonds,” said Grandma. “Why don’t we share them? I have a pretty box you could put them in.”
“That’s very kind of you, abuela,” said Maria, “but my gift has to come from
She racked her brains, trying to think what she could give Jesus.
“Perhaps I can pick some flowers,” she said. “Jesus would like some flowers.”
“Yes,” said Grandma, “a lot people bring him flowers.”
There was a piece of land behind grandma’s house where the soil was too stony for farming. Maria was sure she’d find some flowers there, wild daisies perhaps, or mountain roses. Alas, she could find none. The field had been picked clean by people wanting to decorate their Christmas table. Maria could see nothing but weeds. What a stingy gift for the king of heaven and earth, she thought sadly. But there wasn't time to try and find something else. The church bells were summoning everyone to the midnight celebration; Grandma was calling from the kitchen window. Maria picked a handful of the weeds, choosing the tallest, and carried them inside. Grandma wrapped them up carefully in a silk shawl, as if they were a bouquet of fragrant blooms.
In church, a choir started to sing carols as people approached the altar where the statue of baby Jesus lay in a manger, a small crown on his head.  One by one they placed gifts at his feet.   A few who were rich gave items of jewellery or pots of expensive perfume. But most had brought humbler gifts: eggs laid by their own hens; nuts and fruits gathered in the harvest; little fruit cakes baked in outside ovens. The people in the village did not have much money to spare.
Soon it was Maria’s turn to give Jesus her gift.  Grandma nudged her gently and they stood up together.  All eyes where on them as they slowly advanced down the aisle.  Maria heard people whispering.
‘What’s the old woman’s gift?’
‘Almonds in a basket.’
‘And what has the girl got under that silk shawl? ’
‘Flowers by the looks of it.  They must be very fragile to be covered like that.’
Just wait until they realise I’ve only got weeds, thought Maria.   They’ll think I want to insult Jesus not give him a present.
She had a sudden urge to turn and run away.  She could keep on running till she’d left the church and the village behind. Then she remembered what her papa had said to her only a few days before.  ‘Sometimes we have to do things we find hard, little one.’
Well, it was very hard for Maria to keep on walking down that aisle with a bunch of weeds in her hands.  But, she firmly told herself, her gift was for Jesus, not the people of San Domingo to admire   As long as Jesus liked it she didn’t care what other people said….   
Before she knew it, Maria was at the altar.  She saw Grandma kneel and place her basket of almonds in front of the statue.  She knelt to put her flowers among the other gifts.
Just then one of the men in the front seats leaned forward. ‘Take off the shawl, dear,’ he whispered.  ‘Show the people what lovely flowers you’re giving Jesus.’
‘I can’t,’ whispered back Maria.
The man smiled, thinking Maria couldn’t undo the silk shawl.  He took the flowers from her, saying.  ‘Here, I’ll do it for you.’
Gently, he pulled away the cloth.  The people in the church gasped. 
‘What wonderful flowers.’
‘I’ve never seen anything like them in all my life.’
Maria stared.  The weeds weren’t weeds anymore.  They had changed into flowers, shaped like Christmas stars.  The green leaves at the top had grown bigger and turned into red velvety petals.  
Speechless, Maria realised that Jesus had worked a miracle.  He’d seen the beauty of her gift, which came from the heart, and decided to share it with everyone in the church.
No one in the congregation guessed what had just happened. Everyone assumed that Maria had bought the gorgeous flowers on her way to the village.
The little girl did not tell anyone about the miracle either.  She knew no one would believe her anyway.  Only her grandma, who’d seen what happened, shared her secret.  After Christmas the old woman planted the flowers in the bit of land where Maria had picked the weeds.  They grew into a large bush, which flowered every year in December.  Today the poinsietta as the flower is called, grows in many countries around the world.  People take huge bunches of it to church every Christmas, to show Jesus how much they love him. 
Just like Maria Flores did all those years ago in Mexico!          

Saviour Pirotta's latest picture book, The Unicorn Prince is illustrated by Jane Ray. It's been an editor's choice in The Guardian and The Bookseller. His middle grade novel Mark of the Cyclops won the North Somerset Teachers' Book Award 2018 for quality fiction.  Follow him on twitter @spirotta. Visit his website at


Sue Purkiss said...


Pippa Goodhart said...

That story's new to me, and lovely. Thank you!