Each winter it got very dark in the garden, especially during the last month of the year. Some of the children would become sad and depressed during this time, remembering those that had passed before and pining away for the warm sunshine and green plants of summer. But on the very darkest and shortest day of the whole year there was much gaiety and laughter. For on that day most of the children would celebrate with candles, bonfires, music, song and feasting. On that day all the children in the Old Man’s gardens would throw festivals to remind themselves that starting tomorrow the days would become longer and brighter, bringing the promise of spring.
All these festivals were a bit different from each other, though. Each one revolved around the distinct customs found in all the various garden’s of the Old Man’s. The children brought these customs and traditions with them over his many bridges; bridges built by his Son built to help bring them closer to the Old Man.
Often the Old Man could be seen at these many different festivals, singing, dancing, talking and laughing with the children. Wherever there was a celebration of life and friendship there you would also find the Old Man.
One day some of the leaders in the garden were talking; “You know, all these festivals are great fun, but none of them say much about the Old Man” said one girl (who had been one of the first to find the garden.)
“So?” the others asked.
“Well, we owe him so much and he has been so kind. Don’t you think it would be great if we held all the winterfestivals in honor of him?” she said.
Of course! It seemed so obvious to them. Everyone loved the idea. So they decided to take the best from each festival and created one great big one dedicated to the Old Man. It was to be called Old Man’s Festival. There was even more food, more music, more dancing, more decorations, candles and bonfires than ever before. It was a wonderful time and the Old Man seemed to love it.
Soon the Festival got so big that it took almost a whole month for all the preparations to be made. If there already wasn’t enough to do, someone came up with a new idea.
“The Old Man, he doesn’t get a birthday like the rest of us. I’ll bet he gets sad about that. Why don’t we bring him gifts during the festival?” Who could (or dared) say no to that?
The first year that everyone brought gifts, the Old Man seemed embarrassed;“Children, you needn’t bring me things. What can I possibly need? I own everything in the garden as it is. All I want is your love and for you to love each other.”
“Well, if he once us to love each other let’s give the gifts to those who can use them.” First they started with the needy kids but then they began to give them to anyone that they liked. They loved to give (and receive) gifts and this soon became the most important part of the festival (even more important to some than remembering the Old Man). Each year it was important to find that perfect gift, to show that you really cared for the person you gave it to.
Eventually the children had so much to do for Old Man’s Festival that they started to lose track of their time. The preparations began earlier and earlier. They worked harder and harder at cooking delicious food, decorating the yard with thousands of lights, and hanging colorful ribbons and bows. Mostly, though, they were frantically making or buying all the gifts they needed to make the Festival a success. Sometimes the Old Man would be seen coming down the hill to talk with a few of the children but they were much too busy getting ready for his feast day. He would often walk through the campgrounds, trying to get the attention of the busy children.
Meanwhile, more children kept coming across the bridges and they brought along their own customs and traditions. They would set up their own midwinter’s feasts, with the all lights and food and music but of course it all would be very different from the established Festival traditions. Of course, these children would be invited to join in the Festival, if they were willing to give up their old customs and ways. Few of these new arrivals could understand why this was necessary so most of them respectfully declined. Even so, they were always reminded that their winter festivals weren’t the real thing, that their celebrations should only be about the Old Man.
The Festival season became bigger and better and the season lasted longer and longer. Soon everyone involved could be seen running to and fro, frantically trying to get everything done in time for the big event. This year was to be the biggest and best so far. Finally the time had come–it was Festival Day! The party was tremendous, the food delicious, the children’s orchestra and choir had never been better. White and colored lamps and candles, ornamental flowers, ribbons, bows- it was fantastic. The hall hung with tapestries. Dozens of cooks and servers laid out great platters of exotic and exquisite meats, cakes and sweets- more than they could ever possibly eat! Children put on plays and skits and dancers displayed their skills. And the gifts! – what wonderful gifts! No expense was spared. Wrapping paper flew through the air and there were squeals of delight (and occasional groans of disappointment.) Singing, laughing – so much noise and revelry. It had been exhausting and frantic but the day was finally here. This was worth all the headaches and stress. Now it was time to have fun. It was Festival!
But something seemed to be out of place. The celebration was just not quite right. There was an uncomfortable sense that a very important element was missing. Where was the Old Man?
He was supposed to be here- after all it was his party. But no matter how hard everyone looked they could not find him. What a terrible disappointment! All this work, all this excitement and anticipatioin – and for what? They looked around at all the dishes and glasses and silverware that needed to be cleaned, all the torn paper wrapping and bits of string, the dying plants and sagging festoons. Was this it? Everyone became very quiet as they pondered how much time and effort they had spent preparing for this one day. And how much more work now faced them.
Just then then, drifting in on the wind, there could be heard the faint sound of laughter, and perhaps just a bit of music. The wind was blowing in from the west, from around the hillside and they all listened. Yes! That was laughter- and song! Where was that coming from?
Some of the children decided that they must find the source of these delightful noises. The others pleaded with them; “Dont’ go! You must stay and help clean up!” But they turned and ran out into the darkness, towards the west and the source of the laughter.
They ran and ran and finally came to the shoulder of the great hill. The horizon was glowing softly and as they crested the rise they saw below them an amazing spectacle. At the bottom of the hill there lay a small camp, made up of some of those children who had recently come over the bridge. There was an open bonfire circled by many children, all wearing simple yet colorful clothes. They were singing and laughing and dancing. Nearby stood some others with violins and tambourines and they were playing a simple rhythmic melody. Over the fire the carcass of a goat sizzled slowly on a spit while a young boy kept a close watch on it.
Off to the side they were astonished to see the Old Man sitting quietly on the ground. Surrounding him were a dozen or so children and they all seemed captivated by what the he was saying. Sitting at his feet they listened quietly, and when they occasionally asked him questions he would listen too, nodding his head and smiling. Beyond them could be heard the dancing, laughing and singing but it was never so loud that it drowned out the Old Man’s voice. Seeing the newcomers on the hillside, he beckoned for them to come closer.