Gusting winds blew the falling snow into little eddies and drifts, but otherwise the streets were quiet, for everyone was at home, preparing for Christmas Eve. Well, not everyone. On a cobbled street there lived a tailor named Leo who was hard at work, sewing and trimming and hemming.
Leo liked to stay busy, for when he stopped working, he thought of his beloved wife, Sonia, who had died a few months earlier. He could not imagine a celebration without his Sonia. So he decided to ignore all holidays, even Christmas.
Suddenly Leo heard a knock, but before he could answer, an elegantly dressed lady swept into his shop. "I need this dress fixed for tonight, no later than sunset," she said, thrusting a bundle at him.
Leo peered at her. "Impossible," he began to say, but she cried, "Fail me, and everyone shall know that Leo the tailor is no longer good at his work. I'll see that you are ruined."
Then she was gone.
Leo stared at the badly torn dress, impossible to repair. "I'm ruined," he groaned, and in despair he lay down on his rickety cot and pulled the blanket over his head. Soon he was asleep and dreaming, and a beautiful girl with golden curls appeared to him. "You must celebrate, Papa Leo," she said cheerily.
Leo looked into her face, and he saw his beloved wife. "Sonia?" he whispered. Sonia was the only person who had ever called him Papa Leo, and this was exactly as she had looked when they first met. "Is that you?"
"Yes," she said, "and look at this mess!" She began to tidy up around the room, and then disappeared into the kitchen, reappearing first with an exquisite gingerbread house, decorated with candy canes and covered in icing, then with the creche Leo had hidden in the back of his shed. "You've forgotten this," she said, placing the creche upon the floor. "And our holly wreath," she added as she hung this upon the door.
Leo watched, amazed. In his dream, Sonia was just as she'd been in life, joyful and lively. He listened to her sing his favorite carols, the music he'd refused to listen to all season long. Now his heart was bursting with pleasure.
"One more thing," Sonia said, and she carried a candle to the window. When she lighted it, the room seemed to glow.
As the light flickered over his face, Leo sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Sonia!" he cried, but now there was no one in sight.
And yet the gingerbread house stood upon the table, the creche upon the floor, the holly wreath hung on the door, the candle glowed in the window. Leo smelled bread and cookies baking and soup boiling. "Sonia?" he called again, but there was silence.
Dazed, he heard a knock. When he opened the door he saw a woman with a baby cradled in her arms. "I'm sorry to bother you, but we were drawn to the candlelight as we were walking home," she said.
"Come in," Leo said, and he watched the woman's eyes light up at the sight of the creche. "How beautiful," she said. "I once lived beside a church where there was a creche exactly like this one. May I touch it?"
Leo nodded, and as she touched the figures in the manger, she wept with happiness.
"Please," Leo said, "take it. For you and your baby."
The woman's tired face seem to light up. "You are too kind. This would make our Christmas perfect."
"It is yours," Leo said. "Merry Christmas."
The woman gathered up the figurines and left with a parting smile. But soon another knock came, and when Leo opened the door he saw a man in tattered clothing, his face dirty from dust. "Excuse me," he said, "but I am a road sweeper. With this snow, I have no way to make any money for a Christmas meal. When I saw your light, I felt you might welcome a poor man."
"Come in," Leo said, and the man followed the scents toward the kitchen, where he discovered freshly baked bread and a pot of soup. "Eat, eat," Leo said, and the man sat and ate heartily, seeming to grow healthy before Leo's very eyes.
"How can I thank you?" the man asked Leo.
Leo leaned close and said earnestly, "I believe the Christ child plans to visit me tonight, so I need nothing. Do you think I'm mad?"
Before the man could answer, another knock came, and now the imperious lady stood before him, demanding her mended dress.
Leo handled her the bundle, but he said nothing.
"You've done no work at all!" she cried, furious.
Leo only smiled. "You shall have to dance in another dress, my lady. Merry Christmas to you," and with that he led her outside and closed the door.
The street sweeper stared at Leo. "Aren't you afraid of such rich people?" he asked. "You shouldn't waste your time on poor men like me. You should have mended her dress."
"Nonsense," Leo said. "I have done what is right."
The poor man peered up at Leo. "All I have to thank you with are these small boots I found when I was sweeping," he said, handing them to Leo. "Perhaps these will fit the Christ child?" he asked. "Do you think he will truly come?"
"I've a feeling all will be well," Leo said, and he took the boots and reached into his closet. He pulled out a long woolen coat. "And you shall take this coat for warmth. I have two and need but one."
"But sir ..." the beggar began to protest.
"Merry Christmas," Leo said as he walked the man to the door. There he stood, looking at the fresh coat of snow, and then he looked up at the bright moon.
Then Leo heard a whisper at his feet and looked down to see a little boy dressed in rags. "Sir, I saw your candle and I wondered if you might have some food for a poor child."
"Come in," Leo said, and then he realized the gingerbread house was for this boy, and the boots, of course, the boots from the street sweeper. They fit the poor boy perfectly.
Leo's spirits danced with the light flickering from the candle. "Why are you so happy?" the little boy asked as he devoured the cookies and drank some soup.
Leo smiled. "Listen to this," he said, and he reached for his Bible. "Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry and ye fed me; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in. Naked, and ye clothed me ..."
"Have you done all this for the Christ child?" the boy asked. His eyes were as big as saucers.
"I have," Leo said, "for the Book of Matthew tells us: 'As ye have done it to one of the least of my brethren, so ye have done it unto me.'"
"What does that mean?" the little boy asked.
"It means, child, that my beloved Sonia is an angel, and that we who give are blessed."
And Leo looked into the candle's dancing light and understood he had always been surrounded by love.
*Several different versions of this tale exist in book, story and play form, each set in a different time and place, but each was inspired by Count Leo Tolstoy's "Where Love Is, There God Is Also," the story of the cobbler Martin Avdeich.
"Tell Me a Story 2: Animal Magic," the second CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.