(Editor’s note: Several readers have asked me if I would republish this column in time for Christmas. It was originally published Dec. 7, 2000.)
Those ceramic Christmas villages are nostalgic wonders, but do be careful.
I was always buying those village pieces for other people as presents. This year, I decided to buy one for myself. I bought five buildings: a church, a bakery, a train station, a general store and a butcher shop. I also bought 15 little ceramic figurines, including my favorite one – Charles Dickens’ immortal Bob Cratchit with his son, Tiny Tim, perched upon his left shoulder.
I set up the village on a long narrow oak table lined with a snow sheet. It made for a cheerful display, a perfect little miniature world glowing with lights, like an idyllic English Christmas scene from the 19th Century.
As I gazed upon that village, I kept smiling. There, before my eyes, was this timeless miniature world whose little people never have car problems, never have bill worries, never get sick, and where children play happily ever after – skating, sledding, throwing snowballs. An enchanting Christmas world where nothing goes wrong.
However, it dawned on me the village was missing something. Despite its glow-in-the-dark charm, it was a bit too perfect, too static. It needed something, but what? I rearranged it a few times. Then an inspiration struck. I know; it needs a cozy flickering fire, like those chestnut roasters people gather ‘round on frosty nights in winter.
In my junk drawer I found one of those tea candles. I cut an inch from a toilet-paper roll, lined it with foil and placed it on a snowy expanse of the village with the tea light inside of it. I lit the candle. Its flickering flame cast a realistic glow. Actually, it looked more like a barrel fire, like the ones where homeless people and winos warm their hands on cold nights. Oh well, that’s good, I thought, because it gives a hint of down-on-your-luck social realism to the too-idyllic Christmas village.
Gathered by the fire were Santa, some villagers, and Tiny Tim on Cratchit’s shoulder.
The candlelight flickered upon them. Yep, perfect.
Then I went to my office-library to write Christmas cards. After an hour I smelled something burning. The candle must have gone out, I thought. Then I smelled something really scorchy.
“Oh, no! It’s the village!”
And it sure enough was. The hot candle had burned a hole through the snow sheet and scorched the oak table. Then I noticed Santa, a caroler and Cratchit-Tiny Tim, all keeled over on their backs on the black snow. Santa was missing a hand, his beard partly melted. The caroler’s beaver hat was sagging down over his face. Then I saw a little pile of ashes by the steps of the bakery.
“What the heck could that be?” I wondered.
Picking up Cratchit, I noticed his upper torso was missing and Tiny Tim was no longer attached to him.
“Oh no! That ash pile. It’s Tiny Tim!”
I could almost hear that little skinny kid shout out his last “God bless us everyone!” as he burned to death. Poor tyke.
Death and calamity had struck my village.
Now Santa stands there with one hand gone, the other a withered stump; the deformed caroler sings off-key; Cratchit is a scorched horror, missing from the waist up; and Tiny Tim is gone forever. Should I place his ashes in a little urn?
A friend popped over the next day and said my sooty Christmas village looks more like the Village of the Damned.
“Whatever you do,” he advised, “do not buy figurines of the Little Match Girl or Mrs. O’Leary’s cow – the one that kicked over a lantern and burned down Chicago.”
But I’m not giving up. I already have plans for two more village fires, new and improved, with flammables protected from the candles, a fire hidden behind a snow bank and the little people standing at a safe distance.
Just in case, though, I’m going to buy some new pieces to add to the realism of my village: a teeny-weeny fire extinguisher, an ambulance, a hospital with a burn unit, maybe even a funeral parlor.
(Editor’s note: In the weeks after this column was published, I received from readers a group of small ceramic firefighters, a wee fire hydrant, a new Cratchit-Tiny Tim and a Santa I presume is scorch-proof. A nephew even gave me a framed burning permit from the City of Rice. I’m happy to report that in the past 18 years, knock on wood, the village has been disaster-free if not fire-proof.)
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.