The Velvet Box: A Christmas fable

Published 11:09 am Monday, December 25, 2023

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By Gene Gallelli

Taffy Ann finally made it to Santa’s lap in the village department store, after being led up the steps by Vesper, Santa’s elf. She thought Santa looked okay, but his elf looked very real to her, like something from a fairytale.

Accompanied by the traditional, “Ho, ho, ho!” Taffy Ann was asked what she wanted for Christmas. Santa and Vesper were surprised by the answer she gave: Without hesitation, she said, “I want a velvet box that holds a gift I can give to everyone I love.”

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Unnoticed by anyone, Santa’s elf had a strange, knowing look on his face as he helped Taffy Ann onto the exit slide similar to the one in her favorite Christmas movie. Mom and dad – Barb and Clyde Wooly – were waiting for her at the slide’s base and took her along to do some more shopping, much to Taffy Ann’s obvious displeasure.

Santa was, “Ho, ho!”-ing again, waiting for another child to hop onto his lap. His elf, Vesper, had his eyes fixed on Taffy and her family as they marched down another department store aisle. He smiled knowing he would see her again, soon, although not in the department store.

The week before Christmas, Taffy and her dad made a magnificent snowman on their front lawn replete with a fancy hat, bottle-cap eyes, an old scarf and a huge carrot nose. Taffy and friend, Molly, also had a great time sledding down Eyer Park Hill with Molly’s exhausted dad who collapsed on the couch after arriving home.

The days leading up to Christmas Eve seemed like years to Taffy. When it finally did arrive, mom and dad treated Taffy to her favorite chicken tenders with French fries for dinner – admittedly not very healthy – and after getting her approval of the cookies and milk left for Santa – along with some carrots for the reindeer – Taffy said her evening prayers and was tucked into bed and kissed goodnight by her mother; her dad was already busy putting Taffy’s “Santa” gifts under the tree.

The Sandman came quickly and Taffy soon found herself in a misty Dreamland with rainbow-tinted trees and blooming foliage, alongside a narrow stream with a golden bench upon which sat a smiling Vesper, Santa’s department store elf.

“I knew we’d meet again, Taffy Ann!” said Vesper who was wearing a red and green sweater covered with blinking lights.

“I knew you were a real elf,” said Taffy, “your ears and nose were too pointy!” She looked embarrassed for fear of having offended him.

Vesper just laughed and said, “You have nothing to worry about young lady. I knew you were very special when you asked Santa for a gift in a velvet box for everyone you love.” He got up from the golden bench, walked to the edge of the stream, pointed to the opposite shore and said, “If you follow me across this narrow stream that warms but does not wet, we can eat from the Tri-fruit trees whose fruit will taste as you desire. Then, we can rest before we travel on to meet the real Santa.”

The thought of meeting the real Santa made her giggle as she followed Vesper across the stream to the colorful row of Tri-fruit trees.

“What was your favorite tri-fruit?” said Vesper.

“Oh goodness,” replied Taffy, “I loved the one that tasted like red cherries, one that was a sweet watermelon, and one that tasted like chicken tenders dipped in honey.”

Vesper laughed at her last tri-fruit choice, took her hand, and together they continued north to visit with Santa where Taffy could ask for her treasured velvet box.

Suddenly, it began to snow. Not the wet, cold flakes Taffy remembered, but fluffy ones that were not cold or wet and tasted like candy canes on Taffy’s tongue. She could not resist making a snowball from the snow and throwing it at Vesper. He caught it and threw it back, but it had become a popcorn ball with nuts and chocolate that Taffy enjoyed as they continued their journey together.

Soon they came upon a tiny cottage with rainbow smoke coming out of the chimney and lighted candles in each window. A huge, decorated tree with twinkling lights stood guard in front of the cottage.

Taffy Ann and Vesper were greeted at the front door by Mrs. Claus, and the smell of hot chocolate filled the air. There was a blazing log fire in the stone fireplace with Santa sitting in a recliner petting a baby reindeer.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Taffy Ann, and I have something very special to give you,” Santa said.

“You look different, Santa,” said Taffy, “your beard is gray and so is your suit!”

Santa “Ho, ho, ho”-ed several times, very loudly. “Children see me as they know me from where they live. I was talking to a child from Norway before you came in, that’s why my bushy beard is gray. In the Netherlands, children call me Sinterklaas and see me ride into town on a white horse.” Santa notices Taffy’s confused expression and quickly snaps his fingers; immediately his beard becomes white and his outfit a bright red.

“Now I know who you are!” says Taffy, who is much relieved seeing the Santa she knows.

A wooden tray of hot cocoa and frosted cutout cookies sat on a nearby coffee table, a safe distance from the fireplace. Santa, Vesper and Taffy enjoy the chocolate beverage and several cookies while more stories are told about how Santa looks to children in other countries.

Finally, the long-awaited moment arrives: Santa reaches in a sack next to his recliner and pulls out a beautiful velvet box with a ribboned top and hands it to Taffy Ann.

“Oh! My goodness!” Says Taffy as she accepts it with shaking hand and a young child’s sense of awe.

“Go ahead and open it,” says Santa.

“Yes! Open it!” urges Vesper.

With careful hesitation, Taffy sets the box on the coffee table and removes its ribboned top. Peering inside for several seconds, she lifts her head and says, “But … there’s nothing in there but a mirror!”

“And what do you see in the mirror?” asks Santa.

“Me! I just see me!” Tears of disappointment roll down Taffy’s puffy cheeks as she waits for Santa’s response.

“Didn’t you ask for the greatest gift you could give everyone you love?”

“Yes. But …”

Santa smiles and says, “Taffy Ann, you ARE the greatest gift you can give to everyone you love!”

“Yes. You are,” says Vesper. “I knew it when I sensed your warm and kind spirit in the department store.”

“Your love, your smile, and your gentle, caring nature are just a few of the wonderful, priceless gifts you have to give others,” says Santa.

After more hot cocoa, cookies and joyful stories, Vesper and Taffy leave Santa to his busy Christmas Eve preparations and, hand-in-hand, journey back to the stream that warms but does not wet, near the row of Tri-fruit trees.”

“Are you not crossing with me?” Taffy asks Vesper.

“No. This where I belong.”

“But … will I ever see you again?” says Taffy, wiping tears from her puffy red cheeks.

“You can find me wherever children are making wishes.”

With that, Taffy Ann picked one last tri-fruit and crossed the stream back to the village park where she met Vesper for the adventure of her life.

“TAFFY ANN! TAFFY ANN! Santa’s been here! Hurry down!” yelled her mom from downstairs.

Her mom’s shouting startled Taffy awake and she jumped out of bed and ran to the stairs in anticipation of what lay under the Christmas tree. Sleepy-eyed, she grabbed the velvet box that only she can see and headed downstairs to give the wonderful gifts of herself to everyone she knows and loves.

It was the best Christmas ever.

As most of us know, children ARE our greatest gifts. They, too, are the Magi.

Gene Gallelli was associate superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his doctor of education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.