A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 24 (Part 1)

December 24th – Weihnachten / Christmas Eve (Part 1)

The adults split up into two groups in the morning. One, led by Anton, took the kids who still believed in the Christkind into Vienna to the zoo, whilst the others helped decorate the tree, covering it with hundreds of twinkling electric lights. Candles were really not an option, because there was just too much risk of burning down Ludwig’s barn with the smallest accident. With the tree completed, they finishing up the cooking and began laying out the food.

The kids at the zoo were beside themselves with joy. The anticipation of the Christkind coming and bringing all the presents, the freshly fallen snow, the animals all made it hard for the adults with them to keep them in check. More than once a kid wandered off and got lost, but eventually they found each one and made their way back to the village for the Christmas celebrations.

When they arrived back at the barn, it was already dark. The huge door opened with a deep groan, revealing nothing as it was pitch black inside. Now it was Ludwig’s turn, he flipped the switch and all the lights went on in the barn. The tree was sparkling and hundreds of lights were wrapped around the wooden beams of the barn, making it look magical. The pastor rang a big cowbell to indicate that the Christkind had visited and left presents for everyone. Suddenly, the room was full of oohs and aahs, wide-eyed children and delighted adults. Anton, who hadn’t seen the barn lit up before, gasped and his eyes widened as much as any of the children’s, though his twinkled along with the tree, as they were full of tears.

Everyone sat down at the long tables in the barn for Christmas dinner. The mayor’s sister-in-law had never had such a tasty Christmas dinner before. The rest of the village, too, enjoyed themselves and the food. There was fondue and carp, roast goose, baked apples, mulled wine, teas, and piles upon piles of Christmas cookies of almost every variety. The mood was cheerful and everyone laughed and had fun.

After dinner, it was time to sing. Even with the choir leader lying down, the choir sang the Christmas carols beautifully, and the rest of the village joined in. Lyric sheets were handed out, just in case, and the barn filled with music. Big and small, young and old, human and goat stood around the Christmas tree and sang at the top of their voices.

(to be continued…)

A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 23

December 23rd 

”Gary, where are you?” he called out, but no reply came.
Then he heard a noise, a quiet crunching from the far corner of the barn. A large cardboard box sat on the floor under one of the tables and strange sounds were coming out of it. Ludwig pulled the box out from underneath the table, finding it much heavier than he had expected. The reason for the weight became clear when Ludwig opened the lip to find the goat sitting inside, surrounded by crumbs of what had once been a pile of gingerbread.

“Gary!” Ludwig shouted, and scared Gary so much that the goat stiffened up and fainted in the middle of the gingerbread crumbs.
Despite the fact that his goat had eaten a huge box full of cookies, Ludwig couldn’t help but laugh. The image of Gary with his bloated belly full of gingerbread, passed out in a circle of crumbs inside a cardboard box looked like the very definition of ‘just desserts’.

When he woke up the next morning, Gary realised he was in the farm kitchen, but still in the box with the last of the cookie crumbs. He thought this was quite excellent, because it was warmer in the kitchen and he didn’t have to move for more gingerbread, so he turned around in the box and continued to eat the delicious crumbs.

“You are insatiable,” Ludwig stated, looking down at his crazy goat.
“Fforry,” he replied, crumbs shooting out of his mouth.
Ludwig sighed and went back to preparing what felt like a ton of gingerbread dough to make up for all the cookies Gary had eaten.

A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 22

December 22nd

Otto, the choir master, was under strict instructions to stay in bed and rest, but at last he was given the okay from the hospital to leave. He would stay with the pastor, where the housekeeper could help look after him. Most of the village came to visit at some point and Ludwig came up with a plan to make sure he could take part in the festivities. Since Anton was staying with Ludwig for the festivities, he was able to lend Otto his fancy, movable bed. They would be able to decorate it nicely and, by wrapping him up in festive blankets, he would be able to spend Christmas with everyone else in the barn, without disobeying doctor’s orders to stay in bed. Otto was so happy, he cried when they shared the plan with him.

Ludwig returned to the barn in the evening, to run through the plans once again, double-checking every item to ensure that nothing was missing. The villagers had done a great job, hanging up decorations, setting up the tree and piling up the presents around it. Everyone had a task and they all worked together to see it through. The electrician helped wire all the festive lights properly, so there would be no chance of a power outage. Some families had brought and set up warming plates and fridges in the barn to keep the food and drinks warm or cold, as necessary. Most brought heaters and blankets, pillows and chairs to make sure everybody would be cosy, warm and comfortable.

Huge pots of punch and boxes upon boxes of Christmas cookies began to fill the barn with the scent of cinnamon, apples, oranges cloves and gingerbread. Ludwig saw that the first items of fresh food were already in the fridge and cutlery and napkins had been laid out on the tables.

He thought he could sit in here forever, but it was getting late and the barn was no substitute for a comfortable bed.

“We should call it a night, I think, Gary,” he said.
Silence. The goat, who had been by his side all day, was gone.

A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 21

December 21st

On the last school day before the Christmas holidays, Gary accompanied Ludwig to see the kids. At first, the goat stood in a corner of the room while the little monsters sat in their chairs, everyone talking over each other and clamouring for Ludwig’s attention to show him the Christmas decorations they had made. Because they didn’t know of the deal he had made with their teacher, they made him promise that he would take each kid once around the farm on his tractor.

Then the dreaded biology lesson came. When Miss Madeleine told the kids to get up slowly and carefully approach the wild animal. Gary dreaded the worst. He turned out to be right. Ten first graders jumped up from their chairs and ran at him as a single mass of bodies. The goat tensed up, afraid of what they would do to him, scared they would prod and, oh no, he realised, there it goes.
The stress was too much, and Gary passed out on the classroom floor. That was all the kids needed to spiral into a panic. Ludwig tried to convince them that they hadn’t killed Gary and he would wake up any second now, but the goat thought it best to stay tense and keep his eyes shut.

“I’m so sorry, I should’ve told you,” said Ludwig after the class, as Madeleine helped him carry all the boxes full of craftwork to the car.
“It’s fine, at least they had an exciting day before the holidays,” she smiled, gave him a quick peck on the cheek and turned to leave.
“See you at the party!” he called after her, but Madeleine had already closed the school door behind her.

A Very Gary Christmas – Dec 20

December 20th

For the first time in Manfred and Michael’s house, there was a kind of peace and quiet that felt like it was going to last and not be just a short relief before the next storm. There was toast for breakfast and smiles from their mother. When they left for school, she hugged them both extra tight. Not a hug that was really an apology, but one that said that everything was all going to be all right.

“You know, I don’t care about presents anymore,” Michael told his big brother when they were walking to school.
“Why’s that?” Manfred asked.
“I think we already got the best present of them all.”

Manfred nodded, and put an arm around his younger brother.
After school their mother was surprised to see them home so quickly, she didn’t even have lunch ready. The two boys usually went wandering off on their way home, but not today. Now they were eager to come home to their mother, who looked happier and younger than they had ever seen her.

There was Wiener Schnitzel for lunch, the boys’ favourite – as well as every other Austrian child’s. For dessert, their mother had made Kaiserschmarrn; it felt to them as if Christmas had come a few days early this year and they grinned from ear to ear as they were digging into their meal.

“You are still grounded, you know,” she reminded her sons, who were still beaming at her as they nodded dutifully.

She wondered if she had ever seen her sons so relaxed and enthusiastic. The guilt inside was eating her up, but she had had long talks with Meli who had promised to organise some help and allow her to finally get out of this relationship. All she could do now was love her boys and make sure they had a great Christmas. Thanks to the pastor, they would even get some presents.

If the day couldn’t get even stranger, the boys did the little homework they still had on the kitchen table, quickly and without being told, before going on to play in the living room. Usually, they would retreat into their bedroom and stay there until dinnertime. The two boys and their mother had a great time playing together all afternoon. They all knew that things would be much better in the future.