This is the story the robins tell as they huddle beneath the holly on the Eve of Christmas. They have told it every Christmas Eve since the world started. They commenced telling it long before Christ was born, for their memory goes further back than men’s. The Christmas which they celebrate began just outside of Eden, within sight of its gold-locked doors.
The robins have only two stories: one for Christmas and one for Easter. Their Easter story is quite different. It has to do with how they got the splash of red upon their breasts. It was when God’s son was hanging on the cross. They wanted to do something to spare him. They were too weak to pull out the nails from his feet and hands; so they tore their little breasts in plucking the thorns one by one from the crown that had been set upon his forehead. Since then God has allowed their breasts to remain red as a remembrance of His gratitude.
But their Christmas story happened long before, when they weren’t robin red-breasts but only robins. It is a merry, tender sort of story. They twitter it in a chuckling fashion to their children. If you prefer to hear it first-hand, creep out to the nearest holly-bush on almost any Christmas Eve when snow has made the night all pale and shadowy. If the robins have chosen your holly-bush as their rendezvous and you understand their language, you won’t need to read what I have written. Like all true stories, it is much better told than read. It’s the story of the first laugh that was ever heard in earth or heaven. To be enjoyed properly it needs the chuckling twitter of the grown-up robins and the squeaky interruptions of the baby birds asking questions. When they get terrifically excited, they jig up and down on the holly-branches and the frozen snow falls with a brittle clatter. Then the mother and father birds say, “Hush!” quite suddenly. No one speaks for a full five seconds. They huddle closer, listening and holding their breath. That’s how the story ought to be heard, after night-fall on Christmas Eve, when behind darkened windows little boys and girls have gone to bed early, having hung up their very biggest stockings. Of course I can’t tell it that way on paper, but I’ll do my best to repeat the precise words in which the robins tell it.
It was very long ago at the beginning of all wonders. Sun, moon and stars were new; they wandered about in the clouds uncertainly, calling to one another like ships in a fog. It was the same on earth; neither trees, nor rivers, nor animals were quite sure why they had been created or what was expected of them. They were terribly afraid of doing wrong and they had good reason, for the Man and Woman had done wrong and had been locked out of Eden.
That had happened in April, when the world was three months old. Up to that time everything had gone very well. No one had known what fear was. No one had guessed that anything existed outside the walls of Eden or that there was such a thing as wrong-doing. Animals, trees and rivers had lived together with the Man and the Woman in the high-walled garden as a happy family. If they had wanted to know anything, they had asked the Man; he had always given them answers, even though he had to invent them. They had never dreamt of doubting him–not even the Woman. The reason for this had been God.
Every afternoon God had come stepping down from the sky to walk with the Man through the sun-spangled shadows of the grassy paths. They had heard the kindly rumble of His voice like distant thunder and the little tones of the Man as he asked his questions. At six o’clock regularly God had shaken hands with the Man and climbed leisurely back up the sky-blue stairs that led to Heaven. Because of this the Man had gained a reputation among the animals for being wise. They had thought of him as God’s friend. He had given orders to everybody–even to the Woman; and everyone had been proud to obey him.