December Holidays

Part II

Winter Solstice Eve

Bartholomew and Brigit were discussing the fast approaching December holidays over some herb tea. Ballymore residents celebrated them in a manner similar to the people of Ireland. They decorated their homes with greenery and candles. They exchanged presents. They gave thanks. The Ballymore residents didn’t call themselves Christians and were only vaguely aware of the Bible. However, they lived in accordance with the Golden Rule whether they realised it or not. It seemed natural for them to help each other. Bartholomew owned a copy of the Bible that he read on a regular basis. He considered himself a Christian but didn’t discuss his religion with others unless asked.

Brigit said, “This has been a wonderful year, and I’m looking forward to the holidays. So much good has happened, and when something bad happened, it turned out fine eventually. You’ve done a wonderful job.”

“Thank you, but I can’t and won’t take credit. All I do is provide some occasional guidance. The animals willingly embrace the universal truths. That will be the theme for my Winter Solstice Eve speech. Yes, it has been a wonderful year, and there will be many more as long as we continue to follow the truths.”

“You’re right. Thank you for reminding me,” said Brigit, and she gave Bartholomew a hug. “I still think you deserve more credit than you’re willing to accept.”

He smiled and said goodbye. Much organising for Winter Solstice Eve remained to be done.

The Ballymore holiday period extended over the second half of the month. The primary celebration would be held on Winter Solstice Eve and the following day, 22 December.

As you already know, this year there will be a new enclosed meeting hall and a special room for Jonathan’s activities. The special room was being kept a secret from most. Even Bartholomew hadn’t seen it. It would be opened, for the first time, on Winter Solstice Eve.

The weeks leading up to the holiday were busy for everyone. There were numerous small get-togethers, and Bartholomew was invited to every one. Unfortunately, he had to graciously decline several. Back in November everyone drew a raffle ticket to determine to whom they would give a holiday present. This was in addition to the gifts they exchanged with their family. A considerable amount of effort went into creating or obtaining presents in preparation for the big night and following day.

Despite the apparent emphasis on presents, the animals believed that their giving was another expression of caring for each other. The presents were simply the symbols of that love and caring.

Winter Solstice Eve was clear and cold as the animal residents made their way to the pavilion on the island. Both the HMS Ballymore and raft were used for transport. Ice had begun to form on the pond, but the crafts cut through it without difficulty. The festivities were scheduled to begin at six bongs.

This was the social event of the year, and everyone looked their best. Rhonda and Reginald Rabbit had made several dresses and suits for the occasion.

Not a resident was absent, not even Grenby Groundhog. He had briefly interrupted his long nap to attend. He wore a very smart looking but old style tweed suit.

Everyone looked dapper, but it was the weasels who made the biggest impression. Reginald had made dress uniforms for them, and they wore them proudly. The uniform consisted of tan pants, white shirt, red long-tailed coat with gold buttons, black belt, boots, and beret.

Bartholomew stood at the podium and shuffled his notes. He had on brown pants, a tan vest, and a tweed jacket. A red bow tie and handkerchief completed the rather distinguished outfit. He nodded hello to everyone as they walked in. Each animal picked up a small candle in a holder and took it with them to their seats.

After everyone had finally settled, Bartholomew began.

“Good evening dear friends, and a happy Winter Solstice Eve to all.”

Everyone responded in kind.

“As we do each year, we have gathered this evening to give thanks for everything we have. This has been a particularly good year for Ballymore. We welcomed newcomers Sam Snapping Turtle, my brother Jonathan Owl and his son, Oliver. Mostly recently, we welcomed Puff Cat. Thankfully, no one left us this year.”

Unfortunately, Puff’s mother had not been located.

“We have a new boat, the HMS Ballymore. We have this new building. Also, I believe we are in the final stages of locating the gift left for us by the Ballymore residents of 1801. I think you will agree that it has been a memorable year.”

He paused.

“During this season, most of the people of the world also celebrate special holidays. They gather to give thanks to their God. We live in an area known as Ireland. It is part of the British Isles. Most people here are Christians, and their holiday is called Christmas. It occurs on 25 December.

“According to Christian belief, and my belief also, about nineteen hundred years ago, God sent his son to earth to live among the people. His son was called Jesus Christ. He came to proclaim the words of the Lord, his Father. Sadly, he also came to die. He died for the sins of the people. Every Christian who proclaims belief in Jesus Christ will go to heaven when they leave this earth.

“The words of the Lord are in The Holy Bible.”

Bartholomew held up his Bible. It was a well-worn book with a black leather cover.

“There is much good advice and guidance in this book. While you do not consider yourselves Christians, you believe in and follow one of its most important rules: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He opened the Bible to a bookmarked page and held it up.

“It is written right here in chapter, Matthew 7:12. We in Ballymore honour and abide by this rule even though it was never formally taught to us. I’ve said it before, and I repeat it this evening. This is what makes Ballymore the wonderful place it is.

“I ask that we bow our heads for a minute of silence. Let us give thanks to the Creator who watches over each of us and the whole universe.”

Everyone lighted their small candle, and the oil lamps on the walls were turned down. It was an impressive sight as the animal residents bowed their heads. Not a sound was heard but the crackling of the fire.

After about a minute Bartholomew said, “Thank you.”

The oil lamps were turned up again. He looked around and admired the new meeting room they were in.

“Let us also thank everyone who created this magnificent building.”

The animals had blown out their candles and placed them under the chairs. Their paws and wings were now free to clap appreciatively. After a while Bartholomew held up his wings and motioned for quiet.

“As you know, each year we present the Ballymore Community Service Award to the animal who, through his or her actions, has best represented the values of Ballymore. This year, there were many candidates from which to choose.

“Branna Bluebird was always ready to help when needed. She played an important role in the medical transport of Robbie Rabbit when he injured his leg on our first puzzle hunt. With her sister Britt, she led the rescue of Colin and Craig Chipmunk from a runaway kite. Also, she played a major role in obtaining the puzzle pieces from the well last month.

“Branna, would you please come to the stage.”

Branna rose from her seat and walked forward as everyone applauded. She had not expected this and was embarrassed. Bartholomew shook her wing and then motioned her to the right.

“Our next candidates come as a pair, Wilde and Wilder Weasel. During our expedition to The Hills, they bravely fought and drove off an unfriendly bear. They led the next trips to the bell tower and well. They protected Petunia Porcupine from a hawk in September, and no one will forget their Halloween fireworks show. Wilde and Wilder Weasel, please come up.”

In contrast to Branna, the weasels were expecting a nomination and walked purposefully to the stage in their impressive uniforms. Everyone clapped and cheered. Bartholomew shook their paws and motioned them to stand beside Branna.

“Our third candidate is well known to you all. Burton Beaver played a lead role in the building of the HMS Ballymore. He led the construction of this wonderful building in record time. He also participated in the puzzle trip to the bell tower. Please come up here my friend.”

Burton was surprised but not embarrassed. Burton was well liked in Ballymore, and as he walked to the stage, he receive a standing ovation. Bartholomew hugged him and then he moved over and stood beside the weasels.

“Although he is not eligible for the award this year, I have to mention Sam Snapping Turtle. Sam has been here five years, but we didn’t meet him until August. It was then that he rescued Craig and Colin Chipmunk from the pond during a thunderstorm. Now that I think of it, the chipmunks certainly tested our emergency services this past year.”

Everyone laughed.

“In any event, Sam please come up here.”

Public recognition always embarrassed Sam, but he walked to the stage as requested. He also received a standing ovation. Bartholomew hugged Sam and the turtle quickly returned to his seat.

“Ladies and gentlemen of Ballymore, I am pleased to announce that the Ballymore Community Service Award for 1891 goes to Wilde and Wilder Weasel.”

The room erupted in cheering. The weasels were still rascals, but their reputation had skyrocketed this year. The animals were now willing to overlook their occasional tricks.

The weasels approached the podium. Bartholomew held a large plaque with their names engraved on it for the year 1891.

“Wilde and Wilder, you have truly earned this award. Everybody here thanks you for your tireless efforts this year.”

He presented the plaque to them. They thought they might win, but now that it had really happened, they were almost speechless.

Wilde looked at the floor a long time and then said, “My brother and I thank you so much. It has been a growing year for us. We love Ballymore.”

He looked at the floor again and then up.

He smiled and said, “We want to apologise for the tricks we played this year, but there probably will be more next year.”

Everyone laughed again.

“Thank you.”

Wilder also said, “Thank you.”

They returned to their seats with the plaque and received another ovation.

Bartholomew continued, “For their much appreciated efforts, I would like to present these gold ribbons to Branna Bluebird and Burton Beaver.”

The crowd cheered again. Branna and Burton accepted their awards and returned to their seats.

“Now I would like to present my brother, Jonathan, who will talk about the new activity room. I believe we are in for another surprise. Please wait to exchange gifts until we go in there.”

As Jonathan approached the stage, Stoddard Swan spoke up. “I don’t think we are done yet. May I come up?”

Bartholomew was surprised but said, “Of course, Stoddard. Please come up.”

Stoddard walked to the stage, stood beside Bartholomew and said, “Bart, Ballymore has had a great year, and we know you played a major part. We want to give you something special to say thank you.”

Bartholomew smiled but didn’t know what to say. He certainly didn’t expect this.

“Several times when we have flown together you commented on the beautiful scenery. You said it would be wonderful if it could be painted. Well, now it has been.”

Stoddard motioned. From the back of the room, Farley and Fionna Frog carried what was obviously a large painting and easel to the stage. A red velvet cloth was draped over both. The frogs carefully set the easel down between Stoddard and Bartholomew.

“As an expression of our appreciation for all you have done for Ballymore, we would like to present you with this just completed artwork.”

Bartholomew slowly pulled off the cloth.

“Oh my! Oh, my!” he exclaimed. “It’s wonderful. How were you ever able to do it?”

“In October, Sean and I flew Farley and Fionna around the pond until they where able to sketch the scene. They got enough details so that they could complete the painting in their studio,” answered Stoddard.

“Well, it’s gorgeous! Thank you Farley and thank you Fionna. I will hang it over my fireplace. Thank you everybody.”

Bartholomew was given a standing ovation. He was very moved by the unexpected gift.

Stoddard said, “NOW, I think we are ready for Jonathan.”<