Hello, gentle readers,
Today I am sharing what I consider to be the second best Christmas story ever. While all of the other bloggers are taking a blogging break, I find myself scurrying about trying to write a few posts while I am on winter break from school. Leave it to me to always be the contrary one. But this book is just too special not to share and since it is a Christmas story, I thought it better shared before the holiday rather than after.
So, what IS this fabulous Christmas story I speak of?
The Christmas Tapestry. Written and illustrated by popular children’s author Patricia Polacco.
The book begins with an introduction or prologue to the story, printed in italics, stating:
“There are those who say there is no balance in the universe and that all things happen randomly…without purpose.” [p. 1]
Polacco suggests that young Jonathan Jefferson Weeks probably felt that way about his family’s move from Memphis, Tennessee to Detroit, where his father accepted a position as the pastor of the New Baptist Church. The family was leaving a church they had worked to make beautiful, a happy home and great school to start all over again rebuilding a rickety church and parsonage in Michigan.
There seemed to be no sense to the move.
At least not until the family’s first Christmas in Michigan.
The family and parishioners worked together all summer and fall to update the bedraggled building. As autumn turned to winter, the transformation was almost complete. With a final coat of paint, the sacrisity wall was ready for the mural planned to be painted in time for Christmas Eve service.
But a record-breaking snow fall and heavy ice strained the roof of the old building. Water ran down and stained the freshly painted sanctuary wall. The plaster fell off, leaving the wooden frame behind exposed.
It seemed their hard work was all for nothing. Again, Jonathan questioned the reason why God had brought them to Detroit. He cried, “We worked so hard, then God sent a blizzard. I don’t understand.” [p. 13]
The parish caretaker made arrangements for Mr. Zukor, the plasterer to evaluate the damage and determine what could be done. In the meantime, Jonathan and his father were enlisted by his mother to drive downtown to pick up some Christmas decorations but the battery in the family car was dead. Jonathan and Reverend Weeks had to take the bus.
Jonathan grumbled about riding the bus, about making the slow trip into town for the decorations. He questioned the point of decorations when there was a glaring hole in the wall of the church ruining everything.
After picking up Mrs. Weeks’ decorations, father and son stumbled into an alley to escape the bitter wind, and happened upon a little shop window where a beautiful hand-stitched tapestry was displayed for sale. Jonathan suggested the cloth would be a perfect thing to cover the water damaged church wall. By chance, the shopkeeper was asking only $15 for the embroidered fabric – the same amount of money Reverend Weeks had in his pocket.
The weather had worsened, when the two joined an elderly woman on a bench to wait for the return bus home. She shared a thermos of tea and raisin cookies with the father and son. Reverend Weeks invited the woman home with them, suggesting that he could drive her onto her house in their car (battery has been recharging).
Once back at the parsonage, Mrs. Weeks served tea and cake to warm the three. Jonathan asked his father to hang the tapestry before they headed back out in the weather to take the old woman home. When Reverend Weeks unfurled the cloth and hung it on the wall, the old woman gasped. She moved closer to inspect the handwork, recognizing it as her own, a piece she had stitched shortly before her wedding years ago in Germany.
Reverend Weeks immediately offered to return the tapestry to her but she insisted that it belonged there in the church, that somehow it had made its way from Germany for a reason, for that purpose.
The woman explained that the cloth was used as her wedding Chuppah or canopy and then as a spread for her marriage bed but then the Nazis had come. She and her groom were separated and never again reunited.
The family was speechless upon hearing the woman’s tale. They invited her to stay for church and dinner following but she declined their hospitality. The entire family drove her home.
On Christmas Eve, the Weeks family was busy all day preparing for the holiday service to be held that evening. The plasterer, Mr. Zukor, stopped by unexpectedly to examine the water damage on the chapel wall. Reverend Weeks pulled back the tapestry so the old man can examine the hole, which he explained would be an easy fix once the wall had completely dried.
As the tapestry was returned to its place hanging over the hole, the old man gulped, then asked how the fabric came to be in their possession. He recognized the tapestry as being exactly like one his bride had made for their wedding years before. He explained that they were herded off to Nazi death camps where he believed she had died.
The old man turned over the cloth to reveal the embroidered initials of his wife.
Jonathan exclaimed that Mrs. Zukor was alive and was with them at the church just days before. The family loaded Mr. Zukor into their car and hurried over to the apartment where Mrs. Zukor lived.
When she opened the door, Mrs. Zukor looked puzzled for just a moment before asking “Is that you my beloved?” in a whispered voice.
Shortly after that, Jonathan Jefferson Weeks understood exactly why he and his family had moved to Detroit.
“He knew why the plaster fell, why the car didn’t start…why it was so bitter and cold that he and is father had shared tea with a lonely old woman. It was all so seamless, woven so perfectly. Woven as beautifully and surely as Jonathan’s radiant cloth that hung at the front of his church. It was all, truly a Christmas Tapestry.” [p. 45]
The first time I read this book, PC and I were driving home from spending the days before Christmas with our families. We weren’t married and in fact, had only been dating a few months. I was looking for a Christmas book to share with my students and had taken this one along with us to read on the trip.
I know I was already emotional, having said goodbye to my parents, as I began to read this book. When I realized what was happening in the story, as the old woman recognized her tapestry hanging on the church wall, I began to cry. PC pulled off the interstate and comforted me as I read the end of the book.
I just sobbed.
Then I read the paragraph on the very last page.
Polacco’s The Christmas Tapestry is based on the same supposedly true story told by two pastors thirty years apart. A true story?
I submit to you that there are no coincidences in this world just God’s plan.
I always like to provide you with resources to use with your children or students. I found these study units to accompany the book.
There is a YouTube video of the book available, too.
But I hope you will read the book for yourselves first.
Thank you for sharing some time with me. Please cuddle up with a child you love and enjoy this book and/or at least this video of the second best Christmas story ever.
Hugs and kisses,