Joyful carols carried by wind, crazed shoppers hunting for bargains, and cookies cut into cute snowmen, sprinkled with crushed candy cane. Christmas time again. But it wasn’t always so merry. Not for my village.
They still talk about the mysteries of Mistletoe Wood today, which looms outside our village.
The legend starts with gingerbread.
It was a crisp December afternoon, and two girls were skipping home from school. All bundled up with rosy cheeks, they looked like little dolls. They carried baskets of goodies from the bakery that bounced with each step and were about to take the shortcut, which happened to lead directly through the Mistletoe Wood.
All of a sudden, a gaunt girl, Bertha, stepped out in front of them, dressed in rags and tatters. She wore a crown made of mistletoe. She begged for food.
“All we have is gingerbread cookies,” Gertrude offered, and the girl received them with gratitude.
Millicent, being proud as ever, declared, “We paid good shillings for those. Now we need something in return.”
“I don’t have anything,” Bertha frowned.
“I see you do,” Millicent’s eyes glimmered cruelly. “That crown is beautiful. Give it to me.”
Bertha took a step back in defiance.
“Milicent, stop being so wicked. Let’s go,” Gertrude interjected and took her friend by the arm.
With fiery eyes, Milicent snatched the crown off Bertha’s head.
Bertha tried to retrieve it, but Milicent was a good foot taller and held it way above her head.
Gertrude, being small herself, couldn’t recover it either as she pleaded with her friend to give it back.
“Okay, I’ll give it back,” Milicent finally acquiesced, and added slyly, “but only if you win. I challenge you to a bake-off. Whoever makes the best gingerbread wins. Tomorrow.”
Bertha agreed and stormed away.
Gertrude once more reprimanded Milicent, who shushed her.
A roaring sound rang through the forest, as if a grumpy bear had been awakened from a deep slumber, and the girls scurried off.
Gertrude and Milicent awoke the next day to a commotion outside. Shouts of amazement. Right outside of town, stood a huge gingerbread house with candied windows, icing and gumdrops. Beside it was Bertha, eyes twinkling.
The townsfolk stared in awe.
“It’s mistletoe magic,” Bertha said coolly. “The forest heard how rude Milicent was and for the first time ever, it uprooted itself. It helped me build this just to make a point. These trees labored over this thing all night. They assembled the roof, carefully passing pieces from fellow branch to branch. And voilà. I won.”
“Not so fast.” Milicent said, refusing to lose. “It could be a trick.”
“By all means, come inside and see,” Bertha beckoned. “It’s real and fully furnished.”
Milicent trooped forward, but Gertrude whispered at her not to go.
As soon as she stepped inside, the door slammed behind her.
Milicent whirled around and tried the door, but it was sealed shut by magic.
“Hello, Milicent,” a chorus sang. The oven popped open and a band of gingerbread people hopped out. “We’d like our crown.”
At that, Milicent screamed and the door swung open. The crazed cookies chased her outside.
“Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t outrun us, we’re the gingerbread men,” they chanted in unison.
Milicent stumbled, falling into the cool forest dirt, sullied dress. She scowled as she threw the crown down.
The cookies, who were decorated as little knights, picked it up gingerly and handed it back to Bertha, their rightful queen.
The girls eventually apologized to each other, and all was well again. Milicent learned her lesson and the gingerbread knights became small but mighty protectors. They even accompanied the girls to school.
However, the forest never quite calmed. Its anger and unrest lasted despite the amends that were made. The forest held a grudge against the humans and odd things had been happening ever since it was awakened, always around the time Bertha called it to help. Always around Christmas. We thought it was also because the forest didn’t like how its brethren evergreens were kidnapped and decorated during Christmas time. But a lot of things went missing as the forest played its tricks.
Once we got rid of the gingerbread house, which stood for years and years, Mistletoe Wood finally became still and quiet once more.
Besides, it was not good to leave an abandoned gingerbread house around. That kind of thing attracts unwanted attention. One day, a witch came across it and decided it would be a nice upgrade from the cave she’d been living in for centuries. After the witch was defeated by Hansel and Gretel, we knocked it down to prevent others from inhabiting it.
We still bake gingerbread around Christmas time years later, but we never forget the house and forest. We’re thankful now that Christmas can truly be merry and bright.