A jolly, light snow powdered the roofs of buildings, the cozy streets of Nuremberg, and the collars of pedestrians.
The people were friendly and full of joy and hope as Christmas was just around the corner. Each of them had a dream, and everyone smiled at each other, knowing that human hearts are warm, even during the coldest of winters.
Only Michal was sad. The usually welcoming, generous, and gentle man was unusually dismal and somber. He didn’t greet anyone, didn’t joke with the visitors of his shop. He would stand silently, and every once in a while he would let out a heavy sigh.
Nobody understood, what happened to this gentle man, but everyone tried to help. Little by little, the city dwellers found out, that the baker’s only daughter, 10 year-old Elizabeth, was very sick. Not a single doctor could help her.
Night after night, the baker would cry while listening to his daughter’s uneven breathing. No matter what medicine he would try to give her, nothing helped, until one day an elderly, hunched, gray-haired woman walked into his shop and asked for some bread.
She looked poor. Her clothes were old and her shoes were battered, but she looked so charming, that Michel’s heart became warm again — happy and generous. He gave her the bread, as well as some of his best ginger cake.
“Merry Christmas Eve,” he said.
“Thank you so much, kind sir, but I have nothing to pay you with!”
“Money doesn’t mean anything. I’m giving you this cake for free,” Michel replied with a smile.
The old lady smiled, wisely and regretfully. She took the bread and the cake, and just as she was about to exit she turned around.
“You’re a generous man, baker. Your generosity and love is why your baked goods are so good. Your cakes can warm the heart and cure the body.
“I’m very old, so I remember this legend. Once upon a time, in Rome, people would bake large gingerbread houses. They would place them on an altar and patiently wait for spirits of happiness and prosperity. They, tempted and attracted by the delicious smell of ginger and honey, would fly in and settle in the houses for the night. In the morning the family would eat the whole house, every single crumb, and with it the gratitude and good faith of the spirits. This provided health, prosperity, and happiness that would last a whole year.
“I can see that your heart is full of sadness. Make one of these houses, and the tears of you and your daughter will dry…”
With that, she left.
Michel was bewildered. He was ready to do anything to save his favorite child. He began to work.
The city dwellers, having found out that he is building a gingerbread house for his daughter, Elizabeth, decided to help too. They would bring the best sweets and fruits from their house and give them to Michel, wishing his daughter to get better.
Michel worked diligently, for many long hours, yet his daughter would get worse and worse. Soon, she couldn’t even get out of bed, and would spend her day crying, watching all the children play outside through her frost-covered window.
“You know, father,” she said, “I really wish I could play with the kids. The snow must be so soft and tasty. Look at all those children having fun…”
Hearing these words, Michel’s heart skipped a beat. He left for the kitchen, trying his best to hide his tears from his daughter.
Several days later, the gingerbread house was finally complete. Carefully, Michel brought it to Elizabeth.
“Look at this house. The snow on the roof — it’s real. Now you can taste it,” he whispered.
Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. She looked at the house, then at her father. Then, she carefully began to taste the powder that covered the house’s roof.
“It truly is delicious. Can I share with the kids outside?” she asked.
“Of course,” Michel replied, truthfully touched by his daughter’s generosity, “Just dress warmly.”
Elizabeth slowly got out of bed, for the first time in days. She put on some warm mittens, a scarf, a hat, and her jacket. With a kiss from her father, she left the house.
Several hours later, the kids were having a snowball fight outside, sledding down the nearby hill, their cheeks bright red from the cold. Then they began to share the gingerbread house.
The next morning, after Christmas, Elizabeth woke up full of energy, recovered. She dashed to her father’s room and said:
“Father! Father! Get up! Get the sled, let’s go outside! I am in the most wonderful mood!”
Since then, the people of Nuremberg believe in the healing powers of gingerbread houses built on the foundations of love and care.
Our hearts (and our gingerbread houses) are also full of this love, care, and generosity. We wish you the brightest, happiest days, filled with love and joy. Believe in the goodness of the people around you, and the people around you will be good to you.
Happy Winter Holidays!