The Christmas Guest
written by Sugarberry

Snuggled comfortably in her canopy bed, Baby Leafy was sleeping soundly through the early morning hours of Christmas Day. She had been up late the night before participating in the living nativity that the ponies and friends now conducted as a yearly Christmas Eve tradition. The miracle of the preceding year's drama was not repeated, but the occasion had been blessed with a divine outpouring of grace and love. Baby Leafy and her friends had headed home wrapped in the glow of Christmas peace.

Now, warm and cozy in her Christmas dreams, Baby Leafy sighed in her sleep and smiled angelically. She had been approached by a radiant light, and from its brilliant heart she heard these words, "I'm coming to be your guest on Christmas Day."

Baby Leafy's eyes flew open, and she sat upright in her bed. The words echoed through her mind-- "...coming to be your guest..." She gazed around her room as if to locate the source of those words, but everything was enveloped in complacency.

Jumping from her bed, Baby Leafy trotted to the window to behold a rather dreary-looking Christmas morning. Heavy, grey clouds signaled the coming of snow, and a gusty wind blew autumn's leaves hither and thither. By all outward signs, this was just another ordinary day. But in her very being, Baby Leafy knew that this day was very special. Not only was it a day of celebration in the birth of God made Man, but she truly believed that the words she'd heard in her sleep were spoken to her by this Savior of the world.

"He's coming to see me today," she whispered. "He's coming to see ME!"

Without a doubt in her mind that today would be unforgettable, Baby Leafy brushed her teeth and showered before venturing down the hall to the top of the stairs. She always sat on the top step to wait for her parents to wake up before the three of them proceeded down the winding staircase to the front room where the festive tree, garlanded with bright and merry ornaments, stood sentinel over the array of gifts that awaited opening.

Baby Leafy anticipated wonderful gifts, but as she sat on the carpeted stairs, her mind was held by the words still etched in her memory, "I'm coming..." She was so caught up in her private reverie that she didn't hear her parents approach.

Daddy Leafy gently touched her shoulder. "Where are your thoughts off to, Baby Leafy?" he grinned.

Coming back to reality with a start, Baby Leafy grabbed her dad's hoof and pulled herself up into his forelegs. "Merry Christmas, Daddy!" she sang out, then proceeded to plop a big wet kiss on his nose. Leaning to her mother, she repeated her salutation.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," smiled her mother. "You're certainly emanating the Christmas spirit!"

"Jesus comes today!" Baby Leafy clapped her hooves in sheer joy.

"Indeed he does!" agreed Daddy Leafy. "Two thousand years ago he was born in Bethlehem, and we celebrate that awesome fact today."

"But He's really coming," Baby Leafy insisted.

Mommy Leafy lifted her down from her father's embrace and set her on the floor. "He comes to each one of us darling, not just on Christmas, but every day of the year." Mommy Leafy took Baby Leafy's hoof in hers and led her down the stairs.

Catching the excitement of her parents over some gift that must be extra special, Baby Leafy gave in to the thrill of the gift exchange. Her parents guided her to the foot of the stairs, and turned her in the direction--not of the tree-- but of the hall closet.

"Open the door," her dad suggested.

Fascinated, Baby Leafy looked from one parent to the next; then cautiously she approached the door and slowly pulled it open.

At first, she saw nothing amiss--coats hung on the hangars and boots were lined-up at the back of the closet. But then a movement caught her eye as a small golden-furred kitten unfolded itself from a sleepy bundle, yawned, and stretched one leg out front while its little rump rose in the air. The tiny creature shook slightly from the effort. Once on all four paws, the little feline put its tail straight up in the air and proceeded directly to Baby Leafy. After rubbing against her hooves, the kitten raised its baby blue eyes to meet Baby Leafy's. "Meow," the kitten begged. And it was love at first sight on both sides.

Baby Leafy squealed in delight which sent the kitten temporarily scampering for cover, but he soon returned to be caressed and coddled by the creature with whom he'd now share his life. Baby Leafy was emphatically happy, and cradled the kitten gently in her forelegs. Smiling up at her parents, she said, "He'll be my best friend forever and always!" And with that said, she hurried off to the couch to curl up with the wildly purring kitten who was himself experiencing all the joy of acceptance that anyone could hope for.

As Mommy and Daddy exchanged their gifts to one another, Baby Leafy contemplated her kitten. She had discovered that he loved being scratched behind his ears, and tickled on his tummy; both were having the time of their lives when Baby Leafy became aware of her parent's conversation.

"We will have to head out soon for Grandma's house," Mommy Leafy was reminding her family.

"Yes," agreed Daddy Leafy. "You know how upset she gets if we're not there on time."

Baby Leafy looked up in dismay. "I can't leave; Jesus is coming!"

Her parents looked first at Baby Leafy, then at each other. Through silent communication, they obviously determined that Daddy Leafy was the one to face this discussion with his daughter. Mommy Leafy quietly left the room to make last minute preparations for leaving.

Daddy Leafy lowered himself onto the sofa next to Baby Leafy and her kitten. Stroking the kitten's soft fur, he asked, "Baby Leafy, why don't you want to go to Grandma's house?"

In the innocence and trust of childhood, she confided her dream to her dad, ending with a heart-wrenching plea for understanding-- "I've got to be here for Jesus! Please Daddy; don't I?"

Daddy Leafy was silent for some time. He thought back on the last two Christmases when strange, miraculous events had occurred in connection with the memorial of Christ's birth. Was Baby Leafy caught up in a wild imagination fueled by past stories, or was this yet another manifestation from heaven?

Growing impatient, Baby Leafy crawled into her dad's lap. "Daddy, please! For Jesus!"

He looked into her eyes alight with an inner glimmer of knowledge that somehow transcended earthly matters. Hugging his daughter to him, he acquiesced. "Your mom and I will stay home with you, Baby Leafy, and we will all wait for Jesus."

Baby Leafy hugged back with the biggest hug she could muster.

"Better run tell your mother before she has everything packed and ready to go."

Scampering to the kitchen with the kitten close on her hooves, Baby Leafy found her mom loading cookies, pies, and salads into a big basket. Gaily wrapped packages for Grandma and Grandpa, aunts, uncles, and cousins stood expectantly on the table.

"Mommy, Daddy says we're staying home for Christmas!"

Mommy Leafy stopped, a pumpkin pie suspended in midair. A strange look came over her face; she looked searchingly at Daddy Leafy as he entered the room.

"What do you mean-- staying home?" she asked tremulously.

Taking a deep breath, Daddy Leafy tried to explain. "Baby Leafy is sure in her heart that Jesus will visit her here, today. She believes she heard His voice in a dream"

"Mommy, I did," Baby Leafy added positively. Then, turning, she left the room to begin a vigil of watchfulness from the windowseat in the front window; she wanted to be ready and waiting when Jesus came.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Daddy Leafy used all his persuasive powers to convince his wife that Christmas wouldn't be ruined if they missed the family celebration at his mother's. Mommy Leafy was a hard-sell.

"What about food for Christmas dinner?" she wailed. "Your mom is preparing the main course-- all I have are desserts and salads."

"I can run some of these things over to Mom's house; I'm sure she and Sassy and Jewel will have plenty to share with us." Daddy Leafy's two sisters were both excellent cooks.

"But we will be alone on Christmas!"

Pulling his wife close, he hugged her tightly. "Remember our first Christmas together? We wanted to be alone then."

Trying to maintain her pouty look, Mommy Leafy failed miserably as a smile took the place of her frown. "That was a pleasant Christmas, wasn't it?" she remembered.

"So you see, the day will be beautiful for all of us."

"And what do we tell Baby Leafy if no one shows up?" questioned Mommy Leafy. "She has no doubt in her mind that Jesus will come."

"Let's trust in miracles," suggested Daddy Leafy. "Here, tell me what to take out of your boxes for us; then I'll head over to Mom's."

Soon, Daddy Leafy was on his way the two blocks to Grandma's house. After tidying up the kitchen, Mommy Leafy joined Baby Leafy and the kitten on the windowseat. Baby Leafy acknowledged her presence with a bright smile, then turned her gaze back to the street.

Any ponies passing by were friends and acquaintances from the neighborhood. They were hurrying to their Christmas gatherings. Mommy Leafy felt a twinge of regret as she thought of the festivities of which she would have no part.

Suddenly, Baby Leafy sat up in deep concentration. Coming down the street was a young rose-red stallion with golden mane and tail. He wasn't anyone either Baby or Mommy Leafy had seen before. Mommy Leafy perked up as she watched the stranger slowly make his way along the street, looking left and right as if searching for a particular home. She laid a hoof on Baby Leafy's foreleg, and could feel the excitement that her daughter was experiencing. They both gasped as the stallion reached their sidewalk, and turned onto it. Was this the visitor that Baby Leafy had been waiting for?

Baby Leafy raced to the front door even before the knock sounded, and flung it open in anticipation. "Come in! Come in!" she cried out.

A look of surprise crossed the stallion's face, but he willingly stepped into the foyer to escape the chilling wind.

"I'm sorry to bother you on Christmas," he began, "but I'm looking for someone and don't know where to find her."

"May I help you?" queried Mommy Leafy as she came up to him.

"I truly hope so. My sister moved to Dream Valley some months ago, and I wanted to spend Christmas with her. But there are so many homes here." His foreleg swept a wide arc to indicate the extent of his problem. "Neighberry is just a village compared to this."

"Neighberry?" asked Mommy Leafy. "I've heard of that town!"

"Do you know my sister then? Her name is Chocolate Chip and she is brown with..."

"Chocolate Chip is your sister? Why, of course I know her. She lives with Sugarberry over on Fifth Street."

Just returning from his excursion to Grandma's house, Daddy Leafy came in carrying a box of delicious smelling food items. Taking the box from her husband, Mommy Leafy volunteered his services to the wayward stallion.

"Dear, this is Chocolate Chip's brother." Seeing the vacant look on his face, she continued, "You know, the college student that boards with Sugarberry. By the way, what's your name?" she addressed the young stallion.

"My name's Wishbone. And you would be...?" he asked as he extended his hoof.

After introductions had been made, Daddy Leafy headed out with Wishbone to deliver him safely to Sugarberry's house. "Don't eat before I get back," he teased as he winked at Baby Leafy and kissed his wife. With a wave, the girls bid farewell to Wishbone.

Sadly, Baby Leafy turned and trudged back to the windowseat. Even the antics of the pouncing kitten failed to brighten her spirits. "When will Jesus come?" she whispered to herself as she resumed her watch by the window.

After depositing the food safely in the kitchen, Mommy Leafy returned to her daughter. She lovingly ran her hoof over her mane. "Why so glum, little one?"

"It's such a long wait," Baby Leafy admitted.

Mommy Leafy pressed her daughter to her. "When your dad gets back, we'll eat and you will feel better. In the meantime, why don't you think about naming your kitten?"

The golden fuzzy furball had curled up on the cushion of the windowseat and was now sleeping peacefully. Baby Leafy reached out and softly touched the warm, contented kitten. "I don't know what to call him; there are so many pretty names."

"Well, you think about it while I set the table." Her daughter looked so forlorn that Mommy Leafy amended her statement. "On second thought, you set the table while I reheat the food."

Baby Leafy slid off the windowseat and followed her mom to the china cupboard where the best dishes were kept. Only on special occasions were the floral plates put to use, and this was the first time Baby Leafy was allowed to handle them.

Slowly and carefully, Baby Leafy carried the pieces of china to the table and arranged them neatly. The delicate pink roses were lovely to behold, and she was able to forget her unhappiness.

Soon, Daddy Leafy returned, shaking off some white, fluffy snowflakes that had just begun to fall. "Wishbone was warmly received by his sister," he informed his curious wife. "It was a tearful but happy reunion." Handing Baby Leafy a covered plate, he explained, "This is from Sugarberry."

Uncovering it, Baby Leafy discovered some frosted sugar cookies in the shape of Christmas trees and stars. "Mommy, can I eat one now?"

"Umm... I think not, precious. It'd time to eat our Christmas dinner." So saying, she went to the kitchen and began carrying out platters and bowls of steaming food. With Daddy Leafy and Baby Leafy's help, the table was soon loaded with a fare fit for a king.

Taking their places, Daddy Leafy led a prayer of thanksgiving, not only for the food, but also for the gift of the Christ Child. As the family chimed a hearty "Amen", a knock came on the door. But not the front door; this time it was at the back door off the kitchen.

"Who could that be?" wondered Mommy Leafy as she started to stand up. But Baby Leafy beat her to the door as she realized this could be her long-awaited visitor.

Opening the door, Baby Leafy was met with a flurry of snowflakes blowing in a gust of wind. Her heart was pounding wildly-- surely this would be her promised guest!

A pony stood outside on the steps, a black blanket thrown over her shoulders for protection from the cold. It was only the elderly mare from across the backyard; Baby Leafy often had talked with her during the summer months when Baby Leafy was playing pretend with her My Little People dolls, and Patchwork tended to her flowers.

Mommy and Daddy Leafy were standing in the background until Mommy Leafy saw clearly who stood there in the falling snow. "Patchwork, why are you out in weather like this?"

She hurried to guide the rather shaky mare into the house and led her to a kitchen chair. Patchwork sat down heavily.

"Silly me," she smiled sheepishly. "I went out to feed the birds-- they need Christmas dinner, too-- and I locked myself out of the house!"

"Didn't your family get here from Morganville?" asked Mommy Leafy anxiously. Patchwork had been looking forward to their visit for weeks.

Shaking her head sadly, Patchwork explained that she'd received a call from her daughter on Christmas Eve breaking the news that something had come up to prevent their coming. She ended dejectedly, "I think they just didn't want to come!"

Mommy Leafy put a foreleg around Patchwork's shoulder and Baby Leafy crawled into her lap. "You can eat Christmas dinner with us!" Baby Leafy offered spontaneously.

"Yes, Patchwork. Please join us," agreed Daddy Leafy. "We were just about to sit down."

Baby Leafy ran to fetch an extra place setting and soon the three plus one more were once again seated around the table. Daddy Leafy prayed a second time, and everyone settled in to enjoy the tastes of Christmas.

Eating until she thought she'd explode, Baby Leafy for a time forgot her expected visitor. She listened to the conversation of the adults-- Patchwork always had a funny story to share-- and snuck bits of dinner to the kitten who was enjoying this part of Christmas tremendously.

When dessert was finished, Mommy and Daddy Leafy tried to convince Patchwork to sit in the living room by the Christmas tree and relax, but she insisted in helping to clear the table and wash the dishes.

When the last dish had been put away, they all retired to the living room where Daddy Leafy entertained them by playing Christmas carols on the piano. Mommy Leafy, Baby Leafy, and Patchwork sang until they ran out of songs to sing.

While they sat around talking and sipping hot cider, the kitten jumped into Patchwork's lap and curled up for a nap. Patchwork stroked the kitten's golden fur, reminiscing about the different cats that had shared her life down through the years and the two that still kept her company. "I never had a golden cat like this, though," she admitted. "Why, he's as golden as that star on the top of your Christmas tree!"

All eyes turned upward to the crowning ornament on the tree and, sure enough, the glow of the yellow lights reflecting on the golden star did mimic the color and sheen of the kitten.

"Star!" exclaimed Baby Leafy. "That's the kitten's name!" And everyone agreed that it was the perfect name for the golden Christmas kitten.

Star himself simply lifted his head, meowed softly, and snuggled more deeply into a contented sleep.

As dusk began settling over the peaceful Christmas day, Patchwork announced her intention of heading home. "I hate to be a bother," she directed at Daddy Leafy, "but I'll need help forcing the lock on my door."

"I'll take care of that right now!" exclaimed Daddy Leafy. "But you stay put. No sense in leaving yet."

"Oh, no, I must get home. It's time to feed the cats. Midnight expects his food on time, and Stray will be getting lonesome."

Mommy Leafy hurried off to prepare a sampling of leftovers for Patchwork to take home with her. Baby Leafy boxed-up a variety of cookies to send home with her, too.

Stepping out into the ever whitening world of snowflakes, Patchwork turned and smiled. "You folks made this a very special Christmas for me." Then she headed off across the snowy lawn. Daddy Leafy followed quickly, taking her foreleg in his to protect her from a nasty fall.

Closing the door, Baby Leafy and her mom began laying out a simple supper so that when Daddy Leafy returned they were ready to eat.

"That didn't take long!" teased Mommy Leafy. "Have you had practice at opening other ponies' locked doors?"

"It was strange," Daddy Leafy mused. "Once we got to her back door, she suddenly remembered that she had a spare key stuck under a flowerpot." Stopping to think about it a bit, he then continued, "I think Patchwork didn't want to be alone on Christmas, and invented a reason to walk in on us."

"I'm glad she did," Mommy Leafy replied. "She had talked of nothing else but her family visiting on Christmas, so I had no idea she was over there all alone."

"No one should be alone on Christmas," added Baby Leafy.

The family was silent as they ate the evening meal, and Mommy Leafy didn't even comment on Baby Leafy's all-dessert menu. In her own mind, Baby Leafy was formulating an argument just in case. Her reasoning was based on the all-natural quality of pumpkin and the inclusion of a dairy product in the whipped cream, which made her favorite pumpkin pie a veritable goldmine of nutritional value.

When the dishes had again been washed and put away, and the kitchen straightened up, Baby Leafy once more returned to her niche in front of the window. The colored lights encircling the evergreen in the front yard twinkled through the gently falling snow. Baby Leafy-- staring at the red, blue, yellow, and green lights-- became mesmerized by the sparkle and the motion of the snowflakes. When a knock sounded at the front door, she jumped so violently that Star, who was nestled next to her, fell to the floor.

"Who could that be?" wondered Daddy Leafy as he moved toward the door. Baby Leafy recovered her senses and ran to reach the door first.

With the lateness of the day, this had to be her Christmas guest. Yet she had been disappointed twice before, so it was with caution and doubt that she creaked open the door.

There, on the top step, stood a shivering and totally dejected Baby Leaper. He was covered in snow and appeared to have been crying. Baby Leafy's first impulse of disappointment turned to compassion as she swung the door open further and pulled the sorry-looking colt into the house. "What are you doing here?"

Mommy Leafy stepped in with a towel to brush the snow off Leaper's back; leading him into the living room, she soon had him dried off and wrapped in a thick, warm blanket. "How did you end up lost and cold on Christmas?" she asked.

With chattering teeth, Baby Leaper related his story. "My cousins took me sledding over on the big hill at the park," he began. "But they could climb the hill faster than me, so I got left behind." He stopped as a chill ran through his body.

Handing him a mug of hot chocolate, Daddy Leafy gently rubbed Leaper's legs to bring back the warmth.

"By the time I got to the top of the hill, they had sledded down. And then they got into a snowball fight and I got bombarded." Baby Leaper looked so forlorn that Baby Leafy took Star to him, and laid the kitten in his forelegs. Baby Leaper hugged the soft, warm, purring body to his cheek. Star reached up a fuzzy little paw, and batted Baby Leaper's nose. For the first time since reaching the house, Baby Leaper smiled.

"After the snowball fight, they took off up the hill again with the sleds; I was cold and wet, so I decided to go home. But it was dark and snowy, so everything looked different."

"You poor dear!" Mommy Leafy sympathized. Baby Leafy grinned at Baby Leaper, enjoying his embarrassment over such a sissy statement.

"I got lost," Baby Leaper continued. "But I recognized your house." He looked at Baby Leafy. "I came to your birthday party once," he lamely ended as Star jumped from his grasp and went in search of some kitten food.

"Well," said Daddy Leafy, "I'd better get you home quickly or someone's going to be awfully worried to find you missing."

Insisting that Baby Leaper keep the blanket around him, Mommy Leafy and Baby Leafy saw the stallion and colt to the door.

"Merry Christmas, Baby Leaper," Baby Leafy called her final farewell as Daddy Leafy and Baby Leaper pushed through the snow that had accumulated on the sidewalk.

Baby Leaper turned and waved a hoof through the air. "Merry Christmas!" he called back, a smile now lighting his face. He trotted next to Daddy Leafy, revitalized and thoroughly enjoying the nighttime trip in the snow.

The house seemed terribly quiet now as Baby Leafy returned to the windowseat. She caught one last glimpse of her dad and Baby Leaper before they were swallowed up in the night. Leaning her head into a plush pillow by her side, Baby Leafy looked back over this Christmas Day, back to that early morning voice from her dreams. "I'm coming to be your guest on Christmas Day!" The words were still as clear as when she first heard them. Yet she knew that the hours of Christmas were nearly spent, and she felt empty inside.

The soft strains of Silent Night filled the room as Mommy Leafy put on a Christmas CD and sat in the rocking chair by the tree to once more read through the Christmas cards and letters from friends far and near. Baby Leafy turned away from the window to face the Nativity scene spotlighted under the Christmas tree. "Jesus, why didn't you come?" she silently prayed to the ceramic figure in the manger.

The only answer was the wet, cold nose of Star pushing against her cheek followed by the raspy licking of his tiny pink tongue. Baby Leafy hugged him close and laid down on the cushiony softness of the windowseat. She contemplated heavy thoughts for one so young-- thoughts of God's gift of His only Son to an undeserving world; yet a world that God loved deeply, for these people were His creation.

Amidst her ponderings, Baby Leafy heard the door click as her dad returned home. A current of cold night air accompanied him into the room where he leaned to kiss his wife; then he came and sat next to Baby Leafy and Star.

"Well, precious one," he softly asked his daughter. "Did your special visitor come while I was gone?"

One little tear escaped from Baby Leafy's eye as she buried her face against her father's warm side.

"No, Daddy," she whispered. After a moment's silence, she asked, "What kept Him from calling on me today? I wanted so much to see His face!" A sob shook her body as she finished.

Daddy Leafy remained silent as he brushed his daughter's mane back from her eyes. Mommy Leafy came to his side and clasped his hoof in hers. Their eyes met. What could they say to comfort their little daughter?

The music had finished, and the room was completely still except for Star's never-ending purr. The family of three sat in perfect solitude, when softly, in the silence, a voice was heard.

"Lift up your heads, my children; I have kept My word. Three times I came to your door this day."

Baby Leafy raised her head, her eyes searching for the source of the voice, yet knowing the voice was within her. Her gaze and that of her parents rested on the star at the top of the tree which seemed to be brighter somehow now than before.

The voice continued. "I was the stallion in search of his kin; I was the mare you welcomed in; I was the foal who needed a haven."

With eyes reflecting the brightness of the Christmas star, Baby Leafy listened to the soothing voice, enraptured.

"Three times I knocked. Three times I was allowed in, and each time I found the warmth of friends."

Baby Leafy's heart seemed ready to explode as the voice went on.

"Of all gifts, Baby Leafy, love is the best... I was honored to be your Christmas guest."

The voice was finished, yet the awesome sound seemed to linger in the softness that remained. Baby Leafy and her parents sat motionless, enveloped in such a feeling of peace and love that they wanted to hang on to it forever. They sat wrapped in ecstasy, and Baby Leafy softly voiced the sum of it-- "Jesus came today!"

Star seemed to smile and nod, then lowered his head to his folded paws, and fell asleep.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

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