Blessed Martinmas! For those celebrating, here is a tale to enjoy!
The Children of Oakrise and the Great Lantern Festival
By Amber Hellewell
A very long time ago, in a small village called Oakrise, there lived a small, but hearty people. Although they were no larger than the doves and chickadees, they were not afraid of the big world around them. A very long time ago their grandparents had come to this village from all around the world, before most of them could even remember. Some of the Oak folk wore acorn caps, and others wore armor made from walnut shells, and many wore beautiful capes made of spider’s silk. Some of the Oak folk gathered nuts and berries, others helped to build strong and safe homes to live in. Some were healers and some teachers. Most of the Oak folk were kind and good. Together they worked, together they played and together they broke bread. It was a beautiful and safe place to live. During this time of year, the radiant leaves of Autumn were falling to the ground and all the world around them was preparing for the long winter. In this village, there lived many children, but today the ones we will meet are a brother and sister; Peter and Anna.
Peter and Anna loved growing up in Oakrise. Although this was the only home they knew, they felt that it must be the most beautiful place in the world. This time of the year was their favorite. They loved to jump in the leaves, make pumpkin bread for their friends and anticipate the coming of the winter. They looked forward to the great Lantern festival when the King of the Oak folk would light a great fire in the middle of the village. All the Oak folk would gather together and have an enormous feast of warm and nourishing soups and bread. They would come together, light their handmade lanterns and sing late into the light. They would laugh and talk and share all the goodness that they had seen in their village that year.
Peter thought of Mrs. Maple, his elderly neighbor who would share her blackberries with his family every Summer. Anna thought of Mr. Reed, who would ride upon his trusty sparrow delivering packages and letters and sometimes a special message just for Anna from her Grandmother. Together, they remembered the time the great snow fell nearly completely covered the doorway to their home in the old oak. All their neighbors had come to shovel the snow. Peter and Anna felt warm and grateful as they remembered all the wonderful memories that this year had brought.
This year, while the children prepared for the great Lantern festival, they noticed something different about the mood in the air. While normally their parents were busily and happily working, baking, sweeping and preparing for the festival, this year the big folk of Oakrise were pacing around the village with worried, sad or angry faces. Many would grumble to themselves as they did their work. Some did not want to work at all. Their lanterns sat unfinished and as the day of the festival approached the children began to worry too. Even the great King sat solemnly upon his thrown and did not begin building the great bonfire.
Peter and Anna played outside with their friends the day of the festival. They climbed the trees and built forts and basked in the lovely chill of the Autumn air, but still their thoughts lingered on the festival.
“What will we do this Winter if we do not finish our lanterns?” one wee oak child asked.
“What if the King does not light the great bonfire in time?” Anna worried.
The children sat together in silence until Peter jumped up in excitement and cried out, “I know what to do!” With a big smile on his face his whispered his plan to the wee Oak children and excitedly they rushed off with a twinkle in their eyes.
The children gathered up the unfinished lanterns and hammered, sewed, pasted and painted until nightfall. The evening came quickly and the big folk of Oakrise walked empty handed to the village center. The king himself had not even arrived. Many of the big folk were ready to leave the festival altogether when from the dark corners of the village little flickers of light began to appear. First two golden embers, then five. Like stars appearing in the sky, their soft glimmer shined and grew. Pale white orbs and soft rosy glass lanterns that flickered bobbed along towards the crowd. Tall tin lanterns with fiery rays came next. Fifteen, twenty, forty and then over one hundred lanterns appeared, illuminating the entire village and the once tired faces of their parents. Behind each lantern was a beaming child. They circled the unlit pile of wood and held the crowd in golden oneness.
The king saw the brilliance of the light and approached the gathering. Peter smiled at the King and at once the King’s heart was warmed and gladdened. He motioned to Peter to light the bonfire. With a small stick Peter gathered some light from his small lantern and placed it upon the bonfire. Anna followed him and soon the other children and their parents begin to light and stoke the growing bonfire. The flames grew and flickered and danced. The faces of the children, the parents, the elders and the king warmed and shined. Their hearts felt still once again and their worries were calmed.
The people of Oakrise sang and shared their tales long into the night until the light of the bonfire died down. Each lantern still beamed and when the festival was done, each home had a small portion to warm, to light and to bring peace the whole winter long.