The family had only moved into the house a few weeks before Christmas. What would it be like this year? Mom was no longer with them and every day Marie and her father felt sad with missing her. They were glad for their dog, Roxy, who seemed always to be in a happy, tail-waggy mood.
The new house was, well, old. It was creaky and drafty, but it had a great brick fireplace in the livingroom and when Marie and Dad had set up their Christmas tree that year they agreed it made a fine sight. Especially precious was the delicate angel, which had belonged to Mom’s family when she was a little girl. Marie got a lump in her throat, watching Dad set it on top of the tree.
They also pulled out their special nativity scene. Marie liked to set it up, unwrapping and putting each small figure in place as she told herself the ancient story of how Jesus was born.
What the family didn’t know was that the house was already inhabited when they moved in. It was home to a family of mice!
Now these mice were not your usual house mice, which is why they had gone unnoticed. They did not make messes, or chew holes in important things like clothes, furniture and papers. They did not poop in the kitchen drawers, and scurry across the floor, making people screech. No, this family of mice followed the rules of their mother, Mrs. Mouse.
Mrs. Mouse was strict with a very serious and somewhat chilly personality. Her children worked hard under her direction, gathering food, cleaning, and making and maintaining their nests. Hard work and a serious disposition, Mrs. Mouse believed, was the price to pay for living in the walls of a house. Furthermore, there was no playing, singing, or dancing allowed in her family. These things were a waste of time, and caused excess noise, which might be heard by people. And people, she knew, hated and feared mice. If mice were found in their homes, people poisoned, trapped, killed, or sent them away.
Going unnoticed by the people in the house was not the only reward of Mrs. Mouse’s strict work ethic and high housekeeping standards. Each year, when the mice in the village had their annual nest tour, everyone always loved to see Mrs. Mouse’s nests because of her attention to detail and their fresh, neat, and finely-packed qualities. And they were absolutely the softest and warmest around! But Mrs. Mouse wouldn’t let her little heart accept even a single compliment on her family’s handiwork. This was serious business, maintaining nests inside the walls of a house.
To Mrs. Mouse’s family, Christmas was always something they observed quietly from behind cracks in the walls. [speak in a high, squeaky voice] “Christmas is not for our family,” she would say. “It is a silly, frivolous holiday… full of eating, drinking, singing, and playing. We need to think of it for what it provides us: paper, ribbons, boxes, bags, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap.” These were all wonderful nest-building materials, and Christmas provided them in abundance.
On December 23rd the snow began to fall. Soft and quiet it fell without stopping right into Christmas Eve. And then came a harsh and frigid wind. Howling, it rattled the windowpanes, as its icy fingers traced the walls for cracks and reached inside.
Now the mice, with their impeccable nests were usually warm and cozy. But not on this night. This night was different and they woke up. Cold. Mrs. Mouse commanded through chattering tiny teeth, “Quick, before the people wake up, go get more paper to reinforce our nests. Otherwise, we might not survive the night.” Sleepy and cold, the little mice did as they were told, scurrying into the livingroom to get old newspaper that was kept by the fireplace. A few coals from the evening’s fire still glowed softly in the ashes behind the screen. Oh, how warm it felt to be in the room! They couldn’t help stopping for just a moment on the hearth’s toasty bricks to let that warmth seep into their tiny bodies!
Suddenly, they heard a sound. “Squeak!” they shrieked and raced, scattering about the room to hide, and hide they did, still as statues, just as Marie crept into the dark livingroom. Little did she know that there were pairs of bright, black eyes watching in terror her every move. Mice were under the couch. Mice were behind the potted plants. They were tucked in the bookcase and hiding amongst the presents under the tree. Some had even climbed into the tree itself, where they clung desperately to its uppermost branches. And the littlest mouse had raced into the manger scene and tucked herself right in behind baby Jesus!
Marie reached for a light switch, eager to see what Santa had left under the tree. Nothing happened. The electricity had gone out. She didn’t want to wake up Dad, not yet, so she thought for a moment about what to do. The mice didn’t move a tiny whisker. Then, she remembered the candles and matches on the mantelpiece, but as she reached up for them, one clattered to the floor.
“Woo woo woof!” barked Roxy, who, hearing the noise, came bounding down the stairs. And within moments, Dad, too, came thumping down. Marie apologized for waking him up so early and then explained about the electricity. So Dad lit the candles and set to kindling a warm fire in the fireplace. Christmas morning was almost here.
With each moment, as daylight grew and the fire crackled to life, the mice’s predicament grew worse and worse. They were never out of their nests during the day! What would their mother think?! There was no returning to their nests, now that the family was in the room opening presents. This was it. Their mother was right. They’d be discovered then trapped or poisoned or sent away.
When nearly all the presents were opened, one mouse who was in the tree began to lose its grip and was scrambling to get a hold on a shiny christmas ball. “Woo woo woofff” Roxy barked, lunging into the tree after the mouse. “Nooooo!” Dad yelled, while he jumped up to catch the wobbling tree. In the commotion, the mice leapt and scrambled in every which way to try to stay hidden.
It was only Roxy who saw what happened when mom’s precious angel fell from the wobbling tree. With a glint of a sudden inner light, the angel spread its wings and lifted into the air! It danced lightly through the room like a butterfly and then landed gently on the roof of the manger scene, where the littlest mouse was now trying to hide under baby Jesus!
Dancing over to the manger, Roxy pointed to the angel with her nose: “Woo woo woof!”
“Roxy, you silly dog, what is it?” said Marie going over to the manger. It was then that Marie noticed not the angel, but the little mouse trying to hide.
“Dad, come here! Look! It’s a special Christmas mouse! Can we keep it? Please??”
“No, sweetheart, we won’t keep it, not as a pet, for mice keep themselves very well. But what we will do is welcome it and care for it and share with it all that we are so fortunate to have.” And at those words, the angel again sparkled with light and lifted its wings. And this time they all watched, speechless, even Roxy, as the angel flew over to the potted plants.
As she hovered there, a little quivering nose and whiskers poked out from behind the pots. And then she flew to the bookcase where another mouse peeked out, and then to the couch, and with each place she flew, another mouse would nervously appear, its nose twitching and whiskers trembling. And when finally, Mrs. Mouse herself crept out from her hole in the wall, the angel flew back to her perch on the top of the tree.
Even Roxy understood that welcoming one mouse meant welcoming its family. Dad shook his head in wonder. The whole mouse family had gathered together by the fire. Marie laughed and smiled and took off her bathrobe and laid it on the hearth for the mice to sit upon. And Dad got some cookies and milk in a saucer and set it on the floor for the mice to enjoy.
After the mice had eaten their fill, Mrs. Mouse squeaked for her children’s attention: “We have received a Christmas miracle today, something I never thought possible. We have the grace to find ourselves with a family which does not fear and hate mice. We must give them the best gift we can give. We will thank them for their welcome by doing what we do best: making nests. Together, we will make a nest of this house.”
And with that, she began to tear up the Christmas packaging and carry it bit by bit into the hole in the wall. And all her children did just as she did. They worked all day until they had cleaned up that livingroom impeccably and had chewed up all the wrapping into tiny bits, and packed it densely into the walls of the house! Whatever the weather outside, they were ALL warm and cozy in their home-nest, that Christmas.
And the next day Marie and her Dad, Roxy and the mice played and danced and sang songs and ate good food together. And for the first time in her life, Mrs. Mouse rested. And she smiled so much that her tiny cheeks grew tired.
And from that day on, all of them knew something more about what it means to be warm – not just in your bones, but in your heart.