A CHRISTMAS FABLE
The old mother and her six children were the poorest of all the families in the village, so they could not afford a Christmas tree.
"Can't we have a tree this year, Momma, please can't we please?" the children would beg.
"No," the mother answered, "but look, I have something almost as good," and she held up a piece of broccoli. "This can be our tree," she told the children.
"Kinda small for a tree, ain't it?" asked Elmore, her oldest son, and indeed he was right, since the broccoli stalk was only about three inches tall and Elmore ran six-two, two-eighty, although still a sophomore.
"It may be small, but it has a nice shape," the mother explained, "and besides, it doesn't matter. Santa Claus will come just the same. For it is not what the eye sees, it is what the heart feels, that is important."
When the children told their classmates that they could not stay outside and play after school because, "...we have to go home and decorate the broccoli," the other children laughed at them. "Santa will still come to our house," they answered to the laughter, "because it is not what the eye sees, it is what the heart feels."
And they were right.
Santa did indeed come to their house that Christmas night. Unfortunately, as he was walking across the darkened room, carrying his full load of presents, looking for the tree to place them under, he felt his right boot heal crush something soft and small. He examined the boot heal and found that whatever it was he had stepped on was green, and had a mild butter-sauce scent to it.
And the next morning, the children found more presents than they ever dreamed could exist anywhere. The room was covered with boxes red and green, and ribbon and cards and candy and toys. And their wide little eyes grew even wider when they saw the man himself, Santa Clause, sitting there in the middle of the pile of gifts.
"After I finished my route last night," he told them, "I had to come back here and tell you what a nice surprise your broccoli was. People mean well, but you can only eat so much sugar cookies and eggnog. I desperately needed roughage, and you supplied it."
The children did not have the heart to tell Santa that he had eaten their Christmas tree, so they just smiled. But their smiles froze upon their faces when he asked, "By the way, I never did find your tree last night, where is it?"
The children and their mother sputtered and stuttered and looked at each other, until Elmore finally blurted out, "It's in the closet," and to Santa's confused look, the mother explained, "We're not showy people."
A small tear came to Santa's eye. "First the broccoli and then this," he said, "this family has the simplest and fullest hearts of any I've seen," and with that he reached down deep into his cavernous bag and handed them one final red-wrapped present.
"This," he said, "is the finest present of all, and it belongs to you."
And now, every Christmas in the village, all the people decorate their trees with tinsel and bells and colored lights, and then they put the tree in the closet. And they put out a single stalk of broccoli. And it is said that the presents around the broccoli in the morning are just a little bit more special than the presents in the other villages, because now everyone in this village knows that it's not what the eye sees, but what the heart feels, that is important.
And that is why no one in the mother's whole family has ever unwrapped Santa's special present to look inside.