As the parish priest of a little village called St Martin in the French Pyrenees was getting ready to celebrate Mass one Christmas Eve, he began to smell a wonderful fragrance. It was winter, and the flowers had disappeared a long time before, yet there was the pleasant smell of springtime floating through the air. Intrigued, he decided to go outside and look where the smell was coming from and across a young boy sitting in front of the school door. Next to him was a golden Christmas tree. “What a beautiful tree!” said the vicar to the boy, “It seems to have touched the sky, and it gives off such a delightful scent! It’s made of pure gold! Where did you find it?” The young man looked up at the priest, seemingly unhappy with what had been said. “Truth is, the longer it took me to carry this home, the harder the leaves got and the heavier it felt. But it can’t be real gold, and I’m scared of what my parent’s reaction will be.”
The young man continued his story. “This morning, my mother gave me money to go to the city of Tarbes to buy a Christmas tree. When I was going through the village, I saw a lonely old woman who had no family to spend Christmas dinner with. I was certain I would be able to get a good discount on a tree, so I gave her some of the money I had for her to buy herself some dinner. As I continued through the town, I passed by the prison and saw an enormous line of people waiting to go inside to visit their loved ones. I overheard some of them say they did not even have enough money to buy a slice of Christmas fruit cake. I was so moved by these young people waiting in line and I decided I would share some of my money with them too. I gave most of it to them, keeping just a small amount for myself to buy some lunch. The florist I was going to visit was a friend of the family and I was sure that if I promised to work all next week for him, that he would give me the Christmas tree for free. When I reached the market, though, I found out that the florist I knew did not go to work that day. I tried as hard as I could to find someone who would lend me the money I needed to buy the Christmas tree somewhere else, but it was all in vain. Frustrated, I decided that having some lunch would help me clear my head and I walked over to the restaurant counter. As I approached the bar, a foreign-looking little boy asked me if I could spare some change because he hadn’t eaten in two days. I remembered that at one time even Jesus may have gone hungry, and I handed over the little money I had left and began returning home. On my walk back, I broke off a brand from a pine tree and tried to decorate it as well as I could, since I didn’t get the Christmas tree I was supposed to get. But as I continued to walk it just kept getting heavier and heavier and turning into metal, and it’s far from being the Christmas tree that my mother is expecting me to come home with.
“My dear boy”, said the priest, “the perfume that is emanating from this tree leaves no doubt whatsoever that it has been touched by heaven. Let me tell you the rest of its story.” The priest sat down next to the boy and continued, “As soon as you walked away from that lonely woman, she immediately asked the Virgin Mary, a mother like herself, to give you an unexpected blessing. The parents of the prisoners were convinced that they had come across an angel, and said prayers of thanks for the Christmas cakes they were now able to buy. The boy you met at the restaurant gave thanks to god for satiating his hunger. The Virgin, angels and Jesus heard the prayers of those who had been helped and when you broke off the brand from the pine tree, the Virgin bathed it in perfume. As you continued to walk, the angels touched the leaves and they turned to gold. Finally, when everything was complete Jesus looked upon the work and blessed. From now on, whoever touches this tree will have their sins forgiven and their wishes fulfilled.”
The legend goes that the sacred pine tree is still there in St. Martin, and that its force is so great that all who help their brothers on Christmas Eve, however far they may be from the little village in the Pyrenees, are blessed by it.
(Inspired by a Hassidic tale)