The Baby and the Blanket – A Christmas Story by Fr Ralph de Hahn
Fr Ralph de Hahn wrote Christmas stories in The Southern Cross 69 years ago. Then a 25-year-old seminarian, he published his story “When Darkness Falls” in the Christmas issue of 1952, dated December 10.
It was already dark and that evening. In the cold open air stood a donkey, and on his back sat a lone young woman, exhausted after a long journey. Her husband was going around, anxiously knocking on doors to find shelter. No room at the inn, nor at any inn. But as one innkeeper, Leo, gently refused the enquirer, his wife Rachel overheard the desperate man mention that his wife was pregnant and due to deliver a baby.
With great concern, Rachel rushed out to the busy street and found the donkey carrying the pregnant maiden. She led them to a stable behind her home. Animals were already there to welcome their guest.
Rachel had to find sufficient clean straw and blankets. Her little daughter arrived, eager to see this new babe when it arrived. “Anna, hurry and find some blankets for this stranger, the baby is due any moment.” Anna was excited in the way eight-year-olds are. She dashed off to seek help from her father, the innkeeper. He told her: “Anna, we have nothing to spare here, the town is so filled with strangers. Go and seek blankets from the other inns.”
So Anna rushed out to the other inns, but no spare blankets could be found because all the strangers were feeling the cold of the night air. After a long fruitless search, Anna returned to the stable. She found two strangers and a bed of straw. The young mother was holding a tiny baby in her arms as her husband stroked her hair. She was smiling at Rachel who had helped her deliver the child. The warm water, the towels, all there — but no blanket!
Anna turned around and rushed back to her lodgings. There she stripped her only blanket from her bed, and dashed back to offer it to the little child. The mother smiled her thanks, and Anna thought the babe also smiled, though maybe it was too early for that!
A few days passed, and the travellers slowly departed the once overcrowded town of Bethlehem. Rachel and Anna made an effort to find a little home for this new family, and there was that glow of holy contentment on both sides. But the story does not end there…
Fast-forward many years later. With the passage of time Rachel had aged, and was suffering an infection of the lung. Anna was now 38 years old and herself troubled by a blood issue for which she had seen a number of local physicians, but there was no medical remedy in and around the City of David.
Rachel suggested that Anna visit a physician in Jerusalem. Leo the innkeeper arranged safe transport to the Holy City. Everything went smoothly, and Anna was overwhelmed by the awesome beauty and glamour of this huge city and its awesome temple. But finding a physician in this great city was a depressing experience; none of them was able to see Anna to relieve her discomfort.
It was on her fourth day in Jerusalem that Anna saw a huge crowd following a man who, she gathered, was known as a prophet and miracle-worker. The air was buzzing with all kinds of rumours, some favouring this man, others who feared him. Anna’s curiosity led her into the moving crowd, not knowing who, where or what. People were speaking loudly about this man being a healer, a teacher, even a messiah.
Suddenly the procession halted, and the prophet turned around to face the crowd. A woman in this teeming crowd had stretched forward to touch only his garment, believing that this would heal her. The man spoke to the woman: “Your faith has healed you.” Anna was moved to tears for the sake of this woman, who now testified that she was instantly and completely healed of her illness. Was this the healer Anna had been seeking? Could she also break through the noisy crowd and just touch his garment, as that woman had done?
Anna battled but found it impossible to reach the man. “Heal me!” she cried out loud spontaneously. “I know you can heal me!” The prophet stopped and turned. His eyes met hers, and he smiled. “Anna, your faith has healed you. Go home, your mother is well, too.” Anna was stunned, speechless, unable to thank him. The great healer continued on his way, and soon Anna returned to Bethlehem, healed from her ailment. All the way home she wondered about this man. Who was he, so gentle, yet so powerful? And those eyes! He knew her name, but how could he, unless they had met before…but where?
The caravan brought Anna safely back home where she was greeted by her mother. Tears of joy flowed freely as the two women realised that they had been healed from their ailments. Knowing the hour of her encounter with that stranger, Anna asked Rachel when exactly she was touched by that healing power sweeping through her. It was the same hour.
“Don’t you know the man’s name?” asked Rachel. “Surely the crowd must have known this amazing man.” Anna’s thoughts turned to that time in the Holy City. “I heard them speak of him as ‘teacher’, ‘master’, even ‘Lord’. Once, near the temple, somebody called out: ‘Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth and Mary.” At that, Rachel’s memory came alive.
“Do you remember, Anna, when you were eight, we had a baby born here in the stable. His mother told us his name was Jesus. Little Jesus of Bethlehem. Do you remember?” Anna struggled down memory lane. It was 30 years ago, when the town was overcrowded because the Romans demanded registration of all citizens. “Yes,” said Anna. “The mom’s name was Mary, and her husband was Joseph. He had to come to Bethlehem with his family. And it was here that little Jesus was born. I remember they were from Galilee. Maybe from Nazareth?”
Mother and daughter reminisced about that time. “Anna, do you remember that you gave little Jesus your only blanket?” Rachel asked. By now Anna was wrapped in a wild forest of dreams as her thoughts began to relive the past. “Yes, mother, I do remember,” she finally said. “The blanket, and the newborn baby…and those kindly eyes that gazed at me in the Holy City and called my name.” And both Rachel and Anna wondered if…
Fr Ralph de Hahn is a priest of the archdiocese of Cape Town.
This Christmas story was published in the December 2021 issue of The Southern Cross magazine