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Before Christmas

(e-SoupSong 20: December 1, 2001)

ONCE UPON A TIME, there lived a small boy far far away in Jerusalem. He wasn't always a nice boy; he wasn't always a good boy. In fact, he had annoying ways about him that drove everyone crazy.

"No!" he'd say to his mother, before she even stopped speaking. "No!" he'd say to his teacher, when she called on him. "No!" he'd say to his friends, when they'd tell him to stop being a brat.

Joseph, because that was his name, woke up on the morning of his birthday, and he was already in a bad mood. It just wasn't fair that he was born on Christmas Eve. He never got as many presents as the other kids, all because everyone was too busy thinking about Christmas.

"Happy birthday, Jos----," his mother started to say.

"No!" he interrupted.

"No, what?" she asked.

"No anything," he said.

Stumbling and grumbling, he put on his pants. He put on his shirt. He put on his shoes. And he stamped downstairs.

"Do you want some toa----?"

"No!" he interrupted.

But he sat down and ate up every bite.

"Time to go to sch----," his mother said.

"No!" he interrupted.

"No?" she said.

"No!" he said. But he got down from his chair, picked up his school bag, and went right out the door. He'd never admit it, but he liked to go to school. He liked his friends. They were nice--and from lots of different places in the world.

* * *

Joseph was skipping down the Street of Sorrows in the oldest part of Jerusalem, hopping from stone to stone, when he tripped and fell down flat.

"Ouch!" he said, rubbing his hands. He had cut them on some glass, and they were bleeding.

An old old man came out of his shop. "Why are you crying?" he asked.

Joseph meant to say, "No!" but he held out his hands instead. "Look," he said, "I'm bleeding."

The old man looked closely, shaking his head. "Come into my shop," he said. "I will fix you up."

Joseph thought about his mother telling him never to talk to strangers. "No!" he said silently to his mother, and he followed the old man into his shop.

It was dark and scarey inside. Joseph wanted to leave, but the door had slammed shut.

"No!!" he said out loud.

The old man turned around slowly and looked at him hard. "No?" he said sharply.

Joseph closed his eyes tightly and held out his hands.

The old man’s voice softened: "Don't worry, I will fix you up," he said.

And he did.

Then the old man opened up the door. When Joseph stepped into the light, the old man said, "Wait! I have a birthday present for you."

Before Joseph could say, "How do you know it's my birthday?," the old man gave him a rusty old soup pot. "Take good care of it," he said, "because it was touched by THE GREAT WHO. And with that, he pushed Joseph out the door, into the street, and slammed the door shut behind him.

Joseph looked at the pot. It was heavy. It was big. It was rusty on the outside and shiney on the inside. "What a stupid old pot," he said. "I am going to throw it away."

But he didn't. He carried it in both his bandaged hands all the way to school.

* * *

"Joseph!" his teacher said. "What happened to your hands? And where did you get that pot?"

"No!" Joseph said. He was really in a bad mood now. "I won't tell. It's my birthday, and all I have is this stupid old pot."

With that, he sat down and would not say another word.

All Joseph's friends stared at the pot and tried not to laugh.

* * *

After school, Maria said, "Joseph, show us your birthday pot."

"No!" said Joseph. "And anyway, it’s special."

"Why?" asked Ibrahim.

"Because it was touched by THE GREAT WHO."

"Who’s THE GREAT WHO?" said Sarah.

Joseph kicked the pot angrily. He didn't know either, but he didn't want to admit it. "If you want to know who, you have to come to my house. We will make soup in it for my birthday, and then you will know who."

"Okay," said Maria. "I will bring some carrots."

"Okay," said Ibrahim. "I will bring some lentils."

"Okay," said Sarah. "I will bring some onions."

"Fine," said Joseph. "We will make THE-GREAT-WHO soup and eat it for my birthday.

* * *

Ding, dong. Joseph's mother answered the door. "Hello, Maria," she said.

"Hello," she said, "I am here to make THE-GREAT-WHO soup."

"Really?" said Joseph’s mother. "Whose soup is that?"

"I don't know," Maria said. "That's what we're going to find out."

Ding dong. Joseph's mother answered the door again. "Hello, Ibrahim. What have you got there?"

"I've brought some lentils, " Ibrahim said, "to help make THE-GREAT-WHO soup."

Joseph's mother looked surprised. "Okay," she said, "please come in."

Ding, dong. Joseph's mother went to the door the third time, and there was Sarah. "Hello," she said. "Are you here to make THE-GREAT-WHO soup?"

"Oh," said Sarah, "do you know who?"

"No," said Joseph's mother. "That's what you're here to find out."

* * *

Joseph filled the pot with water, and he put it on the stove. "Where are the carrots?" he asked.

"Here they are," said Maria, and she put them in the pot.

"Where are the lentils?" asked Joseph.

"Here they are," said Ibrahim, and he put them in the pot.

"Where are the onions?" said Joseph.

"Here they are," said Sarah, "and they are making me cry."

"Boo hoo hoo," they all cried. "Quick, let’s get them in the pot."

And they did.

Ding dong. There was the doorbell again. Maria and Joseph and Ibrahim and Sarah looked at each other.

"Joseph," called his mother. "Joseph, please answer the door."

"No!" said Joseph, but he did anyway.

* * *

"Surprise!" And Joseph was surprised. There were all his friends from school.

Andrew, who came from New Zealand, said "Happy Birthday!"

Olga, from Russia, said "S dnem rozhdeniya!" and gave him a hug.

Mohammed shouted "Eid milad sa’aeed!" He was from Morocco.

Teresa from Chile said "Feliz compleanos!" and gave him a big grin.

Ariel, who had always lived in Jerusalem, said "Yom huledet same’ach!" and punched him on the arm.

Dagmar smiled shyly and said, "St'astne narozeniny!" in Czech.

Joseph was so happy. What did he say? He said, "Yes!" "Yes!" he said, "Thank you for coming to my birthday party! Please come in and have THE-GREAT-WHO soup."

"What is THAT?" they all asked.

Joseph and Maria and Ibrahim and Sarah looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. "Come and have some soup and you will see," they said hopefully.

In the kitchen, the soup was bubbling and sputtering. It was orange with carrots. It was brown with lentils. And it was white with onions.

"Mmmmmmmmmm," they all said. "Let’s have THE-GREAT-WHO soup."

Joseph’s mother ladled soup into all the bowls.

Andrew said, "Thanks!"

Olga said, "Spasibo!"

Mohammed said "Baraka allah'ufik," and Ibrahim said "Shukran!"

Teresa said "Gracias," and Maria said "Grazie."

Ariel and Sarah sniffed their bowls and said "Toda."

Dagmar smiled shyly. "Dekuji," she said.

Joseph was last. What did Joseph say? He said, "Yes!" He said, "Yes! This is so good. Thanks, Mom!"

And they all sat down to eat.

* * *
Andrew took one spoonful and looked up happily. "Wow!" he said, this is the best Toheroa soup I’ve ever tasted. We always eat it on Christmas day back in New Zealand.

"Are you crazy?" said Mohammed. This is Harira soup. It is the first thing we eat in Morocco, every night at Ramadan after the sun goes down."

"Uh uh," said Olga. "It’s Christmas borscht from Russia--with lots of cabbage and beets."

"Chicken soup with matzo balls!" said Ariel and Sarah. "Always, always for Rosh Hashanah with sweet carrots because we hope the new year will be sweet."

Teresa and Maria looked surprised. "Well," they said, "Olga is right about it being for Christmas, but it’s not beet soup, for goodness sake. It’s..."

"...Caldillo de Pescado!" "...Minestra di Natale with Parmesan cheese!" they said in the same breath.

"Shorbit Addas!" said Ibrahim. I eat it with my family every night at sunset during Ramadan. Can’t you see the yummy lentils in it?"

Dagmar smiled shyly. "Fish soup," she said. Traditional Czech fish soup. I always eat it at Christmas time."

Joseph, who had waited until last, could not believe his ears. Were his friends crazy? How could their soup taste so different when it all came out of the same pot?

He picked up his spoon and filled it to the top with soup. Everyone was watching. He felt a little dizzy.

"Eat it!" said Andrew, "and please tell us what it tastes like."

"Da, pazhalusta" said Olga.

Mohammed said "afak," and Ibrahim said "min Fadilak."

Teresa said "por favor," and Maria said "prego."

Ariel and Sarah pressed their palms together and said, "be’vaskasha."

Dagmar smiled shyly and whispered, "prosim?"

Joseph took a deep breath and brought the spoon to his lips. He looked down to make sure he didn’t spill...and...what a surprise! There in his soup spoon, reflected on the bright surface of the soup, he saw the old old man who had fixed his hands that morning. What was he doing there? He was waving and smiling at him!

Joseph closed his eyes and sipped the soup very very slowly. When he opened them, all his friends were staring at him hard.

"Yes?" said Andrew, with a question in his voice.

"Da?" said Olga.

"Aiya?" said Mohammed.

"Na’am?" said Ibrahim.

Teresa and Maria looked worried and asked, "Si?"

"Ken?" whispered Ariel and Sarah.

Dagmar looked down at the floor and murmured, "Ano?"

"It tastes...it tastes like..." Joseph stopped. He looked at the pot and thought hard. "It tastes...it tastes like...yes! it tastes just like THE-GREAT-WHO soup!"

"Whaaaaaat?" they all cried.

"Go ahead," said Joseph, "taste it again. It tastes like all the good things in the world, so it MUST be THE-GREAT-WHO soup."

Andrew tasted it again, veeeeery slowly. "Oh," he said, "I see. It's not really clams I taste, it's something else--something bigger."

"Not really BIGGER," Mohammed said, licking his spoon. "Maybe BETTER. It's not exactly harira soup, but the way it makes me feel when I eat it with my family."

"Like Christmas, only better," said Olga, closing her eyes and licking her lips. And Maria and Teresa agreed.

"Sweeter than the carrots we eat at Rosh Hashanah," said Ariel and Sarah, licking their bowls.

"I think it's the best soup in the world," said Ibrahim. "What do you think, Dagmar?"

Dagmar took one more spoonful and sipped it very very slowly. Her eyes got big. Her eyes got bigger. Her eyes got biggest of all. "I think it's THE-GREAT-WHO soup," she shouted, "and I think it's GREAT!" With that, she gave Joseph a great big hug and said, "Happy Birthday, Joseph, and thank you for the soup."

"Yes!" said Joseph. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!"

Joseph's mother stuck her head in the door. "What's going on here?" she asked.

"It's THE-GREAT-WHO soup," they all shouted, "and it's GREAT"

* * *

My very best wishes for a blessed holiday season, whether you're in the middle of Ramadan or about to celebrate Chanukah or Christmas,
Pat Solley

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