(A German Tale)
Once upon a time, a shoemaker and his wife were struggling to make enough money to keep a roof over their heads. No matter how hard they tried, their lives grew more difficult, and at last the day came when the shoemaker had just one piece of leather in his entire shop.
He sat down as he had every day for many years, and he carefully cut the leather. As the day wore on, he began to sew a pair of shoes. But when night fell, he set the shoes down on the table and closed the workshop door, promising himself he would finish the shoes the next day.
In the morning when he opened the door, he found a pair of finished shoes sitting in the spot where he had left his work.
“How can this be?” he asked, scratching his head.
But he wasted no time. He hurried to the market and sold the shoes. With the money he earned, he bought more leather. For the rest of the day, he sat in his workshop cutting the new leather for more shoes.
The next morning when he returned to the shop, to his astonishment he found several pairs of beautiful shoes sitting on the table where he had left the cut leather. Again, he hurried to market. This time he earned even more money, and he bought more leather. Again he carefully cut out leather for several pairs of shoes and left these on his worktable.
In the morning, once again, he found still more shoes awaiting him — there were sandals, boots, ballet shoes, clogs, brogues and moccasins. The shoemaker was overjoyed to know that his mysterious visitor had returned, and so he began to leave pieces out, ready for the stranger’s delicate handiwork. This went on for weeks. Every morning the shoemaker found more shoes awaiting him.
The shoemaker’s reputation began to grow. He became known for making some of the most beautiful and sturdy shoes in his village, and the couple’s money troubles began to lift. The shoemaker and his wife were very grateful.
One night, as it was nearing the holiday season, the shoemaker’s wife said, “We must find out who is helping us, so we can do something to thank them. Let’s hide in the workshop to see.”
And so they hid in the little closet behind the worktable and waited.
At midnight, the shoemaker and his wife heard voices singing a pretty little tune. They peered out of the closet and were amazed to see two tiny elves with no clothes on climbing through the window. The elves were singing and dancing, turning somersaults and leaping into the air — the happiest fellows the shoemaker had ever seen.
After they had danced around, the elves sat down at the table and began to make shoes. When they had finished cobbling together a dozen pairs, they disappeared out the window. The shoemaker and his wife ran to the window just in time to see the elves vanish in a shaft of moonlight.
“Elves?” the shoemaker’s wife whispered. “Elves have come to help us! We must find a way to thank them.”
“Yes,” the shoemaker agreed. “What can we do?”
“They had no clothes on,” his wife said. “We can make them some clothes!”
The shoemaker agreed that was a wonderful idea, and so for weeks they worked. The shoemaker sewed two tiny pairs of beautiful boots lined with fur, and the shoemaker’s wife stitched up two little fleece jackets with matching shirts and warm wool trousers.
On Christmas Eve, the shoemaker set out the gifts on the worktable. Then he and his wife hid in the closet to wait and watch.
At midnight, sure enough, they heard the elves’ song. A moment later, into the workshop they leaped. The elves were turning somersaults, but then they saw the table. They stopped singing and turned to each other and stared.
“Where is our work?” one of them asked. He picked up the fur-lined boots and cocked his head. He tried one on, and then another. The other, meanwhile, picked up the shirt, jacket and pants and tried those on. They were a perfect fit. Soon they were both dressed in their handsome new clothes. Once again, they danced and sang, happy as ever.
But there was no leather to sew, and so they leaped out of the window and vanished in the moonlight.
The shoemaker and his wife were very happy to know the elves liked their new clothes. They went to sleep feeling satisfied that they had helped the elves. On Christmas morning, the shoemaker cut his leather and left it out on the table for the elves.
But when he returned to the workshop the next day, he found no shoes. He ran to tell his wife, “Our elves have not returned.”
“Never mind that,” his wife said. “We shall work again, just as we always have.”
The shoemaker agreed. Once again, he set to work just as he’d done for all those years before the elves came. And just as before the elves came, the shoes he made were as beautiful as ever.