(adapted from a tale by Hans Christian Andersen)
It was bitterly cold outside. The sky was a sea of stars, and in the distance there were sounds of fireworks and shouts of joy. It was New Year’s Eve, and the clock began to strike, Tra-ta! Tra-ta! People heard the sound of a horn, and the mail coach appeared at the town gate.
The people of the town were in their houses celebrating, raising their glasses to toast the New Year and all its possibilities and dreams. “Happy New Year!” everyone cried. “May you have health and wealth in this new year! May all your sorrows and cares disappear!”
The 12 passengers inside the coach smiled, and as the wishes went round and people clinked glasses, the door to the coach opened, and one by one the strangers stepped out. They carried luggage and packages, gifts for everyone in town, and soon word spread that they had appeared.
“Who are they?” people asked. “And what do these strangers bring to our world?”
They streamed out of their houses to see these passengers.
The sentry at the gate to the town cried, “Good morning!” for just at that moment the clock struck midnight.
It was a new day. It was a new year.
As the first stranger approached the sentry, he held out his hand and said, “Your passport, please. And your name and profession?”
This passenger looked famous. He wore a thick bearskin coat and boots of sleek fur, and he smiled with pleasure at the sentry. He handed over his passport and laughed. “I bring you presents for the new year,” he said. “I will toss coins to everyone, and I shall give parties. Although my ships are often frozen in the port, you will find my offices warm and comfortable.”
The sentry looked at the passport and read, “Mr. January, a merchant who brings your accounts with you.”
“That I do,” said January, and just then the second gentleman exited the coach. He was a happy fellow with a great moustache, the director of a theater, a manager of masked balls and a leader of celebrations. He carried with him a great cask. “I am February,” he announced, “and at carnival time I shall lead the dance, but quickly. I don’t have a lot of time.”
“Shh,” the sentry warned him, “please don’t shout. I see you have just 28 days — though every fourth year you have an extra.”
At that moment the third stranger climbed from the coach. He was a slender fellow and held his nose high. He wore a bouquet of violets in his lapel.
Behind him came a fourth man, who called, “March, wait! March!” as he skipped out of the carriage. He slapped March on the shoulder, sniffed the air and said, “Something smells delicious. I see they are feasting in this town. Forward, March!”
For a moment the sentry was confused, but then he realized the jolly speaker was only joking — making an April Fool of poor March, for that is how he had begun his career.
“Sometimes I must be in good humor,” April said, “and sometimes in bad. I can laugh and cry. I carry my summer wardrobe in this box.” He lifted his box high up in the air and cried, “I would be the fool to wear summer clothes now!”
“So you would,” the sentry sighed, somewhat overwhelmed by all these strangers appearing at once. But then he smiled as he watched a lady stepping out of the coach. She wore a summer dress, pretty pink shoes, and her hair was adorned with ornaments and fragrant with thyme.
The sentry sneezed as she handed him her passport, and he collected himself and said, “Welcome to our town, Miss May!”
“To your health,” Miss May said, “and bless you!”
The sentry smiled, for she was very pretty. She began to sing softly to herself and everyone sighed, for she had a beautiful voice, like the birds they recalled hearing — it seemed so long ago now.
“Oh, but just you wait,” March whispered in the sentry’s ear, and he pointed at the coach, where a delicate, proud young lady was just stepping out. Everyone smiled as they dreamed of Miss June and the longest day she carried with her, the day she would invite everyone to celebrate.
Next came her protector, her younger brother, Sir July, who was young and svelte and dressed in green trousers and a straw hat. He carried no luggage. “Who needs anything but swimming trousers in the heat!” he said, and sure enough, everyone saw that these were the only things he carried. He and his sister skipped into town.
“Children!” a deep, warm voice called after them, and Madame August stepped out of the coach. She was plump and sunny, and her passport told the sentry she was a cultivator, laborer, housewife and mother. “Wait for me, children,” she called.
Behind her a man stepped out of the coach. He was an artist and wore a smock of beautiful colors and whistled like a blackbird. In his hand he held paints, and he bowed at the sentry. “I am Mr. September,” he said, “and the world is my canvas.”
Before the sentry could speak, Squire October — in his hunting clothes, a dog at his side and a game bag in hand — called out, “I may need some help.”
The sentry saw he did indeed, for he carried too much luggage — tools of every kind, rakes and shovels and hoes and chisels and scythes, and the sentry called to others to help at that moment.
November stormed out of the coach. He was coughing and sniffling, holding tightly to a pair of ice skates and a bundle of wood. “We’ll build some nice fires,” he wheezed, and those who shivered in the bitter cold were glad to welcome him, but then they turned their gaze to look upon the last passenger.
This was Old Mother December. She had wrinkled skin, but her eyes glistened as bright as the stars overhead, and she carried a flowerpot in which there grew a small fir tree.
“I’ll guard this tree all year,” she told the sentry, “and next Christmas it will be taller than the coach, tall enough to carry candles and apples and toys. I’ll sit by November’s fire and tell stories to the children. When the toys come alive, the angel I carry in my pocket will fly across the village, bringing love to everyone.”
The sentry looked at the driver of the coach. “You may drive away,” he said. “We shall keep these 12 with us. Each month one stranger will open his packages and give us their gifts. Mr. January, you are first!”
As everyone gathered around to see what gifts January had brought for them, the others stood aside and smiled. The people would have to wait to see what other gifts lay ahead one month at a time!