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A Story for Christmas

With 30 days to go until Christmas Day... Here’s a story of a story told on Christmas morn from Duncan Williamson in conversation with David Campbell in 1995, to remind us all of the true heart of the festive season.

‘Because I remember my father, in the tent as wee kids in Furnace when we were small little children a long time ago. . . Father would say, “Look, children, its Christmas morning.  Sorry I cannae give you nothing for your Christmas.”  Oh, he knew all about Christmas and what children would do, the next time you walked to the village they’d ask, what did you get for your Christmas?  We said, “We got nothing, we got nothing for wir Christmas.”

‘But he said, “I’m going to give you the greatest present of all for your Christmas. I’m going to tell you a story.”  Can you imagine a man, a full grown man with a big family, who probably didn’t have a bit of tobacco for his pipe, didn’t have a penny to his name, sitting down with a group of children on Christmas Morning around the campfire?  And telling the children a story just for pleasure because it was Christmas Morning and he has nothing to give? Could anyone have ever given you a better present in your life?

‘And he said, “I know, children, that sometime in the future when you grow up, on your own, that you’ll remember this wee story. And probably you’ll tell it to your children.”

‘I did, I told his story to my children many times, to my first children, to my second children, I published it and I told it in schools, in libraries, in sessions from Israel to Jonesboro.  

‘And he knew that by giving us that wee story he was giving us the greatest present of all. Because it was a present from him on Christmas Morning and he knew we’d remember it. Och, if he had bought us presents or things they would get destroyed and things like that. But he knew that story would last with us.

‘It was the idea that, the whole thing was, when we were kids it was the only source of entertainment we had, we had no books unless we had in school and of course we never got any Christmas presents or nae toys or nothing like that. And the only thing we lived on was stories and songs at night round the fire because we needed some source of entertainment, you can imagine, well we wouldnae have all 17 kids at one time... mother would maybe have nine in the tent at the same time – funny thing she was, she had boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl all down her lifetime – and sitting in the tent, girls would be doing things, maybe sewing, boys would be annoying each other, you know and things like that. But we got on pretty well among each.

‘I remember it was Christmas morning, David. And he took one orange, one single orange. And he always carried a pocket knife. And he took his pocket knife and he cut that little orange in strips and he gave each of us a wee bit out of it. Christmas morning in the tent in the wood. All the children in the village enjoying their Christmas presents. See with us, one orange. And this is the words he said to me, “Do you know weans, I wish I could afford to buy you something special for your Christmas, but I dinnae have nothing to give you for your Christmas.”

‘But he knew that he was going to give us something far more important than the most expensive toy he could have bought for us.  He said, “I’m going to tell you a story for your Christmas.” And so he did. And he said to me and the rest of the children, “You know some day when I am gone and you’re grown up and have your own family, you will remember that story.  I hope you do.  But you wouldna remember a present if I could give it to you.” Because presents don’t last, but stories last forever.’

Linda Williamson leads workshop Tell Me a Story for Christmas on Sat 3 Dec, inspired by Duncan Williamson’s renowned repertoire – come learn the skills of storytelling for midwinter tales and give the gift of storytelling year round!

Picture: Duncan Williamson preparing his Tea by Loch Fyne