On Christmas day there is a great feast in Dublin. This, you know, is the chief city of Ireland. The feast is made for the children. There are in that city a great many little ones who are very very poor. There are kind people there, also, who look after these poor children. They have what they call "ragged schools," where many of them are taught to read, and to sew, and other useful things.
Dr. Nelaton is a famous minister in Dublin, and every year he, with other good people, gets up this great feast for the children. About eight hundred of them came last year. Some of these were only half-clad, and all were very ragged. They were seated at long, narrow tables, which were covered with a white cloth, The children from the ragged schools wore aprons in bright colors, to hide their rags. Each school had a color of its own. These aprons were only lent them for the day, and the children felt very fine in them. But there were two long rows without any aprons. These were little ones who had been picked up along the streets. Each ragged scholar had permission to bring all the children he could find. And, oh, how ragged and dirty these two rows were!
But they brightened up, just like the children with aprons, when they saw the feast. A huge mug of steaming tea and an immense bun to each child! Rarely did they have such a treat as this. And how they did eat! Each child had all he wanted. It would have done you good to see their poor, pinched faces beam with delight. During the meal a large throng of orphan children in the gallery sung some sweet songs. Then, after the feast, there were small gifts, and little speeches and prayers, and more songs. The little ragged ones seemed like new beings in this atmosphere of love. Such a glad day as that Christmas was a rare event in their sad lives. Children who live in happy homes know little about the sufferings of the poor. Perhaps, if they knew more, such little ones would try harder, by gifts and kind acts, to carry sunshine to sorrowful hearts.
To build confidence, teach fledgling writers how to model someone else’s piece. “A Ragged Christmas Feast” is a story I found in public domain for a small writing activity you could do with your students before Christmas. Note the simple detail changes while still maintaining the theme and structure in my recreation below.
A Chicago Christmas Feast
On Christmas Day there is a great feast in Chicago. This, you know, is a great city in America where many immigrants come. This feast is made for the children. In Chicago there are many children who live in the police station because they don’t have any house to stay in. Every morning and evening they must move outside with all their belongings while somebody cleans the police station. Even if they are sick you must move. The only clothes they have are donations people give them. They are very poor. There are people who try to look after these broken families.
Dr. Clay Evans was an African American pastor who had a big heart for these displaced, unfortunate children. With help from volunteers, he got up this great feast for the children. They started preparing for three hundred children. The great feast was held in a large concrete room near the center of downtown Chicago. Some children rode busses to the great feast with a parent. The children were invited to sit at long, narrow tables covered in white plastic tablecloths. Volunteers gave each child a bandana to tie like a scarf around their neck, different colors from different countries from wherever they came. Some children were quite ragged and dirty, and these bright colors of orange, red, green, yellow, blue, and pink brightened their appearances considerably. It began to look very merry in this huge room. The children, as they waited for the program to begin, talked quietly or stared wide-eyed at the nativity scene that was set up on a platform above them. The star over the nativity scene blinked on and off.
Volunteers began rolling out carts of food and drink. Each child got a cinnamon roll with gooey frosting and pecan meats sprinkled on top, alongside a warm cup of peppermint tea. Some tea got spilled, some plastic cups broke, but the children felt happy. Their faces began to brighten with anticipation. As more carts of warm ham and cheese sandwiches were passed out, a chorus from the local college sang merry carols on a balcony above the nativity scene. Then there were steaming hot veggies and mounds of warm applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top. Sweet potato fries with dip, and fresh orange slices were passed around. The children filled their tummies and stared in wonder as little chocolate kisses appeared, one for each.
Dr. Clay Evans walked around each table and shook hands with each child and talked to them and listened to them talk. Then he went up on the balcony and stretched out his hands and prayed over the children. Then there were a few more carols before the children were dismissed. Each child was handed a little baggy that contained a toothbrush and toothpaste, a keychain that said Chicago on it, and popcorn ball wrapped in red plastic. The smiles on the children’s faces glowed as they left and stretched on into the night as they found their way back to the places where they stayed that night. Dr. Clay knew he couldn’t help them all, but his prayers followed them. And he felt God had blessed the great feast in Chicago.
Students can lay out their story very similarly to the one given. Note in the example, we explain a great feast. We change the place, the person, the reason for the bright colored apron, the kind of children that are invited, the number of children, and the time-era of the story. What does remain the same is the theme - making a special feast for underprivileged children in a great city. Details can be replaced, but the length of the story should remain similar. It’s a fun way to give this story their own voice. To avoid plagiarism, model pieces that you have permission for or are in public domain and acknowledge that your piece is a model of the original.
Some more ideas to play with…
Keep the feast local instead of a great city. In my location, I could include making a feast for Amish children, as the population in our county includes a majority of Amish (although most are not underpriviledged).
Use people from your own church to be the volunteers.
A local business could make gifts (maybe specialty brands) for each child.
To help the creative process, assign a particular people group or location for each student to include.
Feel free to print out these stories and have your students mimic the style. I had fun dreaming how I could reach the hearts of the little immigrant children in Chicago. I know I don’t know the half of the suffering and uncertainties that immigrants face in a large city, but I do care about their plight and wish I could do more.
Have a blessed Christmas!