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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Carols/Carolling (10/02/08)

TITLE: The Cherry Tree Carol
By Jan Ackerson


When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee

I weary of dreams and angels—I long for the days when simple carpentry imparted the simple pleasures of shavings and sweat. But Mary came to me some months ago with her wild tales of an angel and God’s holy presence. Poor child, I thought, and began to ponder how I might break our engagement.

And then my own visitation—or was it a dream? That changed my mind, all right—still, I grimace when men snicker as Mary walks by. More than once I have heard the names they call her, and my defense of her sounds ridiculous even to my ears. Was it really an angel, or is that apparition simply the story of a frightened child who succumbed to a game of touch-me-touch-me-not? I wonder…

And one day as they went walking, all in the garden green
There were berries and cherries as thick as may be seen

Then Mary said to Joseph, so meek and so mild
"Joseph, gather me some cherries for I am with child"

It was a particularly foul mood that gripped me as I guided Mary through the orchards of Nahum, my curmudgeonly neighbor. I understand that women with child have particular cravings, but cherries are dear, and I had to promise Nahum a new door frame for just a small basket of cherries for Mary who—I am ashamed to say it—was waddling considerably. One cherry might render her immobile.

Yet Nahum’s old tree was, I’ll admit, full of fruit—so full that a cherry flung itself at my face as we walked by, and its rotting brothers reddened our sandals. I slipped a bit, and had to let go of Mary’s elbow, and felt foolish.

Do you know the feeling of annoyance when you are in the presence of too much goodness? That is precisely what I felt when Mary steadied me, then said in her whispery voice, “Joseph, here is the basket. Dearest, can you fill it? The child I bear would be thankful for something sweet…”

Then Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he
"Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee”

I don’t know what angered me the most—that little voice asking for cherries with such infernal humility, or her small hand lingering at my arm after my stumble on the rotting cherries—perhaps it was Nahum’s smirk when I bartered for the sake of my pregnant fiancée. Without any attempt to suppress my hurtful words, I shook my arm free and bent my face to Mary’s. “It’s cherries you want? Let the babe’s father gather them, then—if you know who he might be!”

Mary stepped away from me, her face pale and her mouth slightly open.

Then up spoke baby Jesus, from out Mary's womb
"Bow down ye tallest tree that my mother might have some”

How to describe the next moments? There was a voice, I tell you, a voice—seeming to come both from Mary’s rounded belly and also from the heavens. It was not talking to me, however, but to the ancient tree, whose branches stilled in attention. Indeed, all of earth stopped to listen: the locusts fell silent, the wind dropped to the ground, even Nahum’s scrawny cat paused while licking one cherry-besmirched paw.

And this is what the voice said—Cherry tree, my mother desires your fruit. Upper branches where the cherries are sweet—fill her basket, if you please!”

I swear it.

So bent down the tallest tree to touch Mary's hand
Said she, "Oh look now Joseph, I have cherries at command"

The tree creaked and bent, and you’d have laughed to see the willing cherries hopping merrily into Mary’s basket! So many there were that soon she laughed and threw a hand to the heavens, and said stop, stop, there are too many here!

And I? I fell to my knees, staining my garment with blood-red juice. I had demanded that the babe’s father gather the cherries, and the babe himself had commanded them. Who is the father of the baby, then? Why, he himself is his own father, is he not? I am an old man, but this simple truth seems as evident to me as the twin splotches on my robe.

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee


Author's Note: There are many versions of “The Cherry Tree Carol”, which dates as far back as the 15th century. Although it is obviously more traditional than Biblical, there is a lovely Biblical truth illustrated at its climax.

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This article has been read 1253 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Catrina Bradley 10/09/08
This "carol" is new to me, and your story surrounding it is excellent! I loved it.
Marijo Phelps10/09/08
Very creative - never heard the carol before. And the mysteries of the trinity... enjoyed it!
Sheri Gordon10/09/08
Although I don't know this carol--this is exactly how I've pictured Joseph. It just seems to me that he would have a bit of a problem accepting everything.

I really like the format of this piece--and being introduced to a carol I don't know.
Hannah Hunter10/10/08
An interesting story about a song that was new to me. A good picture of our struggle to believe what we hear from God once the voice is silent.
Chely Roach10/10/08
This was fantastic. I absolutely loved the use of such an obscure song...making it fresh to the readers. This is my favorite for the week! Wonderful.
Joy Faire Stewart10/11/08
I enjoyed the story woven around the lyrics. The touches of humor were perfect and loved the cat reference.
Dixie Phillips10/11/08
A contender indeed.... Wow! This needs to be a book. Good stuff!
Valarie Sullivan10/13/08
I liked the way you wove the carol into a story. You really gave Joseph some character and substance!
Patrick Whalen10/13/08
Very good read! It was so descriptive I thought you made the whole carol up. That was until curiosity got me and i found it on Google. Still, I really enjoyed it.
Verna Cole Mitchell 10/13/08
This writing is so outstanding, it makes me embarrassed to be in Masters. I love your story.
Lollie Hofer10/13/08
Incredible story telling with such a delightful ending. The weaving of the carol and story was most effective. MASTERfully done.
Chrissi Dunn10/14/08
This was interesting to find out about. Very original and well written.
Melanie Kerr 10/14/08
I love the way you illustrated the carol - a very obscure carol! I rather think that poor Joseph did have a hard time of it all.
Karlene Jacobsen10/14/08
I think we forget these were humans like us who were chosen to host our Saviour. Therefore, we tend to forget the emotional turmoil they must have faced in those days. It's hard today, to walk in the promises I know God has spoken to me personally, after all.

I love the way you portrayed some of what Joseph must have dealt with.
Loren T. Lowery10/14/08
Perfect blending of story and song. Each telling the history of the other. Fascinating, authentic - humbling to be in the company of such a creative and imaginative mind.
Pamela Kliewer10/14/08
I had never heard of this carol before. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. This piece held my attention from beginning to end.
Joanne Sher 10/14/08
Beautifully done, as usual. I have also never heard of this carol (but not surprising, yanno!), but you did a lovely job of illustrating it. Rich characterization.
Tessy Fuller10/14/08
I don't what to say that others have not - this was very well done.
Leah Nichols 10/15/08
I thought it was very excellently done and a neat way to share an obscure carol. I think it would have been just as effective to put the carol at the end of the piece....it would give more of a surprise to the reader if they're not familiar with the carol (like most of us, lol). Nice job, as usual, whch we expect from the FW favorite! :)
Yvonne Blake 10/15/08
Interesting! I have never heard that. Wonderful truth of how sometimes we doubt when we should be bowing in awe of His power!
Joshua Janoski10/15/08
This was a truly interesting read. I had never heard this carol before, and the added dialogue of Joseph really enhanced it.

This was one of the more unique entries that I have read this week. Thanks for sharing, Jan.
Shelley Ledfors 10/15/08
As most others have said, I knew nothing of this carol until reading your entry. What a very unique approach to the topic! I really love your characterization of Joseph.
Beth LaBuff 10/15/08
I love the truth of this, "Who is the father of the baby, then? Why, he himself is his own father, is he not?" Wow!
Lyn Churchyard10/15/08
Oh wow! Jan, this is amazing. I've never heard of that carol before, but you have moulded and kneaded and brought carol and story together in a wonderful and sweet combination.
Emily Gibson10/16/08

I do know this cryptic carol very well, having grown up singing it (guess we're the queens of obscure carols!).

You did a brilliant job with creating a narrative around the very interesting lyrics. It would work very well with illustrations for publication.

Thank you for bringing back great memories.
Sharlyn Guthrie10/16/08
Jan, I've always loved this carol, not as you say, for its biblical truth, but for the interaction between God and man in a very down to earth situation. Your interpretation is brilliant, and touching as well.
LauraLee Shaw10/16/08
This is awesome!!! Congrats on your 5th place overall!
Charla Diehl 10/20/08
Like most, I'd never heard of this carol. However, you did a superb job of wrting your story around it and making Joseph's character come alive. A winning entry!