In the Great Walled Country
WAY at the northern end of the
world, farther than men have ever gone with their ships or
their sleds, and where most people suppose that there is
nothing but ice and snow, is a land full of children, called
The Great Walled Country. This name is given
because all around the country is a great wall, hundreds
of feet thick and hundreds of feet high. It is made
of ice, and never melts, winter or summer; and of course it
is for this reason that more people have not discovered the
The land, as I said, is filled with children, for nobody who
lives there ever grows up. The king and the queen, the
princes and the courtiers, may be as old as you please, but
they are children for all that. They play a great deal of
the time with dolls and tin soldiers, and every night at
seven o'clock have a bowl of bread and milk and go to bed.
But they make excellent rulers, and the other children are
well pleased with the government.
There are all sorts of curious things about the way they
live in The Great Walled Country, but this story is only of
their Christmas season. One can imagine what a fine thing
their Christmas must be, so near the North Pole, with ice
and snow everywhere; but this is not all. Grandfather
Christmas lives just on the north side of the country, so
that his house leans against the great wall and would tip
over if it were not for its support. Grandfather Christmas
is his name in The Great Walled Country; no doubt we should
call him Santa Claus here. At
 any rate, he is the same person, and, best of all the
children in the world, he loves the children behind the
great wall of ice.
One very pleasant thing about having Grandfather Christmas
for a neighbor is that in The Great Walled Country they
never have to buy their Christmas presents. Every year, on
the day before Christmas, before he makes up his bundles for
the rest of the world, Grandfather Christmas goes into a
great forest of Christmas trees, that grows just back of the
palace of the king of The Great Walled Country, and fills
the trees with candy and books and toys and all sorts of
good things. So when night comes, all the children wrap up
snugly, while the children in all other lands are waiting in
their beds, and go to the forest to gather gifts for their
friends. Each one goes by himself, so that none of his
friends can see what he has gathered; and no one ever thinks
of such a thing as taking a present for himself. The forest
is so big that there is room for every one to wander about
without meeting the people from whom he has secrets, and
there are always enough nice things to go around.
So Christmas time is a great holiday in that land, as it is
in all the best places in the world. They
 have been celebrating it in this way for hundreds of years,
and since Grandfather Christmas does not seem to grow old
any faster than the children, they will probably do so for
hundreds of years to come.
But there was once a time, so many years ago that they would
have forgotten all about it if the story were not written in
their Big Book and read
to them every year, when the children in The Great Walled
Country had a very strange Christmas. There came a visitor
to the land. He was an old man, and was the first stranger
for very many years that had succeeded in getting over the
wall. He looked so wise, and was so much interested in what
he saw and heard, that the king invited him to the palace,
and he was treated with every possible honor.
When this old man had inquired about their Christmas
celebration, and was told how they carried it on every year,
he listened gravely, and then, looking wiser than ever, he
said to the king:
"That is all very well, but I should think that children who
have Grandfather Christmas for a neighbor could find a
better and easier way. You tell me that you all go out on
Christmas Eve to gather presents to give to one another the
next morning. Why take so much trouble, and act in such a
round-  about way? Why not go out together, and every one get
his own presents? That would save the trouble of dividing
them again, and every one would be better satisfied, for he
could pick out just what he wanted for himself. No one can
tell what you want as well as you can.
This seemed to the king a very wise saying, and he called
all his courtiers and counselors about him to hear it. The
wise stranger talked further about his plan, and when he
had finished they all agreed that they had been very foolish
never to have thought of this simple way of getting their
"If we do this," they said, "no one can ever complain of
what he has, or wish that some one had taken more pains to
find what he wanted. We will make a proclamation, and always
after this follow the new plan."
So the proclamation was made, and the plan seemed as wise to
the children of the country as it had to the king and the
one had at some time been a little disappointed with his
Christmas gifts; now there would be no danger of that.
On Christmas Eve they always had a meeting at the palace,
and sang carols until the time for going
to the forest. When the clock struck ten every one said, "I
wish you a Merry Christmas!" to the person nearest him, and
then they separated to go their ways to the forest. On this
particular night it seemed to the king that the music was
not quite so merry as usual, and that when the children
spoke to one another their eyes did not shine as gladly as
he had noticed them in other years; but there could be no
good reason for this, since every one was expecting a better
time than usual. So he thought no more of it.
There was only one person at the palace that night who was
not pleased with the new proclamation about the Christmas
gifts. This was a little boy named Inge, who lived not far
from the palace with his sister. Now his sister was a
cripple, and had to sit all day looking out of the window
from her chair; and Inge took care of her, and tried to make
her life happy from morning till night. He had always gone
to the forest on Christmas Eve and returned with his arms
and pockets loaded with pretty things for his sister, which
would keep her amused all the coming year. And although she
was not able to go after presents for her brother, he did
not mind that at all, especially as he had other friends who
never forgot to divide their good things with him.
 But now, said Inge to himself, what would his sister do? For
the king had ordered that no one should gather any presents
except for himself, or any more than he could carry away at
once. All of Inge's friends were busy planning what they
would pick for themselves, but the poor crippled child could
not go a step toward the forest. After thinking about it a
long time, Inge decided that it would not be wrong if,
instead of taking gifts for himself, he took them altogether
for his sister. This he would be very glad to do; for what
did a boy who could run about and play in the snow care for
presents, compared with a little girl who could only sit
still and watch others having a good time? Inge did not ask
the advice of any one, for he was a little afraid others
would tell him he must not do it; but he silently made up
his mind not to obey the proclamation.
And now the chimes had struck ten, and the children were
making their way toward the forest, in starlight that was so
bright that it almost showed their shadows on the sparkling
snow. As soon as they came to the edge of the forest, they
separated, each one going by himself in the old way, though
now there was really no reason why they should have secrets
from one another.
 Ten minutes later, if you had been in the forest, you might
have seen the children standing in dismay with tears on
their faces, and exclaiming that there had never been such a
Christmas Eve before. For as they looked eagerly about them
to the low-bending branches of the evergreen trees, they saw
nothing hanging from them that could not be seen every day
in the year. High and low they searched, wandering farther
into the forest than ever before, lest Grandfather
Christmas might have chosen a new place this year for
hanging his presents; but still no presents appeared. The
king called his counselors about him, and asked them if they
knew whether anything of this kind had happened before, but
they could tell him nothing. So no one could guess
whether Grandfather Christmas had forgotten them, or whether
some dreadful accident had kept him away.
As the children were trooping out of the forest, after hours
of weary searching, some of them came upon little Inge, who
carried over his shoulder a bag that seemed to be full to
overflowing. When he saw them looking at him, he cried:
"Are they not beautiful things? I think Grandfather
Christmas was never so good to us before."
Grandfather Christmas was never so good to us before
 "Why, what do you mean?" cried the children. "There are no
presents in the forest."
"No presents!" said Inge. "I have my bag full
of them." But he did not offer to show them, because
he did not want the children to see that they were all for
his little sister instead of for himself.
Then the children begged him to tell them in what part of
the forest he had found his presents, and he turned back and
pointed them to the place where he had been. "I left
many more behind than I brought away," he said. "There they
are! I can see some of the things shining on the trees even
But when the children followed his footprints in the snow to
the place where he had been, they still saw nothing on the
trees, and thought that Inge must be walking in his sleep,
and dreaming that he had found presents. Perhaps he had
filled his bag with the cones from the evergreen trees.
On Christmas Day there was sadness all through The Great
Walled Country. But those who came to the house of Inge and
his sister saw plenty of books and dolls and beautiful toys
piled up about the little cripple's chair; and when they
asked where these things came from, they were told, "Why,
 the Christmas-tree forest." And they shook their heads, not
knowing what it could mean.
The king held a council in the palace, and appointed a
committee of his most faithful courtiers to visit
Grandfather Christmas, and see if they could find what was
the matter. In a day or two more the committee set out on
their journey. They had very hard work to climb the great
wall of ice that lay between their country and the place
where Grandfather Christmas lived, but at last they reached
the top. And when they came to the other side of the
wall, they were looking down into the top of his chimney. It
was not hard to go down this chimney into the house, and
when they reached the bottom of it they found themselves in
the very room where Grandfather Christmas lay sound asleep.
It was hard enough to waken him, for he always slept one
hundred days after his Christmas work was over, and it was
only by turning the hands of the clock around two hundred
times that the committee could do anything. When the clock
had struck twelve times two hundred hours, Grandfather
Christmas thought it was time for his nap to be over, and
he sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes.
"Oh, sir!" cried the prince who was in charge
 of the committee, "we have come from the king of The Great
Walled Country, who has sent us to ask why you forgot us
this Christmas, and left no presents in the forest."
"No presents!" said Grandfather Christmas. "I never
forget anything. The presents were there. You did not see
them, that's all."
But the children told him that they had searched long and
carefully, and in the whole forest there had not been found
a thing that could be called a Christmas gift.
"Indeed!" said Grandfather Christmas. "And did little
Inge, the boy with the crippled sister, find none?"
Then the committee was silent, for they had heard of the gifts at
Inge's house, and did not know what to say about them.
"You had better go home," said Grandfather Christmas, who
now began to realize that he had been awakened too soon,
"and let me finish my nap. The presents were there, but they
were never intended for children who were looking only for
themselves. I am not surprised that you could not see them.
Remember that not everything that wise travelers tell you is
wise." And he turned over and went to sleep again.
 The committee returned silently to The Great Walled Country,
and told the king what they had heard. The king did not tell
all the children of the land what Grandfather Christmas had
said, but, when the next December came, he made another
proclamation, bidding every one to seek gifts for others,
in the old way, in the Christmas-tree forest. So that is
what they have been doing ever since; and in order that they
may not forget what happened, in case any one should ever
ask for another change, they have read to them every year
from their Big Book the story of the time when they had no