Once upon a time a woman was packing everything, just as the Puritans did, to come to America. She was a German woman. The children called her Hebe mutter (dear mother). She was like "the old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she"— could not possibly leave one of them behind. There were at least ten of them. If you stood them in a row, with big Wilhelm at the head and baby Fritz at the foot, their yellow heads made ten stair steps. There was Frieda and Christine and Carl, Louise and Gustav and Minna, Gertrude and Otto. They all had very blue eyes, and very red cheeks, and very stout legs and arms.

Liebe mutter packed everything that was needed, and bundled up the children. Then she tucked something else in for the children. It was something every German child had once a year. The children of the King had it in the palace, and the children of the baron, in the castle on the rocks above the Rhine River. The children of the peasants who picked grapes in the baron's vineyards had it, too. It was the prettiest, the gayest, the happiest thing in the world. Sometimes it cost a great deal of money, and sometimes it cost nothing but loving thoughts and a little work. So you see the poorest child could have it, and the richest couldn't do without it. It was no trouble to carry it across the sea because it did not weigh anything, or take up any room in the ship.

Guess what it was! You have three guesses and a wish!

We don't know just where this German family went to live in America. A great many Germans came, and they lived everywhere. If they stayed in a city they had butcher shops and bakeries. Sometimes they had little del-i-cat-es'-sen shops, where they sold rye bread and sausages, cottage cheese and smoked fish and sauer kraut, and other good German things to eat. They had market garden farms and dairy farms in the country. Away out west, in the villages of logs, they had water mills and cooper shops and shoe shops, or they had big farms. Wherever they went they soon had good homes. They fed and dressed their children well, and put them in school and taught them to work. And wherever they went they took that gay, happy, beautiful thing for the children. They took it across the ocean, over the mountains, down the rivers and out on the prairies. When the right time came they unpacked it.

There was just one right time. That was when the snow was on the ground and the sleigh bells were jingling. Then liebe fader went into the deep woods with an axe and a horse blanket. He came back after night, when the ten children were asleep under the feather-bed quilts. He stole into the house like a thief, and he smuggled a big horse-blanketed bundle into the spare room, and locked the door. Then he and liebe mutter laughed. They had a dear secret.

Everyone in the house had secrets. The children whispered and giggled and hid things. At last, one evening, the neighbors were asked to come in. They could come, just as well as not, for they had no secrets locked up in their houses. Then liebe mutter opened the locked door.

Oh, my goodness! Did you ever in your life see such a sparkling fairy of a tree? Candles blazed like stars all over it! It had strings of popcorn and strings of scarlet seed-hips of wild roses on it, and gilded nuts and cotton snow. There were wooden blocks and toys father had whittled, and leather balls, and rag dollies mother had stuffed and dressed. There were bags of molasses candy, and German honey and nut cakes, and gingerbread men and animals, and popcorn balls. Red mittens and scarfs were on that tree, and birch-bark work boxes, and feather dusters of rooster tails and—. Oh, dear, it would take a book to tell all there was on those first Christmas trees in America. And it would take another book to tell all that grew out of it.

You see, it didn't cost anything except a little work and loving thought, and it made everybody so happy! The neighbors went home from that Christmas joy in German homes, all over America, and they said:

"Next year, we'll have a Christmas tree, too, for the children."