Once Upon A Time, in a Land Far, Far Away (for that is how all fairy tales are supposed to begin) a King sent out a proclamation declaring that for one day out of three hundred and sixty five, all of his subjects are to stop work and give thanks to God for having blessed them with the abundance that the King has given them.
And so it came to be that throughout the Kingdom, for one day a year, people stopped work and gathered together in their villages to give their thanks to God for everything the King blessed them to have. But time, it seems, changes everything, and so, too, did this sacred day of giving thanks. As villages grew larger, families stopped coming to the communal meal and celebrated on their own, with their own. Soon, it became almost an unwritten contest, to see which families could pile the most food on one table. Even the King was swept up, and always had to provide the greatest banquet of all.
But for the poor, who once dined at the communal meal, the day became a day to remind them even more poignantly of the things they did not enjoy – having enough to eat being chief among them. As the richest fed their table scraps to their dogs, children of the poor still cried themselves to sleep with an empty stomach.
Then, one day, the unthinkable was thought of. The Prince who was not heir to the throne (for he was second born) asked a question at the banquet of Giving Thanks held by the King himself. There, in front of his brothers and sisters and cousins and wives and all the nobles and all their families (for it was a very large banquet indeed) stood up and asked,
“Father, why are we Giving Thanks this day?” The room grew suddenly quiet, for no one ever dared to speak to the King without having first been spoken to.
The King stopped, mouth open, a fork-full of roast goose suspended midway between the plate and his palate. He set the fork down and slowly raised a glass of his finest wine and took a long draught. Setting the goblet down, the King looked up at the ceiling and spoke,
“Why, to give thanks to God for the abundance I have given to each of you.” Everyone applauded and murmured in approval.
“But Father,” and this was unthinkable, for no one ever challenged the King once He made a pronouncement. “But Father,” the Prince continued, “you have given us nothing.”
No one made a sound. Even the dogs stopped gnawing on their bones.
“Everything we have, this food, this castle, our clothes, our riches…everything came from the labors of those who work for you….for us.”
An uncomfortable fidgeting filled the Great Hall. Almost unseen in the shadows, the servant girls bowed their heads, as if in shame.
“I challenge each one of you,” the Prince grew bolder, “to look at your hands. Go ahead, look at them. Fine and smooth and white and clean; never having seen a day’s labor tilling the soil or weaving the cloth or baking the bread.”
There was a rustling around the Hall as some looked at their hands, some hid their hands, and children held their hands up so their mothers could see. The Prince took a nearby servant girl by the arm and escorted her forward.
“Look at her hands.” Nobles averted their eyes. “Look at her hands!” the Prince commanded, holding the servant girl’s arms out for all to see. “She has done more work in an hour this day then all of us put together.” the Prince paused, then added, “Myself included.”
The King rose, a long, slow rising, one befitting his regal character. “Son.” He spoke with the voice of power and authority. “Son,” the King’s voice softened. “It is her station in life. Just as you have yours, we all have ours.” The King waved to the entire room.
“And why is that, Father?” the Prince spoke earnestly, “A happenstance of birth? What makes her any different than my sister, other than her being born into poverty while my sister was born into wealth?’
“But that makes all the difference in the world!” a noble shouted out.
“Silence!” commanded the King. The noble sat, red-faced. “What, indeed….?” the King muttered, almost inaudibly.
“If we are to give thanks to God,” the Prince addressed the assemblage, “then we must give our thanks for the likes of her, and for everyone who toils for our gain.” The King nodded in approval.
“My son speaks well.” the King stood and proclaimed. Everyone applauded.
“I am not finished!” the Prince’s eyes flashed with that flash of righteous indignation seldom seen amongst men who compromise comfort for truth. Some women gasped at his boldness.
“Even as we speak, even as we dine, your subjects starve!” the Prince looked his father directly in the eyes. “Giving thanks must be more than mere words, more than a hollow prayer to God.” The Prince’s steel-blue eyes fixed upon the blue-gray of his father’s. “Giving thanks must be more than one day in three-sixty-five.”
“Giving thanks must be every day of every year. Giving thanks must be making sure that every, every subject has enough to eat, has a roof over their heads and has decent clothes to wear!”
“And how do you propose I do that!?!” the King roared. The nobles, who have felt the King’s wrath before, shrank back.
“I don’t know. You’re the King. You figure it out.” the Prince replied, comically, as he was want to do in moments of tension. Stifled laughter echoed in the distant reaches of the Great Hall. Whether from a noble or servant, no one could tell.
The Prince sat down, still looking at his father.
The King, still standing, fiddled with his food with his fork and knife. Nobles glanced around, furtively, their wives quietly hushing the children. The Prince’s sister looked at him, then at the servant girl, then down at her own unblemished hands.
The King set down his utensils and picked up the large carving knife next to the boar. “My son,” he said, at last, “come here.” The King waved at the Prince with the knife. More than one face blanched at that moment, but not the Prince’s, who rose and walked to his father’s side.
“My son,” the King began, “what separates us from those who toil for our gain is naught but a happenstance of birth.” Some gasps were heard. “But!” the King looked around the room, “But that should not stop us from Giving Thanks!” The gasps turned to sighs of relief. “Thanks to God, for the blessings He has bestowed upon us!” Applause broke out. “And chief!…” the King paused long enough for the applause to stop, “and chief amongst those blessings are those who toil, whose hands are like that servant girl’s, calloused and worn and dirty and untrimmed. Without her and her kindred, I, you, none of us, would have what we have come to believe is our birthright!” This time it was the King’s eyes that flashed with righteous indignation.
“Your words are well-spoke.” the King tapped the Prince’s breast with the carving knife. “And you have much passion on the subject. And, as you have so eloquently noted, I am the King, so I have figured it out.” he paused for effect. For a moment, it seemed as if no one dare breathe until the King spoke.
“You figure it out!” the King roared in laughter. The nobles joined, nervously at first, as did their wives, then growing in enthusiasm. Children took the moment to shovel more tasty morsels into their mouths. Eventually the laughter subsided.
“I’m serious,” said the King. “By Christmas Morn I want you to present a plan that will ensure each and every one of my subjects has enough food to each, a place to stay and decent clothes to wear.”
“I will, father.” replied the Prince, who had already given much thought to such a plan.
Fairy Tales are supposed to end with “And they all lived happily ever after” but this is not a true fairy tale. It has a beginning, a middle, and the promise of an end, but the end’s not written. It is still a hope, a dream, a wish that has yet to come true.