posted by The Dixie Dove in Religion

The Greatest Gift

December 10, 2012

The Greatest Gift
by Philip Van Doren Stern
Unable to find a publisher for "The Greatest Gift," Philip Van
Doren Stern printed two hundred copies of the story and used
them as Christmas cards in 1943. From this humble beginning,
a classic was born. Van Doren Stern's story captivated Frank
Capra, who said he "had been looking for [it] all [his] life."
Capra's beloved adaptation, It's a Wonderful Life, starring
James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore, was
released in 1946, and while the film, which received Academy
Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best
Director, didn't take home an Oscar, it has secured its place in
the American holiday tradition.
The Greatest Gift
The little town straggling up the hill was bright with colored
Christmas lights. But George Pratt did not see them. He was
leaning over the railing of the iron bridge, staring down
moodily at the black water. The current eddied and swirled like
liquid glass, and occasionally a bit of ice, detached from the
shore, would go gliding downstream to be swallowed up in the
shadows under the bridge.
The water looked paralyzingly cold. George wondered how
long a man could stay alive in it. The glassy blackness had a
strange, hypnotic effect on him. He leaned still farther over the
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a quiet voice beside him
George turned resentfully to a little man he had never seen
before. He was stout, well past middle age, and his round
cheeks were pink in the winter air as though they had just been
“Wouldn’t do what?” George asked sullenly.
“What you were thinking of doing.”
“How do you know what I was thinking?”
“Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the
stranger said easily.
George wondered what the man’s business was. He was a
most unremarkable little person, the sort you would pass in a
crowd and never notice. Unless you saw his bright blue eyes,
that is. You couldn’t forget them, for they were the kindest,
sharpest eyes you ever saw. Nothing else about him was
noteworthy. He wore a moth-eaten old fur cap and a shabby
overcoat that was stretched tightly across his paunchy belly. He
was carrying a small black satchel. It wasn’t a doctor’s bag—it
was too large for that and not the right shape. It was a
salesman’s sample kit, George decided distastefully. The fellow
was probably some sort of peddler, the kind who would go
around poking his sharp little nose into other people’s affairs.
“Looks like snow, doesn’t it?” the stranger said, glancing up
appraisingly at the overcast sky. “It’ll be nice to have a white
Christmas. They’re getting scarce these days—but so are a lot
of things.” He turned to face George squarely. “You all right
“Of course I’m all right. What made you think I wasn’t? I
George fell silent before the stranger’s quiet gaze.
The little man shook his head. “You know you shouldn’t
think of such things—and on Christmas Eve of all times!
You’ve got to consider Mary—and your mother too.”


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