Maria was a simple peasant girl who lived in the village of Saraville, on the cusp of a desert that was at the crux of three civilizations. Her father had been killed in combat, and her mother had died years before while giving birth to her brother. Maria was in the care of her Aunt Ellen, a hard-working widowed domestic who cleaned house for one of the wealthy members of the community. Her family lived in a shack on the eastern edge of the village. It was a humble existence to say the least, and the merchant class called her neighborhood “the boondocks.”
Since her aunt spent a lot of time at work, Maria was by herself a lot. However, she busied herself with arts and crafts projects after her chores were done. Since it was late autumn, a cold and dark time of year, she wanted to prepare for winter by working on something that would brighten up the season a bit. She always enjoyed gazing at the evening sky and wondered how stars could keep on shining brightly without ever burning out. She missed the stars this time of year, since it was often cloudy out.
A few months earlier, back in June, Maria had decided to start working on this ambitious project--a big star, about six feet tall and four feet wide. It also happened that the mayor of Saraville was having a contest--a light fair rewarding the thing that’d best brighten the landscape and make travelers want to visit the town--the best brightener, so to speak--one that would put Saraville onto the map and possibly attract even the Roman emperor. The winner of this contest would get a certificate for three months of free food. Maria’s family could certainly use the prize. And Maria wanted to win, more than anything else in the world.
Maria often scavenged for materials for the star in the scraps left by carpenters and craftsmen--wood, string, clay, and more. The workmen thought she was a bit odd for wanting their scraps, but still they let her have them. Few of the other kids took Maria and her project seriously, though.
“Maria, your chance of winning is about the same as a blizzard in July in Saraville,” the other kids taunted.
The words pierced her heart, but she refused to let it show. She continued to work diligently on her star. She sandpapered down the wood so the points were crisp and sharp. She worked so hard at her star that sometimes she got blisters on her hands. “I’ve got to win--my family needs that food,” she said to herself every time she got tired and felt like quitting. By November, Maria’s aunt noticed that Maria was becoming sickly. “You’re spending too much time on that star! You’ve got to study so someday you can learn to read--and learn a trade, so you can build a life for yourself. And to do that, you’ll have to do better than 75’s in school.”
“I know, Aunt Ellen, but this contest means a lot to me. Besides, I’ll be hitting the books by January.”
Maria spent the last week before the contest decorating her star. She used simple peasant symbols in adorning it. Some of her classmates, who came from wealthier families, were able to afford fancier tinsels and trimmings, as well as marble--as opposed to mere wood. Their projects could glow just the way they thought the mayor and merchants wanted them to.
There was no stopping Maria’s project, though. The deadline was looming, and she continued to carve, saw, and sandpaper away. Then, finally, she was done. Her next task was getting the star to the town square, a mile away. The star was awfully heavy for a nine-year-old girl to lug all the way downtown. However, Maria’s friend Sue, whose father had several wagons, offered to help.
So, on the 14th of December, the day of the light show, they got the wagon and began to wheel Maria’s star downtown. The streets were made of cobblestone, so the ride was awfully bumpy. There were also sharp turns, making the trek even more of an ordeal. And it was a chilly day with a biting wind. Finally, after lugging the star for over an hour, they made it to the town square. When they arrived there, they saw about 100 kids and their projects. There were all sorts of fascinating things there, from images of the god Saturn to replicas of the goddess Venus, from kerosene lamps to gold-spangled images of wolves and sheep, from images of the sun to facsimiles of the moon–craters and all.
Maria’s star seemed so simple compared to the razzle-dazzle of the other kids’ projects. Fortunately, Maria’s friend Sue was there, with her fantasy project--she called it a chariot that ran on kerosene. She dubbed it a “karriot,” or “karr” for short. It was something she’d thrown together the previous week, with her dad’s help, just so Maria wouldn’t be alone at the light fair.
But by the time Maria arrived at the square, she’d caught a cold. She was barely able to make it through the light fair ceremony, but she was determined to. After the mayor’s a pompous speech on commerce, goodwill, and the feast of Saturnalia, the judges began to deliberate. There were about ten of these men, and each man had ten items to look over. The judge asked Maria a few questions.
“So, what’s your name, Miss, and what is the purpose of your project?”
“My name’s Maria, and it’s a star, a new kind of star, one that I thought the town of Saraville needs ‘cause of the long, dark winter we’re bound to have.”
“Well, I can see you’ve worked a long time at your star, but it just doesn’t quite have the oomph—or the big aura that Saraville needs. We need a big bright magnetic sort of thing that brings lots of people to our town and will make them want to stay in our inns,” he told her.
Maria nodded, trying to fight back tears, which were slowly beginning to stream down her cheeks. The prize went to some boy named Ju Scaralot, or something like that. His project was a flattened out golden moon with thirty pieces of shimmering tinsel on it. It certainly didn’t hurt that his father employed most of the goldsmiths--and silversmiths-- in town. Maria was crushed. She then realized that she didn’t want the star anymore. “It’s of no use to me at all--it didn’t win anything,” she said to Sue.
“I didn’t win, either, but I don’t really care. I don’t think Saraville is ready for karrs yet, anyway.” Sue said.
“Let’s just take the wagon and wheel the star out somewhere-- and just leave it there,” Maria said. “That way I can just forget about it and get on with my life.”
“Well all right, Maria, but it’s getting late. It’s almost dark, and we’ve got to be home in an hour,” Sue replied.
After about 30 minutes, they found a field on the outskirts of town, near a place where shepherds tended their flocks and a stable with animals. “Maybe the animals will like it. They won’t mind that it was a peasant girl who made the star.” Said Maria. The field was desolate and abandoned; two months had passed since the harvest. Maria left her star there and gazed at it one last time. Sue decided to leave her “karr” there as well. Maybe someone will discover them come March, they thought.
Maria and Sue then headed home. Maria’s cold was getting worse and it was beginning to rain--a cold, penetrating rain. The wind began to pick up, too. Finally, though, Maria and Sue got home—they lived only four blocks away from each other. Those last four blocks were especially difficult for Maria. The wind was starting to howl, and the rain was beginning to pelt menacingly. By the time she staggered into her house, she was too weak to even walk to the fire her aunt had made for the family. The next day, the cold became pneumonia, and Maria was barely breathing.
Meanwhile, the rain stopped, but the wind continued. There was some snow in the mountains. In the field where Maria had left her star, the wind really began to blow, reaching gale force. One strong gust lifted the star and the “karr” and carried them away. Somehow, the kerosene from the karr spilled onto Maria’s star, and the wind ignited it. The star, instead of burning out, kept rising into the sky--and it kept getting brighter. It began to radiate more and more as it rose. As the star continued to ascend, it got bigger and bigger.
A few days later, Maria’s pneumonia worsened. She could barely move. Her family could not afford a doctor, so Maria had little time left in the world. She was at peace, though, because the weather was better and she could see a ray of light from her room, even though she did not know where it was from. It wasn’t the moon, because the moon was in its new phase. That very night Maria died, and her soul went up to meet her mom and dad, whom she hadn’t seen in years. As she was traveling from earth to heaven, she could see a luminous star in the sky, a star like nothing she’d ever seen before. It also looked vaguely familiar, but she didn’t know why.
Maria had no idea that her small star, only six feet high and four feet across, the one she’d left in a field by a stable somewhere, became the Star of Stars, the one that traveled around the world and returned to another small town, not far from Saraville, two weeks later. This star, which was scorned by the children and ignored by the adults of Saraville, became the brightest object in the night sky. It led three well-traveled men to a manger, where a virgin, a peasant much like Maria, gave birth to a baby boy. Maria then realized where the star had come from and realized why she’d worked so long on the star, her gift to the world.