A translated book. On this and the next page are popular tales that have been told to children for centuries in Belgium. The tales are not meant for Christmas only, although they are from an English translation of Kerstvertellingen uit Vlaanderen, called Christmas Tales of Flanders (London: William Heinemann, 1917) by André Henri Pierre de Ridder. The collection was translated into English by M. C. O'Connor Morris, and published in London in 1917.
The book was published in Dutch one year after World War I was over, as Kerstvertellingen uit Vlaanderen (Christmas Tales from Flanders). (Amsterdam: Van Holkema & Warendorf, 1919).
Older collections behind the book. Most of the Christmas Tales are selected from the Zoo Vertellen De Vlamingen. Ten Believe En Gerieve Van De Waalsche Schooljeugd, Die Gaarne Nederlandsch Wil Leeren. by Karel Maria Polydoor (Pol) Carolus de Mont (1857-1931) and Alfons de Cock (1850-1921), a book published by Vanderpoorten, Gent, in 1903. And some tales in the Christmas Tales are from the Brabantsch sagenboek of Isidoor Teirlinck by André de Ridder (Gent: Alfons Siffer, 1912)
Once there was a cobbler who was very fond of pancakes. His wife did not care for them at all. Every time he dared to mention his favourite dish, she replied:
"But, man, how can I make pancakes? You know quite well we have no frying-pan."
"Well, borrow one from the neighbour," he replied one day.
She did not dare to object any further, but went to the neighbour and borrowed the frying-pan. Then she fried and fried as though she were frying for the whole village. She fried for so long that the pan became too hot and broke!
Neither of them wanted to return the broken frying-pan to their neighbour. This led to a dispute so that the little house, which was generally so peaceful, was in an uproar.
The husband said that the one who had borrowed the frying-pan should return it.
His wife said that as it was borrowed for his benefit, he should undertake this unpleasant task.
"Listen," said the cobbler, anxious to put an end to the quarrel, "I have an idea. We cannot keep our neighbour's frying-pan forever. The one of us who speaks first or makes telling signs like pointing, must take back the frying-pan."
"Agreed," said his wife. She pursed up her lips and clenched her teeth, as much as to say: "Wild horses will not drag a word out of me."
The next day the neighbours knocked at the door and asked if they could have the frying-pan. None of them answered. Then they asked the wife, and her only reply was to turn her spinning-wheel more vigorously. Not a word escaped her lips, except a sound which resembled the noise made by young chicks:
"Sjip, sjip, sjip, sjip, sjip."
Then they asked the cobbler, who replied by hammering so loudly on a pair of soles that the neighbours shrugged their shoulders and went out, for they could not stand the noise for long.
The same thing happened to the customers.
The rumour soon spread in the village that the cobbler and his wife had been bewitched.
There was no time to be lost; their friends went to the exorcist to free them from the spell.
The charlatan prepared for the ceremony, and then he made a cross sign in the air in front of himself and sprinkled a little water over the couple while rattling off some Latin jingles.
In spite of all his efforts he was no more successful than the other villagers. He only heard the woman say, "Sjip, sjip, sjip," and the man tapping with the hammer.
At the end of his resources, the exorcist now took the pail of water and emptied it over the woman's head, for her case seemed to be the most obstinate of the two.
"Have you finished?" the woman burst out while the water dripped from her body.
"Dear little wife," said the cobbler calmly, "take the frying-pan to our neighbour."
He threw away the shoe he held in his hand and danced for joy.
One day a parish priest had invited a relative to lunch and wished to give him something nice to eat. He ordered two tender young chickens to be killed and plucked.
In the morning, before Mass, he said to his servant:
"Cook the two chickens for lunch and prepare them as nicely as possible, for my cousin is very fond of this food."
"All right, sir," replied the servant.
When the chickens were roasted, she wanted to know if they were done to a turn, and cut off a piece of the wing.
"It wants another five minutes," she thought, and she then took another little piece. That so whetted her appetite that she continued to take pickings until nearly all the chicken had disappeared.
"One is worse than useless," she thought, so she ate the second chicken too.
Crying bitterly she went to find the priest's cousin.
"Oh, sir! Oh, sir!" she cried.
"What's the matter, Catherine, a misfortune? Has the vicar caught measles?" he asked.
"Worse than that, sir," sighed Catherine. "The vicar has been so strange lately. Sometimes when he returns from the church and finds a visitor awaiting him, without saying a word he begins to sharpen his knife and seems set on cutting off his ears. Just be on your guard if he seizes his knife when he comes in."
"He will not catch me napping," answered the vicar's cousin.
The words were hardly out of his mouth when the priest appeared. The first thing he did was to take up his knife. He was very hungry and wanted his luncheon at once.
"I will be off," thought the cousin, and he ran like a hare.
"Can you tell me why he suddenly run off like that?" the priest asked the servant.
"Maybe he has taken the two fat chickens and thought it wiser to disappear."
"What! taken my chickens!" cried the priest. "Hallo! Hallo!" he shouted as loud as ever he could, "at least leave me one."
The priest meant one chicken, but his cousin, thinking that he talked about his ears, shouted back:
"No, no, I prefer to keep them both."
One morning Tony's mother sent him to fetch fifty kilograms of flour from the mill.
Knowing how innocent he was, she said to him, "Tony, say to yourself all the way there, fifty kilograms of flour, fifty of flour."
"Very well, mother, I'll go for it," he replied, and, slinging a sack over his shoulder, he walked off to the mill.
Soon he reached a field where he saw a peasant sowing. When the peasant heard him say "Fifty kilograms of flour " instead of" Good morning," he shouted to him, half in anger, "I shall be in a bad way if this piece of ground only yields fifty kilograms of flour; say rather, 'I wish you five hundred!'"
"All right, I will say that," said Tony, and he repeated, as he went on his way, "I wish you five hundred!" After a time he saw a shepherd and his dog struggling with a wolf. The man, thinking that Tony hoped he would be attacked by five hundred wolves, cried out angrily, "What! Say rather, 'May the devil fly away with him.'"
"I'll say that," answered Tony, and with these words on his lips he arrived at a cemetery where at that moment a corpse was being buried.
"May the devil fly away with him," said Tony.
The mourners were very indignant. "Wretched boy," said the sexton, "say rather, 'God rest his soul.'"
"All right," said Tony. He then repeated without stop, "God rest his soul."
A passer-by who was dragging a dog to the river heard him and cried, "What! Say rather, 'Get out of the way, animal.'"
"Good," said Tony, and he repeated the new refrain.
He then came to the church just when a newly married pair came out. When the bridegroom heard this strange greeting, he scolded Tony. "I'll teach you manners, boy," he said. "Why don't you say, 'It is a beautiful sight?'"
On turning the corner of a street Tony saw a house on fire. Tony stopped a moment and said, "It is a beautiful sight."
The people who were bringing pails of water to put out the fire cried angrily, "Say rather, 'I wish it were out.'"
"All right, I will," said Tony. He walked on. He was now only two minutes from the mill; the smithy was the last house he had to pass.
The blacksmith had not begun his work at the usual time that day. He had spent over a quarter of an hour trying to light his fire and had only half succeeded.
"I wish it were out," he heard someone say.
The smith shouted: "How dare you?" He seized his hammer and rushed outside. Tony got so scared of this grimy man that he ran away as fast as his legs could carry him, and is probably still running. If so, he could certainly have had other adventures on the way.