Text copyright © 2000 by Marisa Montes. All rights reserved.
The following story, entitled "The Christmas
Camel", was published on December 20, 2000 in the following newspapers:
The Contra Costa Times
The San Ramon Valley Times
The Valley Times
The West County Times
to read the feature "Echoes of a Puerto Rican Childhood" in the Contra
- Alone and far from home, little Gobi discovers the joys of
ABOUT THIS STORY
Once again, TimeOut celebrates the holidays with an original story written and
illustrated by a local children's author and illustrator. "The Christmas
Camel" was written by Marisa Montes of Walnut Creek, who drew her
inspiration from the Latino tradition of Three Kings Day. Celebrated in
Hispanic countries on Jan. 6, Three Kings Day -- or El Dia de Reyes -- marks
the Three Kings' visit to the baby Jesus with the first gifts of Christmas:
gold, frankincense and myrrh, which represent royalty, prayer and suffering,
respectively. Although the celebration has been overshadowed by the arrival of
Santa Claus on Dec. 25, the tradition of Los Reyes Magos is still taken
seriously in many Latino countries. In Puerto Rico, for example, traditional
Catholics meet to pray the rosary and to honor the Three Kings, also known as
the Wise Men. The children get ready to receive gifts from the Three Kings by
collecting freshly cut grass in a shoe box for their camels to eat. They place
a wish list in the box and slide it under their beds. In the morning, the
children wake up early to see what the Three Kings have brought them.
If you want to read more about the Three Kings, click
Story by Marisa Montes
Illustrations by Sarah Wilson
Illustrations copyright 2000 by Sarah Wilson
The Christmas Camel
More than 2,000 years ago, in the deserts of the Orient and Arabia, everyone
traveled by foot or on camels. And there were two types of camels: In Arabia
one-humped camels, and in the Orient lived the
Gobi-Kazaam was a two-humped camel.
One day, when Gobi was very young, his mother called him to her and said:
"Gobi, the King has ordered that you be given as a gift to King Balthazar
Gobi, who loved adventure, began to dance with excitement. Arabia! It must
be very far away, for he'd never heard of it. Gobi loved taking long walks.
"When shall we go, Mama? How long will it take to get there? Will we ever
Gobi's mother gazed down at him. Her large, brown eyes filled with tears.
"No, Gobi, you will never come back. And you will be going alone, for I
cannot go with you."
Gobi stopped dancing and stared at her. "Alone? But ..."
"Hush, Gobi, and listen carefully. We do not have much time. You come
from a long line of noble camels. Always be proud of who you are. So long as
you are good and kind to others, you will be a credit to your family, and I
will always be with you."
Young Gobi held up his head and held back his tears. "I will, Mama. I
will make you proud."
"I know you will, Gobi, and I know you will be brave. Here are three
gifts to help you on your trip."
First, Gobi's mother presented him with a finely woven blanket of many
brilliant colors. "This blanket was worn by your father, and his father,
and his father before him. It will keep you warm on cold desert nights."
Then she gave him a shiny brass locket to clip to his furry ear. "This
locket contains a salve that will heal any wound. It will keep you safe."
Finally, she slipped a heavy silver bell from her neck and placed it on her
son's. "This bell was my mother's. Its music will bring you comfort and
With that, Gobi's mother led him to the caravan that would take him to
Arabia, away from the only home he knew.
The trip to Arabia was long and hard. The blistering sun was unyielding,
and the sand-thick desert winds biting and ruthless. The only things that kept
him going were the delicate tinkle-tinkle-tinkle of his mother's silver bell
and the image of her face shining in his memory. It took Gobi many weeks to
reach the palace of King Balthazar. But when he arrived, he was not welcomed.
"A camel with two humps!" The other camels laughed and snickered
when Gobi passed by.
And when Gobi held up his head and said, "I am a noble camel from a
noble family," the others merely moaned and grunted and spit, as camels
Even the stable hands laughed at Gobi's two humps, and King Balthazar was
seen shaking his head and grinning with disbelief at the odd gift he had
received from the King of the Orient.
"I promise you, Mama," Gobi whispered to himself, "I will
prove myself to all and make you proud."
Late one cold night, as Gobi wandered alone in the desert -- he often snuck
away from the stables to escape the others' mocking -- he stumbled upon an old
woman. She lay in a heap on the sand, and he wasn't sure whether she was dead
Gobi nudged her, and the woman rolled over. She looked up and said to Gobi,
"I lost my way, and now I am freezing. Can you help to warm me and carry
Without a second thought, the little camel slid his father's blanket from
his back and placed it over the woman. When he knelt beside her, she climbed
on his back. Then he carried her to her home -- a tribe of nomads. But since
she was still asleep and wrapped in his blanket when her people lifted her
from his back, he allowed her to keep it. Gobi had long, shaggy hair, and the
woman had nothing but bare skin. She needed the blanket more than he did. And
he still had two more gifts to remind him of his mother.
On another day, when Gobi was traveling alone on a mission for the King, he
found a white dove lying on the ground. Gobi examined the bird and discovered
that she had a broken wing and leg. He lowered his head and instructed her to
take the locket from his ear with her beak and to place some of the salve on
her injured wing and leg.
With great effort, the dove did as she was told and was soon able to sit
up. Because she was not completely healed, Gobi gave her the locket with the
remaining salve and continued on his journey. He was strong and healthy, and
the dove was not. She needed the locket much more than he did. And Gobi-Kazaam
still had his mother's bell to remind him of her.
Many months later, Gobi was traveling in a caravan to a far-off city when
he came upon a shepherdess and her tiny son. The boy was crying, his face red
and puffy, and his mother could not seem to console him. But when Gobi walked
up, and the tinkle-tinkle-tinkle of his mother's silver bell filled the air,
the boy stopped crying and stared at the bell, mesmerized.
The toddler smiled and pointed at the bell. Gobi stopped. But when he
stopped, the ringing ceased, and the child began to cry again. Gobi shook his
head, and the bell tinkled gaily. The boy stopped crying and grinned. His
large, sad eyes, still brimming with tears, reminded Gobi of his mother's sad
eyes, the last time he had seen her.
Gobi wanted to make the child happy. So, as much as he loved his mother's
bell, he slipped it off his head and onto the child's outstretched hand.
The boy rang the bell and giggled, and the sound of his laughter mingled
with the tinkling of the bell found a spot in Gobi's heart. The bell was the
last of Gobi's mother's gifts. The last thing he had of her. But the boy
needed it more than he did because Gobi had the sound of the bell's tinkling
and the child's laughter to hold in his heart.
The other camels mocked him for foolishly giving away his last prized
possession to a strange child. But Gobi ignored them, as he had ignored them
Someday ... someday, he would have his chance to prove himself.
Several years later, when Gobi was all grown up, the palace bustled with
whispers of a prophecy. The wise King Balthazar had known for years what had
been foretold for centuries, and now, the time had come. A King of Kings would
be born in a distant land. And the greatest of Kings would travel to him, to
pay homage and to bring him gifts. One of these Kings would be Balthazar
himself. And they would follow a Star -- a brilliant Star -- that would lead
them to the Land of Judea.
This is my chance, thought Gobi. I will carry King Balthazar on the trip to
Judea. I will take him there safely to honor the new King. This is my chance
to prove myself and to make my mother proud.
When Gobi offered his services to the King, everyone laughed. Even the King
looked Gobi up and down and shook his head in doubt. But Gobi stood proud and
tall and stuck out his chest, and the King was forced to take another look.
"There is something very noble about you, Gobi. You are shorter than
my other camels and you have two humps instead of one, but you are stocky and
strong, and you have come a long way to serve me. I will give you a
And so it was that Gobi-Kazaam became King Balthazar's lead camel when the
great and wise King with the long white beard began his trek across the
desert, following the brilliant Star to the East. The trip would take several
months over many hundreds of miles of barren desert and sand.
After a few weeks, King Balthazar was joined by King Melchior of Ethiopia,
and several weeks later, by King Jasper of the Orient.
At one point in the journey, the Kings were warned to turn back. They were
entering warring countries where they would surely be injured or taken
captive. But as they pondered what to do, a white dove flew down from the sky
and spoke to Gobi:
"Fear not, old friend, and continue your journey, for wherever you go,
there shall be peace."
Gobi recognized the dove as the one he had saved so long ago. He trusted
her and counseled the Kings to continue. And so they did, traveling through
country after country. And wherever they went, there was peace.
But they had gone so far that the Kings began to run out of food, and still
they had many miles to go. When they had almost given up, they came upon a
tribe of nomads. There, at the head of the group, was an old woman.
The moment the woman saw the camel with two humps, she ran up to him and
threw her arms around his neck. "Dear old friend, it has been so long. Is
there anything I can do for you? Whatever you need is yours."
Gobi recognized her as the woman he had saved that cold night years ago. So
he told her of his need. The nomads filled all the Kings' baskets with food --
surely enough to last them to Judea.
Gobi and the three Kings continued their trip, but before long, they found
they were running out of water. Where would they find enough to drink in this
vast, barren desert? Then they heard a delicate tinkling -- a sound
reminiscent of water cascading over smooth rocks. In the distance, the group
spotted a herd of sheep, led by a little boy carrying a silver bell.
As they approached, the boy turned and stared at the two-humped camel.
Could it be? The boy smiled and rang his bell. Yes! Gobi and the boy
recognized each other. This was the little boy who was crying with sadness so
many years ago.
"Dear camel," said the boy, "is there anything I can do for
And Gobi told him of their need for water. The boy was now a shepherd and
knew this part of the desert well. He led them to an oasis that had plenty of
water to fill up the Kings' water jugs --enough water to take them to Judea.
For many more nights, Gobi and the three Kings followed the Star until, at
last, it led them to Bethlehem. The Star kept moving forward, and finally
stopped above a small stable.
Carrying gold and myrrh and frankincense, the Kings dismounted from their
camels and entered the stable. There, they found a man and a woman caring for
a tiny infant who lay in a manger full of straw. And despite the humble
surroundings, the Kings were filled with awe. They fell to their knees and
bowed their heads and held out their gifts in homage. For before them, in the
straw, lay the greatest King of all -- the King of the Jews -- the King of
And Gobi-Kazaam's heart burst with joy because he knew that his kindness
and selfless acts had helped him bring the three Kings to honor the new King.
And he felt his mother's presence because she was so proud.