Sadly, George was not a happy giraffe. His home was as lovely a place as you could imagine – with fresh, green leaves and fruit trees for him to wander through. There was more than enough food for him to feed on all year round. The sun shone almost every day… and the moon shone brightly almost every night. What more could a giraffe hope for! All the same, George was not a happy chappy.
The reason that George gave for being so very unhappy was simple – he felt ugly and useless. Yes… ugly and useless! But that was all about to change...
Early one morning – one fine, sunny morning – Eric the elephant plodded past, on his way to the water hole. He trumpeted ’’Hello, George. How are you today?”
“Not very well,” replied George, speaking through his nose, as he did when he was sad.
Worried about his friend, Eric sat down, with a great thud, to listen to the problem. George – pleased that he had someone to talk to – sat down near Eric. A giraffe sitting down is quite a sight. He managed it by winding his legs under his body and bending his neck so that Eric could hear him from where he sat. George did find it difficult to get down to the same level of the other animals!
“What’s the problem?,” asked Eric gently. “Have you got a sore throat? Or perhaps you have an itch on your foot and can’t reach to scratch it? Do tell me, George – I’d like to help you.”
“Well," began George, feeling a little silly, “I’m not actually ill. But I do have a problem.” George heaved a huge sigh. By this time, it was rather late for Eric to get to the water hole before the other animals. So he settled down to listen patiently to George.
“I’m not very happy,” murmured George, still speaking through his soft pink nose.
“Why ever not,” replied Eric, amazed by his friend’s response and wondering to himself if he had missed his morning bath for nothing. By this time, Mick, a naughty little monkey from a nearby tree, had joined the pair of animals chatting on the ground. Mick bounced into place next to them and picked little creatures and seeds from his dark brown fur. Mick really liked to groom his hair every morning and every evening.
“Well, I’m not u-u- useful like both of you,” explained George nervously, with a little stammer. “Eric can lift things with his trunk and Mick can climb trees and do all sort of clever things with his hands. All I can do is keep my head up in the clouds and eat the leaves off the trees - well, the top of the trees at least. The other animals even make jokes and ask me 'How’s the weather up there, George!' I don't like it."
The friends looked uncomfortably at each other. “If I want to scratch my leg,” continued George tearfully, ”by the time I bend all the way down, it’s no longer itchy! If I have a sore throat, I need a litre of medicine, my neck is so very long. I’ve got funny spots all over me, so that I look like a chequers board! I’m just so, so ugly and so, so useless.”
With this final outburst, George struggled to his feet and ran off into the rain forest, feeling as though he looked like he would soon fall over in his hurry to leave his friends.
Eric and Mick looked at each other. "I don’t understand why George is so upset – I think he’s a beautiful creature… and so elegant,” began Eric. “Look at me, so big and clumsy.” and with that, Eric deliberately bumped a coconut palm so that a coconut would fall next to Mick.
“And look at me,” replied Mick, whilst happily picking up the coconut, "I sometimes wonder whether my mother had the measuring tape the wrong way round when she made me. I’ve got such long arms and such short legs! But we’re all different and all useful in our own way.”
“If only George could see how useful and needed he is,” suggested Eric. “I’m sure that would make him feel happier. I don’t know how we might help him.”
With that Eric and Mick each went their own way, wondering if they could ever help George to feel better about himself.
Two weeks later, all of the animals of the rain forest begun planning their Christmas party – it was already November and there was no time to lose. There was much roaring, beating, grunting and calling by those present. But George was not there, I am sad to say. Those animals present decided that they would have a proper Christmas tree, down by the water hole. It was a splendid idea!
George, being the best writer, wrote a letter to the Garden Centre in Sweden –
“Dear Garden Centre in Sweden,
We, the animals of the deep rain forest in Africa, would like to order your very biggest and nicest Christmas tree. Please send it to;
The Animals’ Christmas Party,
The Water Hole,
We will pay in pineapples, coconuts and bananas when the tree arrives.
Thank you very much and Merry Christmas to you all.
Mick the Monkey,
For The Animals’ Christmas Party.”
He then added his paw print, put it into an envelope and took it to Raymond Rhinoceros who put a four-banana stamp on it.
Simon the Stork then carried the letter all the way to Sweden, since he was migrating that week. Along the way he got a little lost, and had to ask a seagull which direction to take as he had never delivered any letter to Sweden before. Finally, he dropped the letter right in front of the Swedish Garden Centre's gates.
All of the animals waited excitedly, wondering if their letter had made it.
Then, one day – about a week before Christmas - the biggest brightest, greenest and nicest Christmas tree you ever did see arrived in the rain forest of deepest Africa. Brought by the whale that morning to the nearest sea port, then strapped to the back of a delivery elephant for the remaining part of the journey by land. Amazingly the Christmas tree had arrived from Sweden.
It wasn’t long before the news of the tree’s delivery had spread via the bush telegraph to the other animals of the rain forest. As they all gathered around, eager to get a good look at the long-awaited tree, Eric the elephant stuck the Christmas tree into the ground using his strong trunk. The tropical birds begun to fly in with all sorts of pretty fruits to decorate the tree – mangoes, pineapples, pawpaw, bananas, oranges and some fruits that nobody knew the names of… The tree looked wonderful - and smelt like the best possible tree ever!
Just as dusk began to fall, the fireflies flew in and landed, each taking up their position on the end of a branch. Then, all at once they started to glow - lighting up the tree with more dazzle than even the best trees in London, Paris or New York.
The happy animals all sang Christmas carols around the water hole… all that is, except for George, who was hiding behind the tallest mango tree, wishing that he could feel even just a little useful, and not quite so ugly.
After having sang “Whilst shepherds watched their flocks by night”, the animals were getting ready to return home to their nests, trees, holes and other places where animals sleep.
Suddenly, Larry the lion thought he could hear someone crying. “Shh” he roared into the crowd who were busily wishing each other ‘good-night’. He continued, “I think I hear the sound of someone crying." His voice was very deep and very posh.
From the biggest to the smallest, every animal became silent. They tilted their heads to try to hear better the noise that Larry had reported.
One by one, they all heard, from somewhere nearby, the faintest, saddest weeping.
Gloria the gazelle stepped towards the water hole, and peered deep into the water. To her surprise she discovered the worlds one and only freshwater starfish, sobbing quietly.
“Whatever is the matter?”, asked Gloria. Startled, the little starfish lifted her body and opened wide her little eyes. Timidly she replied, “I’m just so unhappy- I can’t join in like you for the Christmas tree party. I’ve got five feet, not four like each of you. I can only crawl along, so when the dancing begins I get left behind. And now I’ve disturbed your evening by crying and making you all sad on such a lovely, happy evening – I never get anything right." She lowered herself and closed her eyes, hoping that nobody could see her anymore.
Gloria turned to the animals, who by this time were anxious to hear why the starfish should be crying on such a joyous occasion. When she explained the problem, it was quickly agreed that, if she wanted to, Stella the starfish could sit on top of the Christmas tree, to remind the other animals of the star in the sky the day that the baby Jesus was born, many years ago, on that first Christmas Day.
“Would you like to be the star on top of the tree?”, asked Gloria the Gazelle.
“Oh, yes, please!”, replied Stella, suddenly smiling at the thought of doing something useful and being able to join in the festivities. She wiggled her way out of the water, at the same time wiping away her tears and blowing her nose using different tentacles. Then, with her eyes open as wide as ever, she headed towards the Christmas tree and started to climb up its trunk. But she’d never done any climbing before and quickly discovered that it was not easy. She fell down.
Before Stella had time to cry, because once again there was something she was unable to do, Mick the monkey swung forwards, using Gloria the gazelle’s neck as a pivot. “I’ll carry you to the top of the tree, he said gleefully. Stella wrapped herself around Mick’s wrist, looking like a bracelet, and Mick began to climb.
"Ooooh, ouch, eeooww", cried Mick, jumping to the ground with a gentle thud, "The needles on this tree are too prickly for my paws!" he whimpered, and carefully placed Stella the starfish on the soft grass.
Stella begun to cry again, “I’m useless, I’m ugly...”
"Don’t worry," comforted Eric the Elephant, "I’ll lift you up to the top of the tree on the end of my long trunk." Stella climbed onto the tip of Eric's trunk and he stretched up towards the summit of the tree. Stella was holding on tightly, so as not to fall, since she had never been that high before. It was a very, very long way down. Up, up, up she went on the end of Eric's trunk.
All of the animals were, by this time, holding their breath, expecting at any moment to see the crowning glory of Stella the starfish at the top of the tree. When Eric discovered that his trunk was not long enough, a great sigh of disappointment run through the little group of friends. Eric lowered Stella back to the ground, close to the water hole.
Stella the starfish began to crawl quietly back towards the water, sadder than ever after such a disappointment… Then George the giraffe slipped out from his hiding place behind the mango tree. With a lot of hesitation George spoke to the crowd. “I know that Eric can lift heavy things with his trunk and Mick can do all sorts of cleaver things with his hands. I know that all I can do is to keep my head in the clouds - and eat the leaves off the trees. All the same, I wonder if I might be able to help Stella get to the top of the tree… that is, if you would like me to try.”
“Oh, yes, please,” chorused the little crowd. "YES PLEASE!"
So George got down on his knees, looking as though he was about to fall over, and told Stella to climb onto his soft pink nose. “Oh, that tickles,” giggled George as he gracefully stood up to his full height. In just a moment, George - his neck stretched to its fullest length - was able to place his nose at the top of the tree. Stella reached out one tentacle and took hold of the topmost part of the tree… the very biggest and nicest Christmas tree from the Garden Centre in Sweden.
All of the animals clapped and cheered. "Hooray for George. Hooray for Stella.” And five of the brightest, happiest fireflies flew-in and landed on the end of Stella’s tentacles.
What a beautiful sight it was!
George blushed a little, never having been so pleased at being tall. He began finally to feel accepted by all of the other animals and smiled a giraffe smile.
Just at that moment and to everyone’s surprise, out from behind another mango tree, on the other side of the water hole emerged another Giraffe. She called shyly “Hello, may I join you? You all seem to be having such fun.”
“Why, of course”, replied George immediately, now confident in his new role as Christmas tree decorator.
Coming close to George, she introduced herself as Jemima. As she gave George a little kiss on the cheek to congratulate him on his efforts, George noticed that Jemima had the longest eye lashes he had ever seen. I think that you are the cleverest, most useful, most handsome Giraffe I have ever seen”, said Jemima, as they walked into the night with the other animals of the rain forest.
From that day on, George never felt useless nor ugly again. All of the animals in the rain forest had learned an important lesson; that each animal is different and able to do different things, but sometimes we have to look carefully to find just what each animal is able to do.
George and Jemima now have two baby Giraffes and are teaching them how beautiful and useful they each are … in their own way.
Have a Merry Christmas and know that you are beautiful and useful!