I Saw One Christmas Ship Come Sailing In…(A True Story)

“Time was with most of us, when Christmas Day, encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our  home enjoyments, affections and hopes; grouped everything and everyone round the Christ… “

~ Charles Dickens


cast 2012 image
photos courtesy of mercurytheaterchicago.com, showing their play production

Dear Friend,

Do you ever wonder whether you are missing gifts or revelations that God may be trying to send your way, simply by turning them away or dismissing them? For instance, what if God sent a friend to you with words to encourage you to believe for something that only seemed impossible – something He wanted to bless you with but required your stepping out in faith rather than giving up on? And because you discarded or discredited or simply put aside to think about later… you “tied” His hands, so to speak?

Or how many God-incidences have we not recognized or put off or turned down in our hurry or busy or worry-stressed lives? [I wonder too, if God doesn’t feel sad at all His gifts we let slip through our hands, unseeing?]

I almost missed one of those treasures of His Hand the afternoon I ran into my friend coming into the post office…just as I was on my way out…

[If you’d like to read the beginning to this letter, I will wait for you while you open it here: Christmastime… it is a feeling in the air] 🙂

“I have an extra ticket to a Christmas play, my gift to you – wanna come?” she’d invited on the spur of the moment.

My mind spinning over my “need to accomplish NOW list,” I nearly declined. After all, I had artwork promises to fulfill and time was running at a clip away from me…

Yet there was something of that old “Christmas glow in the air” about us unexpectedly running into each other – just at that moment — that somehow made me say…yes!

The Christmas Schooner Musical Logo.png

And – when the lights went down in that tiny, once-church, now theater the next afternoon, and the first lilting song spun us into the true story of a man who listened to God’s whisper over 100 years ago – that glow was like the rising tree in the Nutcracker Suite, lifting high to the sky.

The plain, ordinary hard seats were arranged in three tiers against either side of the room, with the open “stage” in the center of us. Walls and ceilings were just tarpapered over, lights and microphones hanging open from above. Sets were minimal – an artificial Christmas tree off to the side, cast members actually carrying in planks of wood and old boxes to set up as a family table in the middle of the room as they sang a hauntingly beautiful theme of how everyone in the world has a story to unfold.

The form of a schooner ship was off to the far right. The “orchestra” was but a recording, the voices live… but even in this humble production I could feel the moving power of it, recognize how exquisite the score of original music that simply carried me into the tale.

The late 1800’s story begins in the home of German immigrants in Michigan – a sailing captain, his wife, a young son, a grandfather and a few other relatives and friends – celebrating Christmas dinner together. The wife is admonishing the grandfather to speak English… they are now in America, their new home. They sing of love and warmth for each other and their new country, taking on new traditions and celebrating their own rich ones such as the tender passing of an evergreen branch hand to hand as they pray blessings on each other.  [I loved this!]

They are a modest family of simple means, rich in heart for one another and God, content in their own little corner of the world.

Until…into this moment, a letter arrives from a relative in Chicago.

“How I miss our tradition of beautiful candles adorning our Christmas trees in Germany!” the woman writes wistfully, explaining that such greenery is few and far between in the big city where she now lives. She yearns for the beauty of those lights on the tree, the symbol of Christ that it meant to her…the glory of heart and celebration in the birth of our King. She has not seen such a sight for five years and holds no hope for ever seeing it again.

[“She’s referencing that Christmas feeling in the air!” I realized, as I listened…]

“I can’t get Martha’s letter out of my mind,” the Captain confides to his wife later that evening. “I have one thought persisting –”

It’s then that he tells her of an idea forming inside him that he can’t let go of… the possibility of sailing Christmas trees by schooner to Chicago. Their sailing season was over, for they never risked stormy waters. Still, he and his crew had been thinking of thinning out forests anyway, and they could pack the trees onto their ship… “We could do it!” he enthuses to his wife. “I’ve checked the Almanac… I know the weather will hold! I just feel led to do this!”

“No!” cries the strong-minded wife. She is fearful of the weather at that time of year on the Great Lakes…the storms that could ravage.

karl Hamilton image

But the Captain cannot get what appears to me as God’s whisper to his heart out of his thoughts. In his mind, he is thinking of the ways and means. And in the end, he forges the way.

As the schooner is arriving in Chicago on the next Christmas Eve, the Captain and his crew are singing into the murky darkness round them, and wondering, “Will anyone be there to greet them? Has this all been a folly of an idea? He wanted to make a difference in the life of his relative, bring her some unexpected joy – but would she even be waiting for him at the dock?” In this time when communication did not travel fast, would anyone even care?


Then, in one of the most poignant songs and moments of the story, the Captain and his men spot the lights of the harbor and begin to sing in wonder – “Oh!! There must be 500 people waiting on shore! 500 people or more!”


schooner cast image

Not only his cousin… but an entire city of people. “And not just Germans!” his wife later realizes. “But Irish…and Italian…I thought only the German knew of Christmas trees!” she says wonderingly.

And so began the 25 year tradition of the Christmas Schooner – different men, different ships — carrying it’s cargo of Christmas beauty and light and hope to so many parched and waiting for such treasure on their shores.

There is more to the story… beauty and heart into tragedy, then selflessness and giving.

And…above all…

That beautiful, glowing, Christmas-in-the-air feeling.

I think of all that might never have happened, if one man had listened to the fear of someone he loved…above the Hope and Light of HIS Captain’s whisper.   The gift of becoming the first transporter of joy when most needed.

old schooner photo

What “cargo” might God be asking us to carry

into the lives of those WE touch this Christmas?


Have you seen any of the old Christmas glow around this season?

If so, I’d love to hear about it in my comment box!

Read my introductory Advent post

and follow this series of “you’ve got mail” here…   Christmas Letters


©  Pam Depoyan


Sharing with:

http://www.prairiedusttrail.com     After My Coffee

http://womenwithintention.com/    Women with Intention


About Pam@Writing...Apples of Gold

I love to hear your thoughts, even chat back and forth amongst comments.Won't you join the conversation? :) ..................................................................................................................... May my stories refresh you, like a whisper from our Father's Heart !
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10 Responses to I Saw One Christmas Ship Come Sailing In…(A True Story)

  1. Tara says:

    Great post! It can be so easy to turn down someone’s invitation but often times that invitation is just what we need. Blessed to be your neighbor at Testimony Tuesday today. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  2. Sylvia R says:

    When you asked your initial question, I immediately thought, we probably miss a lot of “God-incidences” and God “whispers” just by not looking or listening for them. The last month or so I have been trying to practice more of that attentiveness and then journal the evidences of His presence and working in even the little “insignificant” events of my days, and before long I began to get bowled over–and unable to write it all down! I can’t help wondering how much I had missed before that! Must have been so much!
    Thank you for this delightful post. What a gift and what a story that the play was based on.
    Best of Christmastimes to you!

    • So true, Sylvia. You inspire me to do something similar! I think He is whispering to us continually but we probably only hear one in a million if we aren’t thinking to listen… I’m trying to pay more attention too. And not to just write things off without asking what He might want… And especially not to let fear of whether someone will or will not receive it, keep me from sharing something God seems to put on my heart. I’m so glad this uplifted you too! This story brings tears to my eyes when I think of it… and the gorgeous music. I’d like to see if there is a CD out there somewhere with it on it… Looks like a bigger production originally…

      Beautiful Christmas to you too!

  3. I do hope we can all slow down enough to recognize the gifts that God is trying to give us, and to bless others with the present of our full presence. Merry Christmas, Pam!

  4. Deb Weaver says:

    Dear Link up neighbor :),
    What a great, thoughtful question that I want to ponder: “What “cargo” might God be asking us to carry into the lives of those WE touch this Christmas?”

  5. Being Woven says:

    What a wonderful story and gift to so many people. My mother’s family lived in Chicago from the mid 1800s forward. I wonder if my great grandparents received one of those trees, even my grandparents..??? Sweet thought.
    May your Christmas be filled with the blessings of Christ, ~ linda

    • Wow, Linda… I would bet they did!! That gives me goosebumps… 1800’s sounds so far away from our world, but I love hearing personal connections, like this story – seeing the Captain’s actual photo brought it home to me too.

      Christmas Blessings to you and yours too!

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