Sven at Work: A Christmas Tale

Sven bar Sven swept the wood floors of Bethlehem’s Hanukah Inn, trying to keep pace with the flood of people who had returned to their hometown for the Census. The Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus had ordered all of the citizens of  Israel to be counted so he could keep better track of them. Israelites from all over the region were returning to the cities where their families had originated and Bethlehem was no exception.

This meant one thing for Sven, a big mess for him to clean up – a lot of trouble. 

Obviously those who lived close to Bethlehem arrived first. The number of donkeys and camels (the primary mode of transportation) had grown and grown all day. Sven had carried cart after cart of dung to the municipal dung heap just outside the city limits.

“Uff dah,” Sven said to himself as he shoveled the latest load from the his dung cart, “Der doong pile is really beginnoong to stoonk. Dis shoor is a lot uff troouble.”


Sven was a barbarian from the far northern edge of the Roman Empire. During a battle for conquest of his homeland, Sven had served his king as a berserker. A berserker would dress with an animal hide tied around his waist and his face and body painted with war paint (in later history the berserker’s legacy would be carried on by Oakland Raider and Cleveland Brown football fans). He would then be sent out ahead of the barbarian troops armed only with an axe which he would swing wildly while screaming at the top of his lungs.

Generally this would scare the bejeezus out of the enemy and they would flee, but the not the Roman army. They captured Sven and brought him to their newly occupied territory of Judea. Since there wasn’t much of a demand for berserkers in Bethlehem, Sven beat his sword into a mop and started his career as a janitor. 


The sun descended in the west and the influx of people began to diminish as those from the outlying regions arrived. Those who had family in Bethlehem stayed with them and the rest got rooms at the Hanukah Inn. All of the rooms of the inn were filling up with people and the stable was filling up with the inn’s cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys, dogs and cats, and the donkeys and camels of the visitors.

Sven wiped his brow as he finished bringing straw and hay from the hay barn to the stable – about 30 bales of straw for bedding and about 10 bales of hay for fodder.  His day was just about over – he thought.

“Yumpin’ yiminee, am I pooped,” he thought as he headed to the Hanukah Inn lobby, “Dis shoor is a lot uff troouble.”

“Sven!” shouted his boss, Isaac bar Jonah, “Come over here.”

“Yah, shoor, booss. Vhat doo yoo vant?”

“There’s a problem. If we have any late arrivals, we don’t have any rooms left for them. Is there any free space out there in the stable?”

“Yah, shoor. Dere is soome space oout in der stabool.”

“Well see what you can do with it and let me know when it’s ready.”

“Yah, shoor.” Sven went back to the stable and brought in some more straw, arranging the bales as makeshift beds for some unfortunate guests. “Dis shoor is a lot uff troouble.”


After preparing the stable for late arrivals, Sven went outside to smoke his pipe and gaze at the night sky. He looked to the east and noticed a very bright star about 5 fists above the horizon. At first he thought it was the evening star, but it couldn’t be because the evening star always appeared in the west and set shortly after sundown. Sven sat down near the hay barn looked at the stars and fell asleep.

He was awakened by his boss, Isaac. “Sven, there’s a young girl in the stable who’s gone into labor. Run and get Sarah the midwife and bring her here.”

“Yah, shoor.” Sven girded up his loins and ran through the streets of Bethlehem to a small clay house where Sarah the midwife lived. He knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again. Nothing. Then, using his berserker skills, Sven started banging on the door and yelling at the top of his lungs, “Helloo! Sarah! Helloo! Vake oop! Vake oop!” Then he yelled something unintelligible –  oil lamps started appearing in the windows of the surroundings houses and finally in Sarah’s window.

“Who is it?” Sarah asked, brandishing a shofar (ram’s horn) as a weapon.

“It’s me, Sven bar Sven. Yoo haff to coome qvick. A goorl is haffing a baby!”

“Who?” Sarah wasn’t aware that any Bethlehem resident was expecting now.

“A visitoor at der Hanookah Inn. “

“Why do they always wait until midnight?” Sarah replied. “This sure is a lot of trouble.”

Sarah grabbed her goatskin birthing bag and followed Sven back to the Hanukah Inn. Sven pointed her toward the stable and headed towards his room. Exhausted, he fell into bed and fast asleep.


An hour later Sven was awakened by the bleating of sheep outside his window. He dragged himself out of bed and went out to see what all of the commotion was. There was a group of local shepherds along with about 200 sheep. The shepherds were asking where a baby had been born recently.

“Dere iss diss goorl in der stabool…”

“Thanks, friend,” one of the shepherds said to Sven. “Could you corral our flocks for us until we’re done here?”

“Yumpin’ yiminee! Vhat der heck is gooing oon aroound here!” Sven replied and reluctantly herded the bleating sheep into a fenced area near the hay barn. He fed them and laid straw down for them to sleep on. It took about two hours to secure the sheep. As he lumbered back to his bed he noticed that the star he had seen earlier was now directly overhead. “Dis shoor is a lot uff troouble,” he thought.

Sven fell into a deep sleep and began to dream. He dreamt that he saw a brilliant light and heard a voice telling him that three kings from the orient were on their way to visit the child who had just been born. In the dream each of the kings held in their hands gifts for the young child. One king held a chest with gold coins, another a box of pure frankincense, the third a container of myrrh. All three looked toward the sky and pointed at the bright star; and as they mounted their camels for the trip to see the newborn, Sven heard songs coming from a large choir in the background.

Sven realized that when they arrived he would have more work to do. And even though he knew it would be a lot of trouble, he felt peace.


Sven was awakened by Isaac the inn keeper, “Sven. Wake up. You’ve got some more work to do.”

“Iss it three camools from der east?”

“No, Sven, it’s eight reindeer up on the roof.”