Now I think the best way to spend the day after Thanksgiving is sleeping in. Probably the day after that, too. I will never go to the sales, not unless they do not involve other people, noise, movement, and lights. The Christmas decorations will be up eventually, and the house won't be clean for five minutes together no matter what I do. I may dig out Christmas music, but I still haven't figured out where I keep it.
Instead, I offer for your pre-Advent reading pleasure a very short story I wrote last year.
The Christmas Spirit
Emily stirred a third spoonful of honey into her peppermint tea. Gran raised an eyebrow and passed the plate of cookies again.
“Now, Emily, I sent for you for three reasons. First, although I haven’t told anyone yet, particularly your mother, the doctor says I’m about to keel over at any moment. I haven’t got much time, so pay attention. Second, you’re old enough to stick to your guns and young enough to be excused eccentricity. Third, you may, just possibly, take me seriously.”
Emily tried to drink the tea and burnt her tongue again. She set the cup down and watched for a moment to see if Gran would drop dead. When she didn’t, Emily asked, “Seriously about what?”
“I’m going to teach you how to have a proper Christmas. We’ll have to work out distances and angles so you can recreate it in a different house, as your father will undoubtedly sell this place the second I croak. If you do all the work, you’re more likely to remember when you have to do the ritual yourself.”
“Ritual? What do you mean, ritual?”
“The Christmas ritual, dearie. Did you think the Christmas spirit was just a metaphor? Or that it happened by magic? Well, it does happen by magic, that’s the point, but magic is hard work, dearie, and don’t you forget it. Now go get the red box second from the left on the right side of the attic.”
Emily stuffed the cookie in her mouth and did as she was told. When Gran called you “dearie,” the business end of her cane was not likely to be far behind.
It took the better part of the next two hours to get the box fully unpacked, each item correctly positioned, and for Gran to explain the significance and history of each tinsel-wrapped angel and tacky crocheted snowman. Much was revealed.
“So that’s why the fruitcake! I wondered why we always have it even though no one ever eats it.”
“Spirits don’t have tastebuds. But they do like tradition. It makes particularly good compost, later.”
At last they sat down in the middle of the arrangement and Emily tried the tea again. It was ice cold now, and disgustingly sweet.
“How did you learn all this, Gran?” she finally dared to ask.
“That, I’m not telling. Some stories are not fit for young girls. Suffice it to say you are very lucky to learn all this in a cozy afternoon with your Gran.” She winked, a little maliciously.
“Now for the incantation,” Gran said, “Listen closely, it’s not hard, but it can’t be repeated more than once a year.” She began to chant. Emily listened. It sounded a bit like a Christmas carol, only with the words a bit off, but she couldn’t be sure because Gran couldn’t carry a tune.
By the end of the chant Gran’s singing was as smooth as her Rosemary Clooney records, and an inexplicable glow had driven back the gloom of the winter afternoon. Emily tasted her tea again: it was perfectly warm, and just sweet enough. The room sat in golden quiet for a moment.
“What if you didn’t summon the Christmas Spirit?”
“Well, it might show up uninvited. You don’t want that. Spirits can be pretty nasty when they feel snubbed. But at best you’d be without it, and then what would happen? Uncle Al would get drunk and smash half the glasses, your mother would lecture everyone on everything, and your Treadwell cousins would never lift their eyes from their computer thingies. Vanessa’s boyfriend would be scared off for good and she’ll never get another chance, poor girl.”
“So that’s why you do it all the same every year.”
“Pretty much, pretty much.”
Emily drank her perfect tea and then ventured one more question. “Is the Santa toilet lid cover part of the ritual?”
Grandma chuckled. “No, that’s just to annoy your Aunt Vicky. She hates that kind of thing, but thanks to the Spirit she can’t do a thing about it.” Grandma sighed, closed her eyes, and then suddenly slumped in her chair.
Emily rose and shrieked, just a little. Grandma opened one eye and grinned.
“Fooled you, didn’t I? Well, I’m not dead yet. Now, you’re too young and I’m too old to worry about calories, so what say we have another round of cookies?”