Part one By Jay Thomson and Part two – Dylan’s Story by Christine Ferris
Although her friends kept asking her what she most liked about Christmas, six-year-old Emma had so far resisted making any decision. After all, with so many choices, how to pick just one?
Of course, there are the presents. That’s what most of her friends, including her best friend, Amy, had chosen right away, which almost made Emma cry out “Me too!” But then she wanted to hear what Dylan would say.
Emma really liked Dylan (although she hadn’t told anyone that, not even Amy). So Dylan’s opinion was important. But then Dylan announced he most liked that there’d be no school; since Emma liked school, she just nodded, hoping Dylan would see her as an ally, without her needing to commit to sharing his view.
At home, Emma’s mom always said that her favourite thing was listening to Christmas music. But her mom said she also liked decorating the tree. And peanut brittle. So her mom decided that, actually, her favourite thing was decorating the tree while listing to Christmas music and eating peanut brittle, which Emma didn’t think was a fair pick because it was three favourite things, not one.
Based on her limited experience, Emma had concluded that, unlike with kids, it was in fact very difficult for adults to answer the “what do you like most about Christmas?” question fairly. Case in point: her dad was wishy washy on the subject too. He claimed his favourite was Christmas dinner. But then he said it was ricing the potatoes for the dinner. And then he decided it was eating those riced potatoes. Smothered in gravy, he added.
None of Emma’s friends had ever heard of riced potatoes, so she thought her dad’s choices were not only unfair, but weird.
If, unlike her parents, she followed the rules and chose only one favourite part of Christmas, Emma was thinking her pick would be different than everyone else’s. She was thinking that what she liked most was not the presents, the music or the food.
No, for Emma, she was thinking that it was getting a Christmas tree.
In Emma’s mind, getting a Christmas tree may be the best thing because everything else started with getting a tree. First the tree, then you decorated it. First the tree, then you put presents under it. And, in her case at least, first the tree and then the Christmas vacation started (hopefully it was the same for Dylan; another thing they’d then have in common). And getting the tree certainly came before eating Christmas dinner, meaning before her dad ever riced any potatoes.
And this year, getting their tree had been especially fun.
It had been a snowy day when Emma, her mom, her dad and their dog, Ruby, had pulled their little sled though their village, along the boardwalk, behind the General Store, past the bakery, to the candy store parking lot where a lady had a hut from which she sold Christmas trees every year. Emma’s dad had wanted to take the car (“Like we did last year”) but her mom had “overruled” him.
“This will be so Christmassy”, Emma’s mom had said.
Emma agreed. And so it seems did the other tree shoppers whose cars filled the parking lot, as well as the Christmas tree lady; everyone got quite excited to see that Emma and her family had brought their sled.
Emma thought the Christmas tree lady was very nice. She helped them pick out the perfect tree which, like Goldilocks’ best bed, was just right because it was in between the really tall one her dad wanted and the little dumpy one her mom said “wasn’t too expensive.”
After tying their new tree to the sled with the yellow rope they brought, the family took turns pulling it back home, and people walking in the village smiled at them while some in cars even beeped their horns and waved as they drove by.
On their walk back, Emma asked her mom what the nice Christmas tree lady did to get her own Christmas tree.
“I suppose there are always some Christmas trees that don’t get sold”, her mom answered. “So the Christmas tree lady probably gets to pick from what’s left on Christmas Day.”
Emma was happy to know that the Christmas tree lady got a Christmas tree too.
When they got home, Emma’s mom put on her Christmas music and asked Emma to help decorate the tree. Emma hadn’t realized how much fun it was to select the ornaments and help choose where to hang them. She especially liked hanging some of the spruce cones her mom had collected and kept in a basket, because her mom told her the cones were like tree babies that, if outside, would grow up to be trees themselves.
“Too bad I don’t have any peanut brittle!” her mom had laughed. “Christmas trees and peanut brittle go hand in hand!” Emma though her mom was trying to hint at something, but it seemed her dad missed it.
At breakfast the day before Christmas, Emma’s dad told them he’d heard that demand had been so high this year that, for the first time, the Christmas tree lady had actually sold out all her trees.
“Good for her!” Emma’s mom exclaimed.
But what came to Emma’s mind was, “But how will the Christmas tree lady get her own tree this year?”
It didn’t take Emma long to formulate a plan.
“Can we go to the candy store?” she whispered to her dad. “I want to get mom some peanut brittle for Christmas.”
“Ok!” he whispered back. She could tell he was pleased with her idea because he smiled and squeezed her knee. “We’ll just need an excuse to go.”
“Mom said you need eggnog”, Emma told him. “We can get some at the General Store.”
“Brilliant!” her dad said. “Valerie!” he called out, “I’m going to get the eggnog.” Then he said, louder than he needed, “Emma, want to come with me to get eggnog? Val, I’m taking Emma!”
Before Emma went downstairs to get her coat, she grabbed a spruce cone from her mom’s basket and tucked it under her arm. Downstairs, she slipped the cone into one of her big coat pockets before going out to join her dad for the drive to the candy store.
This time, because there were no more Christmas trees to sell, the candy store parking lot was empty. Inside the store, Emma insisted that they buy a bunch of little bags of peanut brittle.
“Then we can hide the bags so mom has to find them”, she explained, and her dad once again said, “Brilliant!”
After Emma’s dad paid for the candy, he gave her the bags to carry back to the car. On their way there, though, as her dad went to open his car door, Emma took the spruce cone from her pocket and dropped it by the Christmas tree lady’s empty hut. And then she placed one of the bags of peanut brittle next to it. Having accomplished her plan, she climbed into the back seat of their car and they drove home.
The next day was Christmas. Which meant that Emma woke early to check the contents of her stocking. Which also meant that, once her parents got up, she and her mom would go walk Ruby through the village while dad prepared breakfast. Which also meant they’d go by the bakery, the candy store, and the Christmas tree lady’s hut.
“Do you remember last Christmas?” Emma’s mom asked her. “The Christmas tree lady had just come back to get her own tree and close up her hut when we walked by.”
“I guess there’ll be no tree left for her this year, though, since she sold them all.”
But Emma thought, maybe not…
And, sure enough, when Emma, her mom and Ruby got to the candy store parking lot, where they always turned around, the Christmas tree lady was in the process of lifting a bushy, beautiful tree into the back of her pickup truck.
“I thought you had sold all your trees”, Emma’s mom called to her.
“I did!”, the Christmas tree lady called back. “But this beautiful spruce was here when I arrived this morning. I don’t know where it came from.”
“It’s almost like it just grew here overnight!” she laughed, as she closed the back lid on her truck.
“And a real funny thing”, she added, pausing before climbing into the big vehicle. “It smells different. Not like a spruce.”
“You’ll think I’m crazy, but the smell reminds me of…something like peanut brittle!”
Throwing up her hands, she exclaimed, “It’s my Peanut Brittle Christmas Tree!”
And then she got in her truck, started the engine and with a wave to them, drove away.
“Wow!”, said Emma’s mom. “That’s quite something!”
“Wow!”, echoed Emma.
And that’s when Emma knew for sure that getting – and giving – a Christmas tree was the best part of Christmas. And that Christmas trees and peanut brittle indeed go hand in hand.
Part two – Dylan’s Story
By Christine Ferris
Six year old Dylan snorted when he heard Emma asking everyone what they liked best about Christmas. And he rolled his eyes at their lame answers. Most of them said they liked getting presents best. Well, Captain Obvious, who didn’t? But he tuned out when some of the girls started calling out what they wanted. Barbie dolls and Paw Patrol stuff – he snorted again.
Dylan was watching the clock. When the end of day bell rang, there’d be no more school for two weeks. “Christmas means no school,” he muttered, just loud enough to be heard. Emma looked at him and nodded, but he could tell she didn’t mean it. He looked back at the clock.
When the bell finally rang, Dylan charged into the cloakroom and grabbed his coat and boots before his friends had even left their seats. His heart racing, he ran out of the school and across the road to the sidewalk, which had been freshly plowed. He briefly stepped into the road to let Emma’s father and her dog Ruby to pass, then he ran on.
By the time he reached the Christmas tree hut, he had slowed to a jog, but he only waved as he passed the Christmas tree lady, who had always helped him pick out the best tree. He noticed she only had a few small trees left, but he didn’t have time for a chat. He didn’t even have time to stop at the candy shop.
When he reached the boardwalk that ran alongside the river, Dylan paused to catch his breath, leaning his hands on his knees. Across the road that guy who always wore tights ran past, followed by the lady with the fuzzy white dog. But he ignored them and trotted along the boards, as well as he could over the uneven snow and ice that had accumulated.
Finally he reached the park. From there he could see his house. He crossed his fingers, but when he looked, the car that he had hoped to see in the driveway was not there. He bit his lip to fight back tears. The best part of Christmas wasn’t the tree or the toys or even the turkey, it was seeing his brother Thomas, home from university.
Dad had said he might not be able to come, because of Covid, but Dylan hadn’t wanted to believe him.
He trudged toward home through the deepest snow he could find, in a weird way enjoying the cold as it slipped into his boots. As he climbed the porch steps, he could see his mother watching for him.
She opened the door. “It’s OK, Dylan,” she said, as he stomped up one step at a time. “He is coming! He is just running late!”
Relief flooded Dylan, but he clenched his jaw so it didn’t show. He shrugged, as if it didn’t matter, but his mother laughed and pointed down the road. There, driving more slowly than anyone ever, was the bright blue VW bug. Although it was hard to see the car because of the huge Christmas tree tied precariously onto the roof.
Dylan dropped his school bag and sauntered back down the steps. But when Thomas stepped out of the car, he dropped his casual pretence and flung himself into his brother’s embrace. “Now Christmas can begin!” he said. “But why have you brought a tree? We already have one.” He pointed to the living room window, where a heavily decorated tree twinkled its multi-coloured lights.
Thomas laughed as he whipped Dylan’s hat off his head and tousled his hair. “It’s a top spruce tree. One of my housemate’s families has a tree farm, so he gave it to us. But we were all going home; I won the coin toss, so I brought it with me just in case.” He looked at their mother. “Is there any room for it?”
She shook her head. “Not unless you want it here on the porch. But come on in for a cup of hot chocolate. We’ll figure out what to do with the tree later.”
Later, much later, after hot chocolate, peanut brittle, Timtams (and eggnog for some) and stories of the snowy drive from Guelph, Dylan remembered the tree. After some deliberation, the family’s ideas getting sillier and sillier (ending with hauling it onto the roof and attaching it to the chimney), Dylan said, “Why don’t we take it down to the Christmas tree lady? She didn’t have many trees left. Maybe she could sell it.”
Thomas gave Dylan a high five. “Great idea. Then I won’t have to unload it and load it up again. Or climb onto the roof! Let’s go.”
By this time it was quite dark. On the front porch, Thomas and Dylan stood for a moment in the silent evening. Lights reflected off the river where it curved as it reached the centre of the village. Then Thomas picked Dylan up and flung him over his shoulder.
“Hey, put me down!” Dylan pretended to struggle, but not too hard.
Thomas plopped him into the passenger seat of the bright blue VW bug with the bushy spruce tree on the top and climbed into driver’s seat. They drove slowly through the village; at the park, Dylan pointed to the Christmas lights that villagers had strung along the fence overlooking the river. They drove past the dark and empty old train station, the brightly lit General Store, the now closed bakery and candy stores and up to to the Christmas tree hut.
But when they got there, the Christmas tree hut was closed and all of the Christmas trees, every last one of them, were gone.
“Now what?” said Thomas.
Dylan opened the car door and looked at the hut. “Someone might not have a tree,” he said. “Let’s leave it here anyway.”
They got out of the car and untied the yellow ropes that held the beautiful, bushy tree on the car. Mostly Thomas untied the ropes, and mostly Thomas pulled the tree off the roof, grunting a little as he did. Dylan helped him pull the tree over to the hut and they struggled together to push it upright and lean it against the hut.
“That is a great tree,” said Dylan.
Thomas was brushing some needles off his jacket when Dylan noticed the bag of peanut brittle lying beside a pine cone. “Hey look,” he said. “Someone left some candy here.”
Dylan kicked the cone under the tree and picked up the bag of peanut brittle. He looked at Thomas with mischief in his eyes. “Let’s surprise someone!” He hid the bag of peanut brittle in the middle of the tree. “I wonder who will find it!”
The next morning, Dylan convinced a bleary eyed Thomas to drive to the Christmas tree hut – perhaps they could see if someone bought the tree. As they rounded the bend by the bed and breakfast, Dylan spotted Emma and her mother walking Ruby and waved. He didn’t mind what Emma liked best about Christmas now that Thomas was home.
When they reached the Christmas tree hut parking lot, Dylan could see right away that the tree was gone. “Look!” he said. Further down the road, its tail pipe puffing a cloud of exhaust into the air, drove a red pickup truck with some spruce branches visible above the tail gate.
“Someone has our tree,” Dylan said. “All that’s left is that pine cone.”
Thomas peered at the cone. “That’s a spruce cone,” he said.