Olive and I wandered through the snow-covered city of Leavenworth, WA. Looking left and right, the entire area was a riot of color. Lights of all shapes and sizes blazed from the bushes, the trees, the rooftops. Even the people. Many of them were wearing ropes or single LEDs proclaiming the holiday season.

We’d stopped in at Icicle Coffee and Chocolates for some hot chocolate and I have to admit I grabbed some fudge. Because, well, it’s fudge. I’ll hit the gym twice today.

They’d gotten a big dump of snow last night, but the skies had cleared and the temperature was in the mid-thirties. It was definitely warm enough to sit on a bench and watch humanity go by. Sunset was early at this time of year and the temperature heads down fast in the evening, but since the whole idea was to have hot chocolate and other sugary stuff it was what we were looking for.

Also, we were still getting over the bumpy patch we’d hit earlier this summer. In addition to that, Olive never had told me what it was that she and Bailey were doing together. It made me really curious!

Olive said, “Nope.”

I looked at her. “What?”

“I know what you’re thinkin and nope.”

I sighed. “Sometimes it’d be nice if you turned off that all knowing part. Most humans don’t have that, you know.”

Complacently, she said, “I know. But I never said I was striving to be a perfect human, just a human.”

We sat back again and sipped our chocolate.

I tried again, “But …”

“Nope. Hey, look at that snowman over there!”

I couldn’t resist. And I did have to say that it was impressive. Someone had a giant snowman inflatable in the back of their giant Chevy truck.

“Y’know, we could put a big reindeer or Santa in the back of Jerry the Jeep II. He might like it, and since he’s bright red, it’s even fitting! We could string some evergreen garlands along the sides and … “

She held up a hand. “You don’t think that’s going a little too far?”

I laughed. “Going too far? Compared to actually hanging lighted candles on your tree inside your house, it’s pretty tame. I bet if the Pilgrims would have had inflatable Nativity Scenes, they’d have been all over it.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Mm. Well, probably not. But it does make me reconsider the Santa in the back of Jerry and think about putting a nativity instead.”

She gave me a half grin. “You think Jesus would approve?”

I took her question seriously. “Maybe. Jesus was a pretty cool dude. He was pretty heavy into letting people be who they were without a lot of judgment as to who they’d been.”

Olive nodded. “Yeah, I guess. It’s kind of the centerpiece of the Christian religion. Speaking of trees inside, why in the world DO you cut down a tree and bring it inside? Just love the idea of a portable fire hazard?”

I smirked. “No, of course not. Although, we did watch Christmas Vacation the other day and that was a reminder of how to go overboard at decorating. You’ll notice I have a very tasteful display at home.”

Olive remarked, “Huh. The evergreens inside were actually to bring goodness and protection to the house, and in some countries reminded them that spring would come and that things still were green and growing. Well, except for the ones they brought in and hung up.”

“I thought you didn’t know what it was!”

“Well, I didn’t until I Googled it.”

“Of course, o Oracle of Dell.”

Olive smirked. “You like that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I thought it was funny.”

“So, what else do humans do at Christmas that make you wonder about our sanity?”

She gave me a look. “One word. Pickle.”

“Pickle? Is that a sex joke or something?”

“Heh. No, but I could make something up if you want.”

I snorted. “No, that’s fine. But – what about the pickle?”

“Well, some say it’s a time-honored German tradition, but stories seem to vary as to its origins. It’s worth looking it up if you’re interested, but right now people tend to hide a pickle ornament somewhere in the tree, and the first person who finds it gets a neat gift! Or maybe they get an extra pancake or open a gift first. At any rate, it’s something interesting to add to your traditions!”

“Ok, I’ll put a pickle ornament on my list. I bet the Santa shop here has one.”

She nodded. “Yeah, looks like most stores have ‘em.”

I looked around. “Olive, it’s getting cold. Let’s go home and see what’s up. I have an idea for something to do before everyone gets there!”

“Gonna get your pickle first?”

“Oh, yeah.”

We wandered along the street and sure enough, the first little store along the way had a pickle ornament. I realized I’d seen them before, but didn’t know what they were.

Olive’s elevator showed up in a small alcove between buildings and we popped out in my living room. Handy thing to have, a Wonka elevator.

I got a fake tree a few years ago, and it’s nice to have it there ready. I guess it’s not as likely to bring spring feelings as a real one, but it never dies, so there’s that. I hung the pickle way back inside the tree, and being green it was pretty hard to see.

“Olive, do you ever watch Seinfeld?”

“Meh, I have a few times. Why?”

“Well, they have a thing they call the Festivus celebration. And honestly, I thought it was kind of gruesome how they present it. But I had an idea for a Festive Us celebration! See what I did there?”

Ever patient (hah!) Olive shrugged. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Well, why did you want a Festive Us celebration?”

“‘Cause I want it to be festive! And I thought we could do a celebration of getting rid of the bad things. See, the Seinfeld one is to give people a chance to yell at each other about whatever they kept in and didn’t yell about during the year. And I don’t really keep things in, I kinda just let it all go by. But wouldn’t it be fun to have a, something like a tiny firepit and we could roast marshmallows on it, and then write down the things that made us sad or mad last year and throw them on the fire? Notes to God, maybe. Or to the spirit of smoke, or who knows. But it gets it out there, and maybe gets it out of us and leaves us Festive!”

Olive nodded. “I can do that. About big enough for the center of the coffee table?”

“Uh huh! That’d be fabulous!”

She smiled. “Look at the coffee table, Jane.”

I still can’t get over how they do that, but she’d made a little fire pit surrounded by (fireproof, I hope!) evergreen boughs. It already had a fire in it, so I glomped into the kitchen to get some marshmallows, crackers and chocolate. I need to test it to make sure it’s working – wouldn’t want anyone disappointed, you know.

The door opened about as I got the stuff on the table. Guess I won’t be beta-testing the fire alone after all.

Bailey’s voice came ringing down the hallway, “Merry Christmas!”

Olive and I echoed her greeting, and she came into the living room. “Oh, hey, nice fire!”

I grinned. “Yup, Olive made it. Literally. I was about to try making a s’more. Join us?”

We all sat and grabbed some skewers. We skewered some innocent marshmallows and put them over the fire.

Funny, isn’t it? How many different things there are to be opinionated about? Personally, I like my marshmallow just gently golden brown around the whole thing. Olive liked hers about the same, only a couple shades darker, and Bailey – she was one of those scary people who like theirs burnt black!

We forgave her though, as we all assembled our s’mores and chomped down.

The door opened again, and there was much boot stomping. Jess and Jean came in the door. I was a little shocked to see Jean out and around, she’s about as likely to spend much time among humanity as, well, getting a perfectly tanned marshmallow, but here she was walking in the door like it was every day!

“Hi guys! You been out shopping?”

Jess grinned. “Yeah, I dragged Jean out. It started out totally against her will, but by the time we got back, she kinda liked it.”

Jean was making head-shaking motions behind Jess’s back, but I could tell from the sparkle in her eyes that she’d really had fun.

I thought about that  for a second and said, “You know, you should think about making a room for yourself downstairs, Jean. I realized earlier today that I don’t even know where you live and it made me a little sad.”

Her eyes got round and she said, “A room for me? All my own?”

I smiled. “Yes, all your own.”

The smile ran away from her face and her customary nervousness reappeared. “I’ll think about it. But thank you.”

I nodded. To the rest of them I said, “Hey, anyone got some mistletoe? I’m pretty sure Dale and James will be here soon and I want a reason to kiss them.”

Bailey made a face. “Oh, yeah? Making a move on my boyfriend?”

“Uh huh, pretty much.”

Jean said, “I don’t understand. Why would mistletoe make you want to kiss someone else’s boyfriend?”

I looked at Olive. “O Oracle of Dell, lend us your wisdom?”

“Well, it looks like the whole mistletoe thing might have started in Greece, but no one knows for sure. One of the things they mention is that it grows in the winter and it’s green, and that makes it an attractive thing to have around the house. Anyhow, rest assured that if you see it hanging, you have license to kiss anyone under it. Although results vary as to the size of the lump on your head if someone takes exception to your attentions.”

I grinned. “You sound like Wikipedia, Olive.”

She smirked back. “My new career.”

More clattering and banging in the hallway and shortly Dale and James appeared. They were hauling bags and boxes and looking weighed down and adorable. All of us descended on the guys and helped get the stuff inside.

I smoochied on Dale but with no mistletoe up I kept my affections to James at hug level. I’m so happy Bailey has found someone worthy of her!

Dale said, “The hunters have returned, when do we eat?”

I laughed. “As soon as we get it all laid out. And when one more person gets here. Mom and Cai are in China with Cai’s family. He’s so excited to have finally made up with his son, this will be his first Christmas with them in years. Cai’s a little in love with American traditions and he has a Christmas celebration, although it’s mostly secular as an excuse for gift giving.”

James remarked, “One more person?”

“Uh huh, I think Georgia will be here. Debbie’s off at her in-laws, so we won’t be seeing her.”

There was more clattering in the hallway, and then Georgia’s voice came sailing in with her usual greeting of, “Can someone help me with my stuff?”

Both guys fell over themselves getting down the hallway, and shortly Georgia came in dressed in a stunning and even somewhat skin-covering outfit. Although, with Georgia that was still pretty skimpy. Her porters trailed along behind with her extensive luggage.

Bailey grinned. “I see your fans helped with your bags.”

Georgia winked. “Yeah. Sometimes it’s nice being me.”

I was looking around at all the people, thinking how different my life was now than it had been. We had people wandering around the living room, the kitchen. Olive had started a fire in the fireplace and it was so beautiful.

I sidled up to her and said, “Thanks for doing that living room expansion. We sure needed it, didn’t we?”

She smirked. “I told you it was a good idea.”

I hugged her. “Yes, you did. Thanks for always looking out for me, Olive.”

“Well, somebody has to since you never do!”

I poked her and then hugged her. “Yup.”

That taken care of, we assembled the feast, all of us pitching in. The dining room table was overloaded with pies, ham and all the rest. Of course, we also had nacho makings. Wouldn’t want to upset tradition!

We were milling around the table gathering our food when I heard someone coming up from the basement. I looked around, then frowned. “I wonder who that could be?”

About then Olive topped the basement stairs with mom in tow.

I gasped. “Mom, I thought you were in Tibet!”

She smiled. “It’s Christmas and Olive was kind enough to elevator me here. You promised me Christmases from now on. Remember?”

I nodded. “Of course, I just didn’t expect you…”

She looked stricken for a moment, then came over and hugged me. “I’m sorry, little one.”

I took a breath. “I’m sorry too, mama.” For maybe the first time, I truly hugged her back.

Everyone around the table let out their breath. James said, “Well, I’m eating. Anyone with me?”

That took the pressure off and we all started talking and circulating. We gathered our plates and sank into the big couch and the chairs around the fire. We roasted marshmallows and ate till no one really wanted to eat anymore.

Looking around, I had to smile. There’s nothing that makes you feel better than having friends and family gathered around. A warm fire, and warm hearts.

I stood up and smiled around at everyone. I raised my glass and offered a toast, “The Happiest of Happy Holidays!”

There was a chorus of returns as all my friends and even my mom raised their glasses in salute. “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Watch for Part 2 coming Christmas 2023!

I wish you all the best of holidays, wherever and whatever you celebrate!

V.R. Tapscott

December 24th, 2022.