Chapter one: Last Day of School
The loud clanging of the school bell should have been drowned out by excited shouts, yells, screams and the noise of Christmas vacation. Instead the children of Flowertree Elementary school headed for their lockers with grim quietness. A few excited shouts were heard from the kindergarten classes but the older students moved through the building with sad determination.
Kids with bright flower colored hair and kids with hair like tree leaves scattered through the old brick building heading for their lockers. Grabbing their coats, mittens, boots and hats and headed out into the falling snow to start their Christmas vacation. The town of Flowertree faced a very different type of Christmas this year. Flowertree was a small town set in the middle of a large forest of multi-colored trees that kept their bright leaves even in the coldest winters. Bright red, purple and yellow flowers poked up through the snow as the kids tramped home.
At the far edge of the forest was a large factory where most of the adults in Flowertree worked. When a forest fire damaged the factory, it had to let most of the workers go because there wasn’t enough work. The town was forced into having the worst Christmas ever.
“I can’t believe Christmas vacation is really here!” Sunflower Mahogany said quietly as she walked beside her cousin Rose Browne. Sunflower’s bright yellow hair moved around her shoulders as she walked, her blue eyes were sad as they talked about all the things they were going to miss this Christmas. Rose stopped in front of her coat locker, her long magenta braids hanging listlessly against her cheeks. Her green eyes were just as sad as her cousin’s.
“I know! I never thought it would get here. What are we going to do?” Rose asked pulling on her winter coat.
“Christmas has always been the most perfect holiday until now.” Sunflower mumbled looking around. “I wonder where Oak and Pine are. They’re supposed to pick up Blossom and Bud today. It’s their turn.” she said worriedly.
“They won’t forget.” Rose answered although she wasn’t positive. Her brother Oak and Sunflower’s brother Pine often forgot to meet the little ones at their kindergarten room, especially if they were with some of their friends.
“Maybe we had better go over there and make sure the little ones are okay.” Sunflower suggested putting her yellow sneakers in her backpack. Rose nodded in agreement, tugging on her left snow boot.
“Sunflower, Rose! Guess what we did today?” Blossom Mahogany and Bud Browne shouted at the same time as they raced towards the older girls. The kindergarten kids were the only ones excited about Christmas. Rose and Sunflower sighed in relief as the younger ones raced towards them with Pine, Oak and Rocky Tanner trailing behind. Bud’s blue hair flew in every direction as he ran full speed down the hallway. Blossom’s pink hair stuck tightly to her cheeks as she struggled to keep up with Bud. Their matching green eyes were bright with excitement.
“What did you do today?” Sunflower asked bending down to button up Blossom’s coat when Blossom skidded to a stop in front of her.
“We had a Christmas party! With presents and everything.” Bud said excitedly pulling away from Rose before she could button his jacket. After all he was five years old and quite capable of buttoning his own jacket, at least most of the time.
“I got a candy cane and a teddy bear ornament.” Blossom said pulling the candy and small ornament out of her coat pocket.
“Me too, only my ornament is a monkey with a Santa hat, not a teddy bear.” Bud said pushing closer so everyone could see his ornament.
“Those are really cute!” Rose and Sunflower said carefully inspecting both ornaments.
“Did you have a party too?” Blossom asked carefully putting her ornament into her pocket. “Can I put my teddy bear in my box with my angels?” she asked.
“Sure you can, there’s lots of room in your box.” Sunflower answered.
“I had better get the television I asked for.” Rocky Tanner said coming up behind them. Rocky Tanner was Pine and Oak’s best friend. He had short gray hair and blue eyes that never twinkled with Christmas excitement when he talked about the holidays. He was never satisfied with any present he ever got. “After all my Grandparents asked for a list of what I wanted this year. I had about nineteen things on that list and I gave Mom and Dad a totally different list.
Last year Grands got me the same game unit my parents gave me. I didn’t want two of the same kind. I wanted two different ones. This year there is no way that can happen. I made separate lists for everyone. I’m expecting maybe forty or fifty gifts this year. I got thirty last year so I wrote down a lot more things this year.” Rocky paused to draw in a deep breath. Before he could start in again Pine shook his head in confusion, his pine green hair brushed against his face. His deep gray eyes were puzzled as he watched his friend. He had several things on his list but he knew they wouldn’t be getting much for Christmas this year. Rocky acted as if everything was normal. As if nothing was wrong.
“You really expect to get everything you asked for?” Even though they had been friends since kindergarten, it still amazed him when Rocky talked about all the things he wanted and expected to get. “Didn’t your dad lose his job at the factory also?”
“Of course!” Rocky said looking at his friends curiously. “That doesn’t matter. They’ll get me everything I want. They have to, it’s Christmas!” Rocky just always thought everyone was like him and asked for tons of stuff and then got all of it for Christmas. “Don’t you guys get everything on your lists?”
“Not everything.” Rose said slowly. “We made a list of three or four things we’d really like and we might get one or two of them.” She spoke quietly keeping an eye on the two little kids. They had run ahead of them through the falling snow. “With Dad not working, Oak and I told our parents it didn’t matter if we don’t get anything.” she wiped at the tears that slowly dripped down her cheeks. “It’s more important that Bud gets his presents.” Rose said her voice trembling.
“We did the same thing. Blossom is too young to understand and she should have a normal Christmas.” Sunflower whispered putting her arm around her cousin’s shoulders.
Rocky stopped walking and stood in the rapidly falling snow to stare at them in disbelief. “Only a couple of presents, but don’t you go to your Grandparents for Christmas?”
They all nodded. “Don’t your Grandparents give you lots of stuff for Christmas?” Rocky demanded.
“No, our families don’t do lots of presents.” Oak tried to explain. He shook back his light green hair nervously. His dark green eyes were the same color as Pine’s hair, they shifted nervously between Pine and Rocky. He couldn’t understand how Rocky could expect so many presents and still sound as if he deserved even more. It just sounded selfish to him but when he looked around at all the kids getting on buses or walking towards their homes he knew most of them would agree with Rocky. A small part of him even thought it would be fun to get lots and lots of presents.
“Doesn’t that make you really mad? I’d be throwing all sorts of tantrums if I didn’t get more stuff than I got last year.” Rocky said pulling the hood of his expensive designer jacket up to keep the snow off his head.
“We like it this way. We have lots of fun and we get enough presents. We really don’t need a lot of stuff.” Pine added defensively. He didn’t like the way Rocky thought stuff was more important than anything else. Oak sighed in relief then noticed that Bud and Blossom had come back to walk with them. He saw the thoughtful look on Bud’s face.
Bud was staring up at Rocky with a very curious expression on his small face. No one had paid much attention to him until he started tugging on Rocky’s jacket sleeve. Rocky glanced down at him. “How can you play with everything if you get forty or fifty toys? I can’t even count that many yet.” he said seriously. “I’d forget which ones I had played with and which ones needed to be played with.”
Rocky started to laugh but no one else joined him. “How DO you play with everything or even keep track of what you get?” Pine echoed Bud’s question.
“Well, lots of it I never even take out of the boxes, but that’s not the point. The main thing is getting lots and lots of presents.”
“I got a pretty angel with a lace dress last year.” Blossom said. “I get to put it on the tree this year all by myself. I have five angels and they are all different.”
“I got a shiny silver star with a puppy in the middle.” Bud said proudly.
Rocky turned to look at Pine and Oak with a puzzled expression.
“Every year Grandma and Grandpa make us homemade ornaments. Every year we get a new special one. It’s always so much fun to see what different things they come up with. I always get ornaments that are either shaped like a Christmas tree or have a Christmas tree on it somehow.” Pine explained.
“I get a different bird each year and Blossom gets angels.” Sunflower said.
“Mine are always snowflakes.” Oak added.
“I get Christmas stockings.” Rose said.
“I have stars. I have five of them too.” Bud said holding up five fingers although no one could see them inside his wet mitten.
“One Christmas our Dad’s made each of us a big wooden box with lots of little divided spaces inside to put our special ornaments into.” Rose explained even though she knew Rocky wasn’t interested or even listening to her. “Then each year when we put up our Christmas trees we each get to bring out the box with our name on top and hang up our very own ornaments.”
“Yeah, but. . . ” Rocky looked around at each of them, “wouldn’t you really rather get real things like a video game or a TV for your room or your own computer or . . . something big?” He stared open mouthed when they all shook their heads no.
“Grandma and Grandpa’s ornaments are really special and we’ll always have them, forever!” Sunflower said but Rocky didn’t believe them. No one would want a stupid ornament instead of a bunch of big expensive presents.
“What else do you get, besides the ornaments?” he asked when they came to the corner where they split up to go their own way.
“Nothing, at least nothing else at our Grandparent’s house on Christmas Eve. We get the rest of our presents Christmas morning.”
“So, you go to your Grandparents and have to be there all Christmas Eve just to get an ornament.” Rocky couldn’t hide his disbelief. There was no way he would be satisfied sitting around bored at his Grandparents just to get a homemade ornament. “I couldn’t do it.” he said shaking his head. “If I had to spend Christmas Eve at my Grandparent’s there had better be lots to unwrap so I don’t get bored to death.”
They watched Rocky walk away in his expensive sneakers, expensive jacket, top name brand clothes and selfish attitude. “He doesn’t get it, does he?” Sunflower asked turning to walk down their street. Rose fell into step beside her with Bud and Blossom running on ahead. Oak and Pine followed behind Rose and Sunflower. The six cousins were lucky because not only were they best friends, but they only lived four houses apart on the same street.
“What doesn’t Rocky get?” Blossom asked looking over her shoulder at Sunflower. “He said he gets everything he wants.” she looked confused as she waited for an answer. She stopped walking and waited for someone to answer her.
“He doesn’t get what Christmas is really about.” Oak said.
“But he said he does.” Bud said stopping and standing next to Blossom. He looked just as confused as Blossom.
“No, we mean he just doesn’t understand what Christmas really means.” Rose explained patiently.
“What does it mean?” Blossom asked starting to walk through the falling snow towards home.
“It’s all the fun things we do together. It’s the games and all the yummy things our Mom’s and Grandma make for us to eat.” Sunflower said.
“It’s our super cool ornaments and how they make us feel when Grandma and Grandpa make them special for us.” Pine added.
“You don’t need lots of presents for Christmas to be fun. It’s what we do that makes it fun not what you get.” Oak explained further.
They walked the rest of the way home in silence, each wondering if they really did like their simple Christmas or would Christmas really be better with huge piles of expensive gifts.