Everyone receives gifts they neither need nor want—bath salts for people who only shower, a frilly nightgown wrapped up for someone who sleeps in sweatpants, that 27th tie . . . Sometimes we ... [+]
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Billie scuffed her flip flops through the dry needles scattered over the Christmas tree lot. Pine scent filled the air. But it felt too hot for Christmas.
"How about this one?" Her mom turned a spruce to show the branches in the back.
"I guess," said Billie.
Ever since they moved for her mom's work, Billie felt like she spent all of her time missing things back home. She missed her old school. Her old friends. She missed how the leaves changed color in the fall to yellow and orange and red.
Right now, Billie missed winter most of all. Icy mornings. Wearing her old red hat with the ragged pompom. Snow. But it wasn't cold enough for snow in this new town.
For the holiday party at school, Billie and her mom made cupcakes, topping each with a marshmallow snowman.
"At least the weather has cooled down," said her mom.
"It feels weird – everything green right before Christmas," said Billie. "A couple of kids in class even talked about having a pool party if we get another heat wave. A pool party in December!"
Mom wiped frosting off Billie's nose and hugged her. "I miss our old home, too," she told Billie. "But we can still have a good Christmas."
"I love these cupcakes!" said Billie's classmate Sofia, biting off her snowman's head.
"We used to build a snowman in our yard on Christmas Eve," said Billie. "But one year the snow had melted, so Mom and I made snowman cupcakes instead. It's kind of our tradition now."
"Hey, can you stay at my house the night before Christmas Eve?" asked Sofia. "I want to show you something my family does every year."
"Yeah, I think so," said Billie.
Billie brought her sleeping bag and backpack to Sofia's house on the night before Christmas Eve. She helped Sofia and her brothers hang ornaments on their Christmas tree.
"Does your family always decorate your tree right before Christmas?" she asked.
"No, my dad just got it late this year," Sofia replied.
After dinner, they watched a Christmas movie and drank hot chocolate seasoned with cinnamon.
"Is this your family tradition?" asked Billie.
"No," said Sofia. "You have to wait until morning."
"Wake up, girls," said Sofia's mother. "They're back!"
Billie asked a dozen questions while they dressed, but Sofia only answered, "You'll see."
When they climbed into the van, Sofia handed Billie a pair of heavy gloves and told her, "You need to put these on." Puzzled, Billie pulled on the knitted gloves.
They drove to the plaza in the center of town. Sofia's father and another man were already there, shoveling something from the back of a pickup truck.
Snow! The pickup bed was packed with SNOW!
"My dad and uncle haul it down from the mountains every year," said Sofia. "Early on Christmas Eve morning, we build a snowman in the plaza; it's like my family's present to the town."
Billie grabbed a handful of snow and threw it high in the air, winter white against a blue sky.
Sofia lobbed a snowball at Billie's legs. Splat! Billie threw one back at her, and then both girls held hands and dropped flat in the drift to make snow angels.
"Are we going to build a snowman or not?" called Sofia's uncle.
They all pushed and patted snow into a large round base for the snowman's body, topped it with a fat middle, and Sofia's mom and dad rolled the snowman's head to the top. Billie, Sofia and her brothers used toothpicks to anchor a line of radishes for buttons, added small limes for eyes and gave the snowman a giant carrot nose. Then Sofia opened a bag of small fruits.
"What are those?" asked Billie.
"Kumquats from my Uncle Gabriel's tree," said Sofia.
The kids stuck them into a big orange smile.
Billie felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Sofia's mother called me," said Billie's mom. "I thought we could add something as well." And she lifted Billie to place her old red knit hat with the ragged pompom on the snowman's head.
Billie peeled off the soaked gloves and ran her hands over the snowman's icy belly. He felt like winter nights and frosty mornings, drifting snowflakes and brittle icicles, red noses and numb toes, all rolled into one.
And Billie had helped build him on Christmas Eve with her new friend in her new town.
A warm breeze tugged at her hair.
Billie scooped up snow and threw it at Sofia. "Maybe it will get hot enough for a pool party," she laughed, then ducked and ran when a snowball came flying back.