The Surprise Envelope
In just three days, it will be Christmas. Despite the bright and cheery decorations twinkling in the streets, wreaths on doors, and Christmas trees peeking through windows, Hector doesn't feel one drop of joy or excitement. The magic of Christmas seems to have evaporated this year. People passing one another on the street do not wish each other Happy Holidays, smile, or even make eye contact. They simply rush by with their heads down and eyes straight ahead, their minds preoccupied with their to-do lists and avoiding human interaction.
Hector doesn't even feel Christmas Spirit from his own family. This morning, he woke up excited to decorate the family Christmas tree with his mother as they did every year. They had barely started wrapping the lights when the phone rang. "Oh dear, it's Aunt Susan!" Hector's mother exclaimed. "Go on without me. I’ll be back." Hector finished the whole tree by himself by the time his mother was off of the phone with her sister. Later that afternoon, Hector's father cancelled their plans to play basketball together. Even Hector's older brother, Yohan, was too busy playing video games to help Hector make shortbread cookies for the family.
Feeling discouraged by the lack of festivity around the village and his home, Hector snuggles up with his most comfortable blanket and lets out an enormous sigh. He turns off the light and falls asleep.
That night Hector's Native American grandmother, Tallulah, pays him a visit in his dream. Around eight months ago, she left Hector's family to join the great white falcon in the sky. In her gentle voice, she whispers: “Hector, it's up to you to reinvent the magic of Christmas. You can change things. Search in your heart and you’ll find the solution.”
When he wakes up, Hector cannot stop thinking about his dream. “Reinvent the magic of Christmas,” Tallulah said. He thinks about her words and jots down ideas on a sheet of paper, but crosses them out one by one. Suddenly, his face lights up.
After lunch, Hector hangs a “do not disturb” sign on the door of his bedroom, closes the curtains, and sits down in his laboratory. This little corner of his room is equipped with a big lamp, magnifying glass, and all the materials from the chemistry set his parents got him for his birthday.
All afternoon, Hector experiments with various combinations of Christmas ingredients. He melts candy canes and spices into little bowls, then mixes them with some of the plant oils that his grandmother Tallulah handed down to him. The liquid smells pepper-minty and delicious, and Hector feels a rush of optimism. Perhaps this is it! He takes the bowl in his hand and offers a sniff to Zephir, his big striped cat. Zephir's first sniff sends him into a spiral of sneezes. He sniffs the potion once more, then lies down on his back with his feet directly in the air. Hmmmm. Must need some work, thinks Hector. He adjusts the quantities, replaces some of the peppermint with other Christmas ingredients. He looks at Zephir and lets out a joyful shout.
Licorice, chocolate chips, cinnamon, star anise powder, three drops of Ayahuasca, a drop of the small seed of Nahele, and two drops of moonflower. He discovered the Christmas Spirit elixir formula!
Using colored paper from his mother’s desk, Hector cuts, folds, and glues. He makes thirty red, green, blue, yellow, and purple envelopes into which he carefully applies two drops of Christmas Spirit elixir. On each card, he places a sticker of a little elf with a sentence written in capital letters.
The next day after lunch, Hector gets on his bike. Along each street in the village, he slips a colored envelope under the door of the first house on both the left and right side of every street. Once he finishes all his rounds, Hector returns home. He sits down on his bed and waits. When it's 5 o’clock, he tip-toes downstairs, checks to make sure that no one is looking, then quietly opens the front door and slips outside. Then Hector then walks back into the house, pretending to have just returned home and discovered the little red letter. “Mom, Dad, Yohan, come quick!” He calls.
When all four of them are standing together in the living room, Hector reads the label aloud. “Open this letter as a family. After opening me, you should close me again and slip me under the door of the neighbor to your right.”
The family bubbles with curiosity. Hector's mother grabs the envelope and opens it. A strong scent of chocolate, spice, and incense floats across the living room. Hector's parents and brother stand completely still as the delicious scent surrounds them. Suddenly they begin to move, their eyes sparkling, large smiles slowing spreading across their faces. Hector's father begins to dance, grabbing Hector's mother's hand and twirling her to music only they can hear. They both hum and looking lovingly into one another's eyes. Yohan grabs Hector and lifts him above his head, then begins to spin him around as he used to do when Hector was little.
“How about we take the scooters to go look at some Christmas decorations around town?” Hector's mother blurts out, smiling from ear to ear.
The family bundles themselves in hats and scarves and coats and rush outside. His brother takes the red scooter, and his father the blue one.
“Come on, princess, get into my carriage.” Hector's father says to Hector's mother.
“Wait!” his mother says. She runs back into the house and grabs the red envelope. When she comes out into the cold again, her husband and two sons are circling around on their scooters.
Hector's mother runs across the lawn and stuffs the letter underneath the neighbor's door. She rings doorbell three times and shouts, “Merry Christmas!”
Then all four of them speed down the street, Hector holding on to his big brother's waist and Hector's mother holding onto Hector's father. Both scooters slide over a large patch of ice, then shoot quickly into a pile of snow. Hector's parents roar with laughter. Hector holds his brother tight.
Everywhere they go, the village is topsy-turvy. Hector chuckles to himself. His elixir is working! Mrs. Gari and Mrs. Dubois have finally stopped arguing and are building a snowman together, their cheeks rosy with laughter. The mailman has switched out his black coat for a bright red one. His mailbag filled with candy, and he shouts "Merry Christmas!" as he slings sweet treats out to everyone he passes. On Lilas Street, the family joins an enormous snowball fight. Grown-ups and children alike launch snowballs at one another. Everyone is dodging, jumping, laughing and rolling. On Cerfs Street, a group is playing hide-and-seek among the piles of snow they were once preoccupied with removing from their walkways. Others are sledding, and others are blowing up balloons and releasing them into the chilly afternoon air. Delicious aromas of hot chestnuts, crepes, and nougat float throughout the village. At the large church down the hill, the carousel is all lit up and spinning around. Mostly adults are on it and bob up and down to the happy sound of the music. Hector's father and mother rush over to the merry-go-round. Hector spots his teacher on the ride, sitting in a big fire truck. Hector waves to him with a huge smile.
His brother walks towards him holding two huge servings of cotton candy. They both sit down on the bench across from the dazzling Christmas tree. While enjoying his treat, Hector smiles. In all the eyes that meet his, there is that little spark that shines, a little spark of happiness that tastes like childhood. “Thank you, Tallulah,” he whispers quietly.