This story is a part of the Spec the Halls contest for speculative winter holiday-themed fiction, artwork, and poetry. You may find guidelines and links to other entries at http://www.aswiebe.com/specthehalls.html
Carrie’s eyes flew open, her heart was pounding. It was Christmas morning. It had to be, because yesterday was Christmas Eve and now it was a whole new day. It was still very early. Carrie knew it was early because it was still dark, she couldn’t see much of her room. There was a bit of light coming from under her curtain but Carrie thought it was probably the street light.
Carrie lay in bed, paralysed with excitement. It was Christmas at last, after all the waiting and the wishing and the agony. Carrie had spent all of December preparing for Christmas. So many hours making gingerbread with her mother, decorating the Christmas tree, drawing cards and writing Merry Christmas inside them and putting them into envelopes for her friends at school.
Last night had been the hardest. Carrie and her parents had sung Christmas carols, although her father didn’t know some of the words, and they had watched A Christmas Carol on the vidscreen, but Carrie hadn’t been a little bit sleepy even when it was an hour after her bedtime.
But that was over now, it was Christmas morning. Carrie slid her feet out of the bed, moving as quietly as she could manage. She slipped her feet into her bunny slippers, pulled on her dressing gown and slowly, ever so slowly, crossed the room to her bedroom door.
She’d long ago mastered the art of opening her door silently. First she picked up Mr Squiggleberry, her teddy bear, and smushed him over the speaker box. That way the beeping that her door did to let people know it had worked would be smothered. Second she put her towel along the floor so that the door wouldn’t make a banging noise when it slid open. The doors weren’t supposed to bang like that, Carrie knew, but their section of the station wasn’t as new as it had been. Her mother sometimes said it was falling apart, but Carrie’s father said she was overreacting when she’d said it.
The door opened and thumped gently against the bunched up towel end. Carrie snuck out into the shared habitation area. The Christmas tree was still lit up, the fairy lights glowing red, purple, blue and yellow. Under the tree were the presents Carrie already knew about, the small green plastic wrapped packages that her parents had put under there a week ago and which she had spent a long time feeling. She had guessed what each one of those was.
Carrie looked over by the wall, where she had hung her stocking. The stocking was one of her old microfiber boot liners that she’d grown out of. The terrain outside the station was still not completely terraformed, so extra layers of protection were required. The stocking was bright green and Carrie had painstakingly sewed on it a yellow star cut out from one of her mother’s old shirts.
The stocking was bulging and there was something sticking tantalisingly out of the top. Carrie stood and stared, overwhelmed with anticipation. She hoped it was the stuffed pony she’d asked for. Carrie was bursting with a need to look in the stocking but her parents had forbidden her to touch it until they were awake.
There was only one thing to do.
Carrie ran to her parents’ bedroom door, punched in the access code and burst into the room.
‘It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!’ she shouted. They didn’t move immediately so she jumped up onto the bed and onto her father’s shoulder. ‘Wake up, wake up, Santa came!’
Carrie’s mother moaned and rolled over, she blinked at Carrie. ‘What time is it?’ she said.
‘It’s Christmas time!’ Carrie said. Her father shifted under her and she slipped down between the two of them.
‘S’not even oh six hundred,’ her father said. He sounded groggy.
‘Santa came! Can I open my stocking now?’ Carrie nudged her mother’s arm. ‘Can I?’
‘OK, go back to the lounge, we’ll be up in a moment. Just look at the tree ‘til we get there.’
Carrie slid back off the bed and ran back into the shared habitation area. She knew her mother called it a lounge because of that’s one of the words they used back on Earth, but to her it would always be the SHA. Carrie sat on the cushioned seating units and bounced up and down, she looked back at her parent’s room every couple of seconds. She could see them get out of bed, pulling on their dressing gowns and talking. She couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Finally they came into the SHA.
‘Can I have it now?’ Carrie asked.
‘I need a coffee,’ Carrie’s mother said. ‘Wait until I have my coffee.’
‘Awww,’ Carrie said. Her father sat down next to her. He stretched one tentacle out, reached across the room and wrapped the tip gently around her stocking. He unhooked it from the wall and drew it back over to the seat.
‘You can hold it,’ he said, ‘but you can’t take anything out til Mummy gets back, alright?’
‘Thanks Dad,’ Carrie cuddled into her father’s side, balancing the stocking on her lap. He laid one tentacle across her shoulders, hugging her close.
Carrie listened as the kettle boiled and her mother manipulated the mysterious machine that produced coffee. She came back in, holding two steaming mugs. She gave one to Carrie’s father and sat down on the other side of Carrie.
‘Go on then, let’s see what Santa brought you.’
Later, when Carrie had torn the paper off all her presents and given the gifts she’d made to her parents and they’d had breakfast and Carrie was dressed they had a moment of quiet.
‘This is nice,’ Carrie’s father said.
‘My advent calendar!’ Carrie shouted, ruining the tranquillity. ‘I haven’t opened today’s window!’ She leapt up from the seating unit, ran across to the communicator and picked up the battered cardboard. It had a big picture on the front, of an apartment building in one of the old Earth cities. There were people on the street outside it, walking with plastic bags full of presents. There was a Santa in one corner, ringing a bell. Her mother had called the picture ‘quaint’ but Carrie thought it was beautiful, she loved to look at all the things in the windows, like the old fashioned televisions and the optometrist shop that sold glasses.
She ran her fingers over the picture, looking for the one unopened window. There, with the number ‘25’ on it, she pulled it open and looked at the tiny drawing underneath. ‘It’s some people looking at a baby,’ Carrie said.
‘It’s the birth of Jesus,’ Carrie’s mother said.
‘Not this again,’ Carrie’s father said. Carrie looked up, he had sounded grumpy and she could see his skin was turning a darker shade of purple, which meant he was angry.
‘Don’t be like that, darling,’ Carrie’s mother said. ‘It is the reason why we have Christmas. I mean, his name is right there in the title.’
‘I think it’s archaic and strange,’ Carrie’s father said. Carrie tried not to cry, she hated it when her parents disagreed and this was Christmas day, they should all be happy. Carrie’s mother could see Carrie’s chin wobbling and held out her arms to her.
‘Well, that’s how it started out,’ Carrie’s mother said. ‘But it’s not really why we do all this.’ Carrie climbed up onto her mother’s lap, clutching the advent calendar. She wished she’d never opened the stupid last window.
‘Why do we do Christmas then?’ Carrie asked. Her father turned to look at them, clearly wondering the same thing.
‘Well, I guess it’s because it’s good to let people know how much you love them,’ she said.
‘But surely we should do that every day,’ Carrie’s father said. ‘Why would you restrict that to one day in 365? Why not just treat each other nicely?’
‘Humans aren’t very good at that, I’m afraid,’ Carrie’s mother said. Carrie leaned back into her arms, listening hard. ‘We forget, we get grumpy and we treat each other badly. We have wars and take each other for granted. We have Christmas to remind ourselves that we can love each other as well.’
‘Hmph,’ Carrie’s father said.
‘And of course, it’s nice to have a reason to get dressed up and eat a lot of delicious food,’ she tickled Carrie, making her laugh. Carrie had been asking about the Christmas feast all month.
‘Well, I can’t disagree with you there, the feast part of it is pretty amazing,’ Carrie’s father said. He looked at his wife and child and smiled at them. ‘Of all the human traditions you brought with you this is the strangest, but I guess I can get into it.’
Carrie leaned over and gave her father a kiss on his long rubbery face. ‘Merry Christmas daddy,’ she said.
‘Merry Christmas kidlet,’ he said. ‘Come on, time for the rest of the presents.’ Carrie jumped down from the seating unit and sped over to the Christmas tree to sort out which presents were for her.
‘You think this is strange? I must’ve never explained about Easter to you,’ Carrie’s mother said.
‘A giant rabbit brings chocolate eggs.’
Carrie’s father just looked at his wife uncomprehendingly and then he smiled. ‘You’re joking.’