THE CHRISTMAS BAGS

Kelley and Tara couldn’t wait to see their Christmas tree—too tall and scraping the ceiling—every year the same. The sisters heard Alvin and the Chipmunk’s singing ‘Deck the Halls’ before they even reached the house.

“Tara, help me. My foot’s stuck.”

Tara sighed. “Kelley, you need new boots.”

“But you don’t need a bigger size.”

Tara grunted as she tugged on her sister’s foot. “Just because we’re twins doesn’t mean we’re exactly the same.” Tara tossed the wet boot. “Let’s see the tree!”

The girls wandered through a maze of boxes bursting with decorations.

“I smell cinnamon.” Tara sniffed the air.

Mom always baked cookies for tree trimming night.

Dad appeared holding a headless gingerbread man. “Every string of lights and piece of tinsel must go up.” He nibbled the cookie’s leg. “Even if it takes all night.”

The girls giggled. “You say that every year.”

That day, Kelley’s teacher asked students to share holiday traditions. Kelley almost mentioned tree-trimming night. Athough it happened every year, it was not on a specific day. Plus, Mom always tried a different cookie recipe. Maybe it wasn’t a real tradition.

Kelley opened a box. A shock of bright colors met her gaze. Just my luck. The fabric bags that would hold their Christmas gifts: hippy-looking tie-dyed creations.

“There they are.” Her mother gathered the drawstring bags. “These make Christmas extra-special.” She left to fill the bags with gifts.

Extra-special? Kelley thought they were extra-strange.

*****

By the next week, inflatable Santa’s and animated reindeer lived in the yards of every house in the neighborhood.

Tara jumped down the school steps with her friend Jasmine. “Kelley!” Tara yelled, “Jasmine’s staying with us during Christmas vacation!”

“Why?” Kelley was tired of explaining her weird family traditions to new people.

“Her parents,” Tara jumped into a snow bank, “have important business in,” she gathered snow into a ball, “Thailand or India . . . somewhere far away.” Tara grabbed Jasmine’s arm. “I’ll race you home.”

Kelley scuffed her feet through fluffy snow. She felt sorry for Jasmine—stuck with the Weirdo’s for Christmas.

At home, Kelley struggled with her too-tight boots. She heard Tara and Jasmine talking about the tree. Ornaments, no two alike, hung from branches draped in worn out garland. Under the tree, were the same old cloth bags filled with homemade presents or stuff from thrift stores.

Kelley loved her parent’s gifts, but she wanted, just once, a box wrapped in paper she could throw away, ribbon that wouldn’t be recycled, and inside, a present that was brand new. And just this once, she didn’t want to explain the crazy colored bags to anyone.

“What are those?” Jasmine pointed to the presents.

“Special bags.” Tara bent to touch the largest bag. “My mom got them before I was,” she looked around for Kelley, “we were born.”

Kelley rolled her eyes as she eavesdropped from the hallway.

“They’re beautiful.” Jasmine sat cross-legged on the floor. “Reusable gift bags are very green.”

“What?”

“Good for the environment.” Jasmine looked closer. “My mother is a decorator. I recognize this pattern.”

Tara said, “The designer made these for our mother.”

Jasmine stroked the fabric. “This designer was famous before she died. I think these fabrics are valuable.”

Mom knew a famous designer? Kelley peaked around the corner.

The girls turned and bumped into Kelley.

Jasmine said, “You are lucky to have these unique bags.”

Kelley blushed. Still, she dreaded opening them with their homemade gifts.

*****

On Christmas Eve, Mom passed out the bags. She placed a professionally wrapped box in front of Jasmine. “From your parents.”

“Guests first.” Dad took a sip of his warm cider.

Kelley watched as Jasmine tugged the silver ribbon and unwrapped a French porcelain doll from layers of tissue. Jasmine laid the doll aside. Her face brightened as she opened one of the family’s fabric bags. Inside, was another fabric bag.

“That one you can keep.” Mom smiled.

Jasmine caressed the bag. “It’s priceless.”

“Your turn Kelley.” Tara plopped a bag into her sister’s lap and clapped her hands.

“Don’t rush. You’ll get your turn.” Kelley untied the bag and found a hand-knitted scarf, prettier than the expensive one from the mall.

Tara shoved the largest bag towards her sister.

“Okay, okay!” Kelley loosened the drawstrings and peered inside. She pulled out a box wrapped in shiny gold paper topped with curly ribbons.

“Start ripping!” Tara almost grabbed the gift from her sister’s hands.

Kelley thought the paper was too pretty to destroy. Then she remembered her Christmas wish. She stuck the ribbon in her sister’s hair. Gold bits of paper littered the floor. Inside the box were new, never worn by anyone else, purple snow boots.

“Do you like the color?” Mom asked.

Kelley nodded. A tear ran down her cheek.

Later that night, as the girls sipped hot chocolate, Kelley tapped the heels of her new boots. She smiled at her sister, still wearing the bow. Identical twins, families, and holiday traditions are never exactly the same.

~ Published by Knowonder!

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