The winter sun had set on Christmas Eve, and Lucy’s small flat was dripping with festive cheer. Snuggling under her blanket on the sofa, glass of wine in one hand, slice of pizza in the other, Lucy felt cosy and content as she enjoyed a rare night off. Living in a town where even a studio flat came with a hugely inflated rent meant working every hour possible. However, Lucy had managed to negotiate covering the busy New Year’s Eve shift at the gastro-pub in which she worked in return for her favourite night of the year to herself.
Although she lived alone, apart from her three cats, Lucy Loved Christmas. Not for her the Scrooge style cynicism of those who’d spent the last month declaring how much they hated the festive season – despite the fact they all seemed to enjoy the parties, lovely food and time off work. Lucy saw beyond the mad rush to spend, spend, spend, and the endless television commercials encouraging folk to spend even more.
‘There’ll be no room for us if we get any more furniture,’ Lucy commented to the cats, as yet another television advert urged her to get up bright and early Boxing Day to save 50% on a brand new leather sofa. The cats didn’t reply; they were too busy vying for the prime spot on Lucy’s blanket, having deemed it far too cold outside to patrol the neighbourhood. Besides, they were cats. They couldn’t talk.
To Lucy, Christmas meant fun. It meant excited children with faces all aglow, it meant groups of jovial adults out to party. Christmas decorations sparkled in the town centre, and tree-lights shone into the winter streets from the front windows of homes. She found the festive season beautiful, cheering up what would otherwise be a very dark and dismal month in the Northern Hemisphere.
At some point during the evening Lucy drifted off to sleep, having managed to curl herself in between the comfortable cats. When she woke some time later, the bells of the nearby church were ringing, calling the faithful to midnight mass.
Closer to home came a ringing of a different variety. Could it be the sound of – sleigh bells?
‘Will you please take your foot off my tail!’ Lucy sat bolt upright. The owner of the indignant voice was inside her flat, and she had definitely been alone when she fell asleep – apart from the cats, that is.
‘I do beg your pardon. Not much room for manoeuvre in here I’m afraid. Oh hello, young lady. What did you want for Christmas? Only, you didn’t write…’
‘Didn’t write?’ said Lucy in a weak voice.
‘Lucy won’t want anything,’ interrupted Bessie-Cat, her mouth full of salmon. ‘She’s more the giving type.’
‘Giving’s MY job,’ roared the red-cloaked white-bearded intruder at a volume that would have drowned out Brian Blessed.
‘Who are you?’ asked Lucy weakly, not sure whether she was more disturbed by the speaking cat or the loud and jovial visitor.
‘Don’t ye recognise me? Ye have a little figurine of myself on your side there,’ replied the visitor, studying Lucy’s Father Christmas ornament with interest. ‘Bit unflattering around the old waistline,’ added the visitor, patting his own ample belly, ‘but otherwise not a bad likeness.’
‘You’re Father Christmas?’
The visitor and the cats roared with laughter.
‘By George, I think she’s got it,’ said Mo-Cat.
‘Mo-Cat, what are you eating?’
‘Caviar. It’s simply divine…’
‘Yes. This noisy chap in red here brought it for me. Bessie-Cat’s got salmon, Kenny-Cat’s eating roast chicken. I always did have more refined tastes…’
‘You usually eat cat food,’ said Lucy.
‘Well of course I do. I’m a cat!’
‘Ah, hunting,’ said Mo-Cat wistfully, ‘the sport of Kings.’
‘Delusions of grandeur are not attractive,’ said Bessie-Cat. ‘You’re a moggie, just like Kenny-Cat and me.’
‘Er, what’s a deluge of grandy?’ asked Kenny-Cat, who was not very bright. ‘Can you eat it?’
‘No, pretty boy,’ replied Mo-Cat. ‘She means I’ve got ideas above my station, which is nonsense. I do have…’
‘Persian ancestry, we know,’ interrupted Bessie-Cat, as Lucy and Father Christmas exchanged glances.
‘Squabble, squabble, squabble. They’re worse than the reindeer,’ said Father Christmas, twinkling at Lucy.
‘Yes dear, they’re parked outside. Are you sure you’re alright? You look a little peaky…’
‘Er, why are you saying everyfink wot ‘e says?’ asked Kenny-Cat.
‘She’s in shock, dimwit,’ replied Bessie-Cat. ‘Just eat your chicken.’
‘Er, um, alright then,’ said Kenny-Cat.
‘Now then, young lady, you never answered my question. The cats have their favourite foods. What would you like for Christmas?
‘Some answers, please,’ said Lucy weakly
‘Ho ho ho! Hit me with a question then.’
‘Well … how did you get in?’
‘How did you get into my flat? I have no chimney.’
‘Ho ho ho, ho ho ho. A chimney’s not a prerequisite, you know. It’s Christmas Eve, my big night. I can do anything I want.’
‘Can you make everyone love Christmas then?’ asked Lucy. ‘Because that would be my ideal Christmas present.’
‘Mine too,’ said Father Christmas. Although his remark was wistful, it was still delivered at full volume and with a twinkle.
‘Could you keep the noise down, do you think?’ asked Lucy. ‘It is midnight, and the neighbours are probably trying to…’
‘Ho ho ho,’ bellowed Father Christmas, as the cats writhed on their backs in paroxysms of feline laughter.
‘What’s so funny?’ Lucy was feeling more confused by the second, but the confusion was overlaid with a sense of joy and wonder she hadn’t felt since childhood and she found herself joining in with the infectious laughter.
‘They can’t see me, dear,’ said Father Christmas, ‘so I very much doubt they can hear me. Folk are so wrapped up in the material world nowadays, they miss the sparkle all around them.’
‘So why can I see you?’
‘Why do you think?’
‘Because I love Christmas?’
‘You love the very essence of Christmas. You love the joy and the camaraderie. What are you doing tomorrow?’
‘Serving dinner at the homeless shelter. Those poor people deserve Christmas cheer as much as anyone.’
‘Well there you go, dear,’ said Father Christmas, smiling fondly at Lucy as the cats purred round her ankles. ‘You’ve answered your own question.’
‘The cats aren’t speaking anymore,’ said Lucy, reaching down to stroke Mo-Cat, adding, ‘Persian ancestry indeed.’
Mo-Cat winked, but didn’t reply.
‘That’s because it’s gone midnight,’ replied Father Christmas. ‘Animals only have a small window of loquaciousness at midnight on Christmas Eve, apart from my reindeer who never shut up. It’ll be meow and purr from your fine creatures, until next Christmas Eve…’
‘Wait a moment, you said it’s gone midnight. So now it’s…’
‘Christmas Day,’ Father Christmas said, completing Lucy’s sentence. ‘Merry Christmas Lucy.’