Editor's note: This part of a continuing, fictional holiday tale that is running daily through Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read along with their children.
It was Christmas Eve. Normally, John Hanson Elementary School would be closed for the holiday break, but since the adults still didn't remember that Christmas existed, all the children had to go to school anyway.
At recess, Phoebe, Brenna, Cate and Cienna gathered at their usual spot on the playground with Tuffy the elf tagging along.
"This may be the last Christmas we ever have," Brenna said gloomily.
"If it is, at least we're celebrating it together," Cienna said.
"I made you guys something," Phoebe said, passing out little packages with her homemade gifts.
"I did, too," Cate said. Brenna and Cienna also had gifts for their friends.
The girls opened their packages and oohed and ahhed over their gifts and exchanged "thank-yous" and hugs.
"If we never have Christmas again, what will you miss the most?" Tuffy asked.
The children were silent for a moment before Phoebe spoke.
"At first, I thought it was just the presents I'd miss," she said. "But that's not what Christmas is really about, is it? It's not the songs or the cookies or the tree, it's how everyone is nicer. We visit with our families and friends and neighbors, and we help people who don't have enough money for food or toys. It's about treating everybody the way we would want to be treated."
Cienna, Cate and Brenna nodded in agreement.
Tuffy looked thoughtful. "I think Santa was right about you," he said. "Well, I'd best be off."
"Where are you going?" Cate asked.
"Back to the North Pole," Tuffy said. "If there's going to be a Christmas tomorrow, Santa will need me. And if not I think I'd rather be with my friends, too."
"Thank you for coming to help us," Phoebe said, hugging the elf.
"Tell Santa we tried our best," Cienna said.
"I don't think you'll need me to tell Santa that for you," Tuffy said mysteriously, and disappeared, just like he'd appeared several days earlier, with a pop.
"That's it, I suppose," Brenna said as they stared for a moment at the spot where Tuffy had been.
"Oh, I hope it was enough!" Phoebe sighed.
That night, as Phoebe got ready for bed, she thought how strange it was that it was Christmas Eve and she didn't have those excited butterflies in her stomach that she usually did. Her mother and father wouldn't read her "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" like they always did, and there were no cookies and milk left out for Santa.
Instead, Phoebe went to bed with a feeling of dread. Would she wake up the next morning and find that they had skipped over Dec. 25 and Christmas no longer existed? Her parents kissed her goodnight and tucked her in, but after they turned off the light and went downstairs, Phoebe tossed and turned. How could she sleep knowing that she might wake up to a world without Christmas?
Late into the night, Phoebe eventually fell asleep, as all over Warren, the clocks ticked closer to midnight and Christmas Day - if there was such a thing.
For the final part of this story, read Tuesday's Tribune Chronicle.