Christmas morning brought two teenage girls leaping onto Matt and Crystal's bed; the twins had made their ritual of excitability a Christmas Day tradition since they were very young. Crystal was glad to see that Matt, who was up every other morning well before dawn, was still in bed and had even feigned sleep for the girls' benefit.
"Mmm, good morning, girls," he said, sitting up. "Why so excited?"
"It's Christmas Day, Dad!" Heidi said, completing the ritual. "This is going to be the best Christmas ever."
"Is it? Did you guys fly the thrakkoni to raid a shopping center when I wasn't watching?"
"Dad, that's not what Christmas is about," Linda chimed in, disapproval plain on her face. "I mean, we did, but it was only for wrapping supplies. You had nothing for wrapping gifts here. Some of the committee wanted to raid the library for paper, but Natalia stopped them."
"Good for Natalia. So, if you didn't fly away to get gifts, what did you use?"
"You'll see. C'mon, get dressed! Let's get downstairs!" Linda scampered out, followed closely by Heidi, leaving the adults in peace to get dressed.
The family arrived in the grand hall to find all of the humans milling around the huge tree that RJ's group had brought in. The Crystal-angel's head nearly brushed the projection of the sky, and from the top down hung dozens of yards of garland made from popcorn and berries. Ribbons and painted balls were wired to the branches, and Crystal was proud of her experimental magical efforts that had paid off with hundreds of tiny flickering lights set in the boughs. Under the tree were piled colorfully-wrapped boxes, all the same shape and size.
"Not bad," Matt said, nodding his head in approval.
Krista looked up from the ground floor to see the family standing at the railing above. She clapped her hands twice, quieting the crowd. As people turned to face the tree, she began to sing, "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful." Other voices joined. Soon the entire population was meshed in song, and Crystal was glad to hear Matt's baritone enter the mix.
Singing done, the girls skipped down to join the rest of the people in searching through the boxes under the tree. Crystal and Matt followed and stood near the group of mages, watching the sorting process. Soon everyone had a box labeled with his or her name, and on cue they opened them.
"Pine cones?" Matt asked Krista.
"We gathered them," Krista said. "Each of us picked one person to exchange a gift with, and then we found a pine cone in the woods, decorated it with paint and glitter, and wrote one special wish for the coming year on the bottom. It's better than a bauble bought at Walmart, don't you think?"
"Absolutely, I do. It's quite a bit better. But where did you get all the glitter?"
"We caught a pixie in the Forbidden Forest and shook her upside down till we got enough."
"Huh," Matt chortled, his mirth building into a full belly laugh. "Well played, dear."
"Sorscha and Breenda helped us go liberate some decorating stuff from the remains of a couple of stores back home. The survivors had already ransacked the food supplies, but I guess we were the only ones to see the usefulness of glitter and shiny paper."
Matt gazed around at the joyful conversations filling the main hall as people showed off their gifts. "Impressive. Very well done, in fact," he said. "And now, I have a surprise."
The huge oak doors leading in to the grand hall opened suddenly, and a mountain of a man dressed as Santa Claus walked in. "Ho ho ho!" he said, his magically-enhanced voice booming.
"Santa?" Krista and Phoenix both looked sideways at Matt, voices sardonic.
Matt shrugged. "What's Christmas without Santa Claus? We've gained a few smaller children this year as we've rescued survivors of the cataclysm, so it seemed important. Besides, he wanted to join us."
Crystal recognized the figure and chuckled. "Wasn't the Norse version called Sinterklaas, or something like that?" She strode over to the man and hugged him.
"I take it Crystal knows who that is," Phoenix said.
"Correct. That's actually Thor under the red suit and beard," Matt said. Birch, the Norse mythology expert, gasped.
"And here come Thor's--or, more accurately, Valhalla's--thrakkoni. Aren't they more attractive than standard reindeer?" Matt continued, pointing outside to where creatures with the bodies of winged horses and the chest and heads of women were landing. Off each one's back leaped a fur-clad human warrior, and then the thrakkoni transformed into humanoid shapes.
"Those--those are Valkyrie, aren't they?" Birch breathed. He looked at Matt, eyes wide. When Matt nodded, Birch said, "They're gorgeous."
"Indeed," Thor said, smiling as he walked up. "Under normal conditions they're as dangerous as they are beautiful, but there'll be no fighting today. I've brought my crew over from Valhalla to share the day. Matt, didn't you say something about a feast? I'm starved."
Matt, the god of war, jovially made a show of sizing Thor up. "Well," he said, "there goes one cow. I hope my thrakkoni have made enough food."
"When have they not?"
"Good point. Let's go eat."
The two gods led the crowd into the dining hall for a holiday feast.
Hope you enjoyed this hastily-put-together story. Also, I hope you all have a joyous and merry holiday season, no matter what you call it, and no matter how many or how few Walmart baubles you receive. A well-done gift of love, hope, and joy is, to my opinion, worth more than all of the NinjaKitchen 1000's that will fit under a tree.