"No turkey," Susannah said mournfully, looking out of the window at the endless purple prairie. It was raining. A line of fronded mauve fern-trees swayed soggily in the distance.
"Turkey's for Thanksgiving, not Christmas," Curtis said, looking up from the frosting he was piping onto the cookies.
Susannah turned from the window. "Maybe in America. We don't do Thanksgiving -- didn't do it, I mean, in Britain. But it's all so far away now." She sighed. "I knew it would be far away. But I was expecting..."
"We all were," Curtis said, sharply.
"Those are beautiful cookies," Susannah said, taking the hint. "Did you make them, or did Piper?"
"Piper never helps in the kitchen," Curtis said. He smiled. "She lives for her work. My wife and your husband have almost certainly sneaked off to get a little extra work done, even though it's Christmas."
In the study, Piper and James had spread out a satellite map of the planet and were frowning at it. "The coincidence is what's so annoying," James said. "If they had already been here for some time, established, or if we had -- but arriving at the same time! Out of all the universe, we and the Thant had to arrive on New Hope at the same time."
"Or if they'd agree to share," Piper said, gloomily. "I'm not getting anywhere with them. Their language is very hard, but it seemed at the last meeting I had with them that they wouldn't even concede that we were sentient beings."
"I know you've been trying very hard," James said. "We've all had to improvise. Trying to keep the contact as neutral as possible must be difficult."
"Oh yes," Piper agreed. "And I've made a lot of progress on their language, but they won't try to learn English at all, not even a word."
The study door opened to admit Aimee, James and Susannah's daughter, and Boulder, Piper and Custis's son. They were both six years old, both conceived and born on the seven year voyage from Earth to New Hope. "Mom, what do the Thant eat?" Boulder asked.
"Just what we do," Piper said, sighing. "That's why we all want this planet."
"Everything we do?" Aimee asked.
Piper turned from the map and answered seriously, as if she had been asked by an adult. "Well, pretty much. Maybe not the specifics. I don't think they eat meat very much, I haven't identified a word for it. But they eat the same sugars, certainly. They seem to be cultivating the native grain Dr. Gupta has called hope-rice."
"The grain Dad's using for the cookies?" Boulder asked.
"Is he?" Piper turned back to the map.
"Run along and play," James said.
It was the work of an instant to steal a jar of cookies. Getting out of the house in the rain without being seen was harder, but not beyond their ingenuity. "Next year, Christmas on a planet, they kept saying," Boulder reminded Aimee as they trudged across the plain.
The Thant camp was close, barely a kilometre. There was a guard at the gate, strangely shaped, like all Thant, and a tiny bit frightening. "Merry Christmas," Aimee said, and offered him a cookie.
Their parents missed them after a while, and were delighted to see them coming back, huge grins on their faces and with every Thant from the alien camp following them. They were all carrying strangely shaped bulging containers, offering them towards the humans, and chanting. Most were chanting in their own language, but many of them were adding "Merry Christmas!"
Piper's eventual book about human-Thant co-operation and co-settlement of New Hope-Zinthar was called "Gift-Giving: The Universal Trait of Sentients". It was dedicated to Aimee and Boulder.
Last year's Joseph story
2003's Democracy of Saviours odd poem
And from 2002, and still:
And for those for whom Christmas is an alien holiday and just a normal day, merry every day, peace and goodwill and joy and cheer to everyone every day, and hugs to all who are reading this. Every day.
Christmas is just a reminder to say so.