The Christmas Button (original 2016 version)
This is an updated version of a story previously published on Googirl dot love, my former blog. This was first published August 27th, 2016. All rights reserved, Margaret Gel, 2016-2022, into perpetuity.
The Christmas Button was always a big affair, even before it was a button. Years ago, it was a magical lever, built out of the heart of some giant tree. You look at it now, and, if you’ve never seen it, the first question people ask is always: Does pressing this button make it Christmas?
Why, yes. Yes it does. And that’s why it’s so securely guarded. Right now, it sits in an undisclosed location— but we know it has to be around. Some of the other elves think it’s in Santa’s room, where we all fear to go— for whatever reason. The big man is kind and jolly, and his heart is a mile wide, but, in the back of all our heads, we’re kind of scared. And not scared of him, but rather— of disappointing him. So when he says, “Don’t go looking for the button— it’s too dangerous for you little ones,” it’s not like anyone disobeys. We daren’t go look for it, if only because we don’t ever want to see his smile turn to a frown, especially at us.
Still, we wonder. Where is it when it’s not on the pedestal? How does he— or whoever has it— make sure that it doesn’t get accidentally pressed? And why’s it built into a Macbook, of all things? Isn’t that terribly unsecured?
Every year, a new elf gets to press the button. I say a “new” elf, because it’s always a different one. It works like this: a week before Christmas, we have a big raffle— or should I say, a lottery. You get your ticket; it has numbers on it; and you sit in the big dining hall on the first floor, as the lottery contraption that they’ve placed right in front of the fireplace bobbles around, with a bunch of different capsules in it. It’s a bit like musical chairs, only done in a 3D space, and there’s only one chair. So maybe not like musical chairs at all, really.
The elf who gets picked, goes away. We don’t know where, but we figure it’s somewhere underneath or otherwise near the boiler room. Perhaps there’s a secret passage; perhaps it’s some sort of magic. The only magic we know has to do more with frosting cookies and making people happy, than it does, you know, violating the space-time continuum at whim. But the big man proabbly knows some tricks. He made reindeer fly, after all… or he at least knew some people who knew how to do that.
When you’re picked, you come back in a new set of clothes. They’ve always looked weird to me: as though they dress the girl or guy up as though they’re a human. Like it’s a disguise or something.
Over the last 400 years, the disguises have changed. Last year, it was a suit, like normal for the past few decades; one year long ago, it was some sort of suit for going into outer space. A few times, I’ve seen uniforms with big red plus signs on the front. I don’t know what those are, and neither do the people who are given them. The symbols change from year-to-year; I used to see symbols for peace in different cultures, until one day, that just stopped. I don’t know why.
You’re supposedly told protocol and other things, but you get in trouble for telling others what you’ve been told in private. I always try to ask what they’re told, but that’s a good way to get into ‘trouble’. The big man doesn’t do anything to you, but, he’s like our dad, sometimes. If you ask me, I think he’s protecting us from something, but what could that be? The world is a nice place, isn’t it?
Every year, on Christmas eve, at 11pm, we all gather in the sun room— the biggest, youngest, strongest elves are picked and told to move all the plants out first— and we wait. Mrs. Claus comes and reads from some book she won’t let us touch, and, when she’s done saying words none of us understand, the chosen elf is called up, the laptop is brought up, faced where only Mrs. Claus and the elf can see it, and, after a few more words, the elf presses it.
Somehow, someway, pressing the button brings forth Christmas. There’s a bright light in the sky, like the sun is out at midnight, but I’ve seen it even when both the sun and the moon were out.
Suddenly, the light bursts— pops like an overfilled balloon– and it flows across the world like a great tidal wave. It flows through you, and that’s when you feel it: the Christmas spirit.
I’m not sure what it does, exactly. It makes you feel good; it brings out the best in you. But how? I couldn’t tell you.
After that, the friends and family of the elf gather in the dining hall, alone; no one who isn’t close to them is let in. What they talk about in there, we’re not supposed to know; what they talk about in there, you’re sworn to secrecy about. But I have good long ears, and I’ve overheard a few things.
There’s talk of leaving. The parents seem to be in on it with the big guy himself: they seem to know what’s going on, but they never tell anyone. The mothers don’t think the lottery is truly random: that maybe he just calls whoever he thinks is the ‘best fit’ for a ‘mission’ of some sort.
A few of them curse him. I’m not sure why.
Afterwards, the mothers are usually crying. A few of the supervisors tried to say that it was because they were “so happy” that their little one was chosen, but the fathers’ faces tells a different story. The mothers are sad; the fathers are stoic. There is pain there, but I don’t know why.
We asked Santa, once. A few of us. We asked him where one of our friends went; why they were wearing a weird uniform with peace symbols on it; what the world was like, outside. His smile dimmed, and he told us about his philosophy: that he felt the world could be made into a better place, if you only tried. And then he said nothing more, and turned away.
The closest I’ve ever seen him to getting angry was when children here would talk about wanting to be chosen. I don’t know why that is, either.
After the family and friends speak to the chosen elf, she or he are escorted to the door by Mr. and Mrs. Santa. One of them, or sometimes both, give(s) the elf something, usually wrapped in a shroud. Sometimes, it’s not that hidden: Santa showed us entire packets of pills that the elf was supposed to deliver. To who, I do not know.
I say usually that it’s hidden, because the one time something fell out of its shroud, it was apparently not supposed to be seen: that’s the second closest I’ve seen Santa to getting upset. Apparently, it was some sort of prototype handheld sewing thing that he didn’t want us to see until he had perfected it: the chosen elf was to test it in secret. I guess he never perfected it: I never saw it again.
I did manage to get one of its cartridges; though I can’t open it. It’s made of metal and seems to be welded shut all around, and so smooth that you can’t get your fingernails into the grooves where it opens. It looks a bit like a medicine capsule made out of metal.
Usually, Santa speaks to them one last time; sometimes, Mrs. Claus does. The words vary, but I remember a few in particular:
“You, like others before you, have been entrusted with showing humanity the spirit, the meaning, of Christmas. Go forth now, and let humanity know the goodness of their own hearts better.” I don’t know what that last part means.
Usually, if Mrs. Santa speaks, she tells the elf to be careful. Of what, I wonder? Isn’t the world a nice place?
The big front doors open, and the chosen elf leaves. Where they go, none of us know, and the big guy won’t tell you.
All I know is, they never come back.
— Merryweather, December 24th, 1998
The characters Hwinnien and Merryweather are mine.
Stay tuned, and wait warmly, for the update to this story.
It will formally mark the start of the Margaret Gel Cinematic Universe.