For your reading enjoyment, a playfully delicious Christmas story. It is best suited for elementary-aged children, read as a bedtime story over two or three nights.
Merry Christmas to All!
For my nephews and nieces
Once upon a gingerbread kingdom there reigned a cookie prince and princess named Reese and Taffyta. On the outside, the children were perfect. They smelled of allspice and nutmeg and wore royal piping on both their front and back. But on the inside, their hearts were as spoiled as moldy cottage cheese.
They lived in a majestic, seven-story gingerbread castle made of delectable treats from around the world. It had stroopwaffle walls from Holland, toffee shortbread floors from Scotland, caramel chandeliers from Brazil, dark chocolate turrets from Belgium, and almond amaretti flying buttresses from Italy. The children often sneered down from their lofty towers at the dinky huts below and said:
“We two are far, far better than they!
Yes, you and I, they must obey!
We matter most; we are the best.
We’re more important than the rest!”
The spoiled royals would slide across the throne room floor, yodeling like hooligans. They made faces at the courtiers, climbed the fruit leather curtains, and splattered passersby with icing.
In the village, they jeered at their subject’s bulbous heads, sloppy icing, and toppling Tannenbaums. But those they ridiculed most were the houses and cookies that came pre-baked.
“Brittle Biscuit! Gloop Glob! Sham-Shack!” They shouted as they capered through the city drifts of whipped coconut cream snow.
The day before Christmas, they found a new house had been built on Candy Cane Lane. It had a pretzel lattice blooming with marzipan roses and a green apple licorice lawn. The gingerbread house was not at all grand like their castle, but its pistachio-lined roof and jawbreaker bushes were exceptionally neat and tidy.
‘Someone new to boss and tease!’ thought Taffyta and Reese, and they pounded on its front door.
Nobody answered so the nosy prince and princess snuck around the house, climbing over the raspberry bushes. What should they discover in the backyard but the two most misshapen creatures in all of Gingerbread Kingdom.
A hunchback hag with warts and a beaky nose stood beside a massive green monster. It lay on its belly, a red twizzle fringe sticking out of its oozy back. The marshmallows that made up its body were coming unglued and toppling to the grass. The ugly crone picked them up one by one, slathered them with vanilla bean icing, and smacked them back in place.
“Ewwww!” whined Taffyta.
Reese said, “What is that thing?”
The hag turned sharply, her voice crackling like cellophane, “Watch your tongues! Victor is a valiant dragon from the wilds of Serbia! Why, at full health, he can breathe a blaze hotter than cinnamon fire candy!”
Reese stuck out his tongue, and Taffyta said, “That thing doesn’t even look like a dragon.”
“More like a fat gummy frog,” Reese snorted.
Taffyta sniggered, “One that’s melting!”
“What vile children!” Croaked the crone, “You ought to be punished.”
“You can’t talk like that to us,” Reese puffed his cookie chest. “We are royalty.”
“Yeah,” said his sister. “You should kneel to us, you crumbly old bitty.”
The hag blustered, looming over them with her stinking breath “Of all the impudent whippersnappers I’ve ever met, you two take the cake! I shall punish you myself!”
The sky darkened in a swirl of purple cotton candy clouds that reeked of singed caramel.
The hag threw back her head and crowed: “I invoke the Curse of the Loathsome Christmas. May all their dreams fall flat as flapjacks and all their sweeties sour; their only gifts be school books, tidy whities, and coal. May aunts pinch their cheeks, the wassail be only for grownups, and their only dessert FRUITCAKE.”
Taffyta screamed. Reese backed away. “You—you can’t do that! You’re making it up!”
“I can, and I did,” the crone lifted her crooked nose smugly. “And I won’t lift it, unless…”
“Unless what?” Demanded the prince.
“The two of you do something truly selfless before the Christmas star rises on Christmas Eve.” The hag pointed a nobby finger to the sky and cackled. When her laughter died, she sniffed, having finished with them, and returned to tending the dragon.
Reese and Taffyta sprinted pell-mell all the way home to their pretty palace, and collapsed in the safety of their nursery fort.
Taffyta panted, “That witch can’t really curse our Christmas. Can she, Reese?”
“I don’t… think so?”
“But, but what if she can?” The princess nibbled the edge of her raspberry fondant skirt. “How awful! I detest fruitcake!”
Reese made a face. “Me too, and I really want that peanut brittle bike for Christmas, not some stupid underwear!”
“Maybe…” said Taffyta, “we should do something nice, just in case.”
Reese scowled, thought a minute, then nodded. “Better to be sure, I guess.”
So for the first time in their cookie lives, the prince and prince set out to do a good deed. And what place always had work that needed doing? Why, the palace kitchens, of course! The royal elf bakers worked night and day, kneading, folding, chilling, shaping, and baking the most delicately delicious decorations and furniture for the castle: petit four footstools, candy orange festoons, and gigantic croquembouche Christmas trees.
Down to the kitchens went Taffyta and Reese.
As they burst through the swinging kitchen doors, a puff of toasty, gingery air greeted them. All around the room, a dozen gingerbread bakers created sheet upon sheet of Christmassy treats, busy as Santa’s elves on Christmas Eve.
Taffyta snatched a long spoon from an assistant. “I’m helping you!”
“Oh no, you don’t!” The gigantic master chef cookie lumbered over and wrenched the spoon out Taffyta’s hands. “What are you two troublemakers doing down here in MY kitchen?”
Reese snatched at the spoon, but the chef held it high over his head. “It’s not your kitchen; it’s ours! We’re the prince and princess! If we want to help, you can’t stop us!”
Reese scrambled atop a stool, lept, and caught hold of the spoon’s handle. The big bearded chef did not let go. Taffyta grabbed Reese’s foot and pulled. They tugged and yanked and heaved, but the chef whipped them around as if they were airy meringues. Their legs clattered pots and kicked a puffy white hat right off an assistant’s head. The chef gave a fierce jerk. Reese lost his grip, and he and Taffyta flew across the kitchen!
The children smashed a shelf, which knocked an elf, who dropped a pan, that rolled like a can, and tipped a broom, which fell to its doom, straight into the fire.
The broom caught flame like a bundle of matchsticks, and before anyone could blink, so had a bag of flour, a rack of towels and aprons, a bottle of cream liquor, and three batches of macarons. Taffyta and Reese rushed to put out the fire, but in their hurry, they tipped a cauldron of molten caramel. The hot gooey liquid flooded the kitchen.
Chef lept onto a counter and bellowed, “You’ll pay for this, you naughty biscuits!” as Reese and Taffyta sprinted out his kitchen door.
Singed and sticky, the spoiled royals scurried out of the castle.
“Awful, awful, awful!” Declared Taffyta.
Reese shoved her into a powdered sugar drift. “It’s all your fault!”
“No, it wasn’t! It was you.” Taffyta pelted his head with a marshmallow snowball and moaned. “We’re still cursed for sure. What do we do?”
They crossed the strawberry-wafer drawbridge into the village, and Reese said. “Do you remember that gingerbread clock with cogs all turning together? All the bakers kinda worked together like that. They didn’t really need help. Like when I threw in a jawbreaker into the clockwork, and it broke.”
“Hmm.” Said Taffyta. “So we need to find someone who needs help?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
The two followed the lane past the Christmas chew-chew train tracks to the wishing well, where three sugar cookie kids, smaller than Reese and Taffyta, clustered around its choco-rock base, trying in vain to draw a bucket of chocolate milk from its depths.
The brother and sister sneered at the sugar cookies. Their icing was sloppy, and one of them looked like someone had dropped a whole bottle of sprinkles on his head. But then Reese thought about unwrapping school books on Christmas morning and wrenched the licorice rope from sugar-boy’s hands.
“I’ll do it!” Reese insisted.
“No!” Squealed Taffyta, who hated getting her cheeks pinched by Aunties. “I wanna do it!” She tried to take the rope from her brother, but he wouldn’t give it up. They fussed and elbowed each other’s tummies, tugging the rope as hard and fast as they could.
The bucket reached the top with a slosh as Reese and Taffyta wrestled to be the one to give it to the sugar cookie kids. Taffyta tried to trip Reese, and Reese pulled Taffyta’s hair. They stumbled on a step and spilled the entire bucket of chocolate milk all over the sugar cookie kids.
What happens when you dip a cookie too long in milk?
“We’re melting!” They wailed.
“Oops,” said Reese and Taffyta.
A group of villagers rushed over, and Pirouette, a French ballerina exclaimed, “Zut alors! What has happened?”
The dissolving cookies pled, “Help us!”
“Quick!” Said Artie-Smartie. “Get them over to Brown Sugar Beach where they can dry out!”
Tommy Turtle toted one, Caramelita, a flamenco dancer, dragged another, and Lord Kit-a-Kat snatched up the third. They rushed the crumbling children to the seashore, where a hot sun shone.
Taffyta and Reese joined the crowd that gathered around the cinnamon stick hut. Lord Kit-a-Kat paced a circle around the royal children, staring them down through his monocle.
“I know you two arrre to blame. Why do such a terrrrible thing?”
“We were only trying to help!” Reese crossed his arms.
Artie Smartie pushed up his glasses. “By trying to melt them?”
Taffyta squeaked. “We didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” She sat on a madeleine seashell next to one sugar cookie girl named Splenda. Her noggin was disintegrating, and Taffyta tried to cover the gap with bits of pink fondant from her skirt.
“Thank you,” sniffled the sugar(free) cookie girl.
“Por que? Why?” Caramelita asked, click-clacking hard candies between her fingers as she talked. “Why rotten little cookies like you suddenly try to be nice?”
“Don’t be mean, Caramelita,” said Tommy Turtle, slowly. “It’s just Christmas spirit.” He shrank into his shell. “Isn’t?”
Reese rubbed his chin, connivingly, “Yes, that’s it. Christmas spirit!”
“If that is trrrue,” said Lord Kit-a-Kat, licking his paw, “The trrree lot could surrrely use some aid. The tall trrrees are toppling terrrribly.”
CrAcK! The sound echoed across the candy kingdom, followed by a bugle call. Everybody on the beach hurried through the streets to see what had happened. The bugalist stood at the gate to Tannenbaum Town, where the biggest, most beautiful tree had collapsed, smashing the pocky fence into the neighbor’s yard and crushing a hill-house–the only one that hadn’t already caved in.
All of Tannenbaum Town lay in ruins: trees, timber frame cottages, and huge soft bretzel arches. The dozen plum people, who resided there, stood amid the rubble in dismay.
Reese snorted, “What did you stand those trees up with? Buttercream?”
The plum people looked at their clogs sheepishly, and Reese guffawed, “You did! What a bunch of Goobers!”
Taffyta poked his arm, shaking her head emphatically, mouthing the words: Good Deed.
She put on a sugar-sweet smile. “May we help your humble village repair the damage?”
“Right,” said Reese. “Yes, we can fix it! Our royal chef talks about structural integrity all the time, so we are practically experts.”
“Our palace hasn’t lost a single turret,” Taffyta boasted, bobbling her head.
The plum people rolled their eyes, but their short, curly-haired friends across the way were shaking their fists at them. They swallowed their pride and grumbled, “Danke schön. Thanks very much.”
Taffyta clapped her hands for attention. “You, the barefoot peasants in waistcoats, boil some sugar into sticky caramel cement.”
“Everyone else,” ordered Reese, “divide into teams. Search the debris for anything salvageable! That means it can be used again.”
“We know, we know!” Said the candy people.
The prince and princess constantly told the villagers where to go and what to do, but they didn’t lift a finger to help. Nonetheless, due to their guidance, soon all the Tannenbaums stood straight and tall again with gumdrop and sugar pearl ornaments. The cottages, arches, and fences were rebuilt and trimmed with holly berry sprinkles, and next door, the three hill-houses were patchworked together, their rooves propped up with rock candy rods like glittering caves.
“We did it!” Reese and Taffyta hopped giddily.
“Sehr gut!” Thrilled the plum people. “Wunderbar!”
But the underhill folk just wanted to know if it was time to eat.
“Oh, yes,” said Taffyta, sitting primly on a mini Swiss roll. “A nosh would be nice. I’ll take a hot chocolate, extra hot, extra thick, and with extra whipped cream.”
Tommy turtle, who had carted the heaviest loads, started to obey, but Caramelita whirled her red skirt and snip-snapped candies in Taffyta’s face. Click, clack, click. “No more you boss us around while we work, work, work. You should get us hot cocoa. Si.”
“That would be fair,” said Arty Smartie logically, holding his wobbly candy back.
Reese and Taffyta scoffed. They weren’t servants! Especially not to commoners. The weary mob crossed their arms stubbornly.
Taffyta was about to argue about royalty rights and etiquette, but Reese hissed in her ear, “Do you still want that crinkle cookie carriage for Christmas?”
Taffyta shot to her feet. “Hot cocoa, coming right up!”
Brother and sister hurried to heat a vat of deep, dark, fudgy hot chocolate with ingredients from the palace storehouse. While they ladled endless drinks for the workers, Taffyta and Reese chanted under their breath:
“For dollies and baseballs and blocks,
For lollies and footballs and frocks,
We work without pay.
We must find a way
To stop that old curse in its socks.”
Reese and Taffyta had set up a buffet of toppings with whipped cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, peppermint, and cinnamon sticks so they could have their hot chocolate how they wanted it. But everyone else loved it too. Exclamations of YUM and Scrumdiddlyumptious! got the attention of their neighbors and their neighbors’ neighbors. Soon the whole gingerbread kingdom showed up wanting a chocolatey beverage.
It was nice to be wanted, but Reese and Taffyta couldn’t keep up with all the orders! They hardly had time to worry when Pirouette, Arty Smartie, Lord Kit-a-Kat, Caramelita, and even little Splenda stepped in to help them without even being asked. Together, they mixed gallons and gallons of cocoa, enough for everybody to have seconds.
When last of all, Reese and Taffyta finally took a sip, the creamy chocolate tasted ten times more scrumptious because they had worked hard to earn it.
The citizens of Gingerbread Kingdom, with their bellies full and warm, felt holly jolly all over. Artie Smartie took up a candy flute, and everyone started to jig. They twirled and bounced and swung. Before Reese and Taffyta had finished their drinks they were pulled into the dance. At first they resisted and fussed, but soon discovered that organized frolicking was even better than chocolate. They chasséd and doe-si-doed, and everybody’s cheeks turned rosy and bright, and laughter echoed throughout the city.
Reese and Taffyta were flung together as partners, and Taffyta giggled, “This is fun! You know, they aren’t so bad. I almost like some of them.”
“Me too!” Said Reese. “And to think they’re dancing because we made them happy!”
Taffyta span under his arm. “It’s like a magic spell!”
Reese kicked one leg, then the other. “I was thinking what if we did another good deed just to be extra safe?”
Taffyta shrugged. “Why not.”
When everyone was out of breath, and the dancing ceased, Reese asked, “Is there anything else we can do to help?”
Tommy Turtle hid in his shell shyly, and Pirouette indicated his missing pecan tail. “Some of us could use la réparation, le spruce, fixing up.”
Taffyta beamed, “We can do that!”
Before long, a queue had formed, and the royal children were on a roll. Reese shaved down cookies’ humps and lumps and reattached broken tails and limbs with saltwater taffy. Taffyta neatened people’s icing and gave them fancy hairdos, outfits, and accessories.
Pirouette twirled in her new ballet shoes. “Merci, Taffyta.”
“Yes, thank you Reese for gluing my tottering spine!” Said Arty Smartie, “And Taffyta, I love my churro cane! It makes me look distinguished. Don’t you think?”
Splenda hugged Taffyta. She had made her a frilly, feathery hat that hid all that the milk had melted. Splenda was so happy she gave Taffyta her favorite purple gummy bear toy. And Artie gifted Reese a chocolate chess piece he’d carved himself.
Now, the royal children had plenty of games and dolls, but these were the first presents they had ever been given by friends because they wanted to.
The royal children were tired. They weren’t used to hard work, and yet, they were so excited they couldn’t sit still.
“I don’t want to stop!” Taffyta told Reese.
He rubbed his hands together. “Let’s do something special for everyone.”
“Yeah, just because!” Said Reese. “What should we do? What would they like?”
The two put their heads together and came up with a grand idea. They ran back to the castle to ask the master chef for a colossal favor. Before he would give them what they needed, they had to apologize and promise to wash their own dishes from then on! But it was worth it.
With the help of their new friends, Reese and Taffyta melted truckloads of blue isomalt marbles into a huge pond. In three winks, it hardened into a skating rink, big enough for the whole kingdom to enjoy!
The crowd cheered and zoomed out to skate. Around and around they went. They played freeze tag and skated backward. Pirouette taught them how to spin like a top, and Lord Kit-a-Kat led them in singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which they sang faster and faster until no one could fit in all the words. Everyone was as pretty and merry as angels in their best clothes and biggest smiles.
Taffyta caught up with Reese, and they skated a lap arm-in-arm.
Reese admitted, “You know, I thought all the villagers were stupid, but Arty Smartie is a master at all kinds of games: tinsel trouble, bergamot battleship, and others I’ve never even heard of! And did you know Caramelita can speak six languages?”
Taffyta shook her head, eyes wide. “I thought they were all ugly and boring. But all dressed up, Splenda is prettier than French patisserie! And Pirouette knows every ballet Tchaikovsky ever wrote!”
“I guess we were wrong about them, huh?”
Reese and Taffyta skated on finding nice little things to do for others, ways of saying ‘sorry’ for how they had acted been before. They snuck sweets into people’s pockets, helped them up with they fell, and once, during a game of tag, Reese even let Tommy Turtle catch him.
All too soon, night fell, and candy cane candles lit the path home. Taffyta and Reese waved goodbye to their friends and started toward the castle. But when they passed the old hag’s house, they hesitated.
Taffyta bit her lip, “I almost forgot. Do… do you think the curse is lifted?”
“I don’t know.” Reese kicked the powder-puff snow. “Maybe we could ask?”
“Let’s try. I don’t think I could sleep a wink without knowing.”
The prince and princess knocked politely on the witch’s door, but there was no answer. Once again, they skirted the gingerbread house to the backyard. The old crone was not there, but the dragon was, looking worse than ever.
Victor turned sad, droopy eyes on them, and mumbled, “Oh, it’s you.” His head plunked back down as if speaking had taken all his energy.
“Umm,” said Reese. He almost asked where the hag was but instead said, “Are you okay?”
The dragon blinked slowly and croaked, “No.”
“Couldn’t the old woman fix you?” asked Taffyta.
The dragon shook his head, and a marshmallow from his cheek fell off and rolled away. “I do not think I vill last the night.”
“Reese, can’t we help him?”
“I don’t know how. Boiled sugar would melt his mallows to mud. Sugar icing would make him sloppier.” The palace chef would say Victor was poorly designed and that it was hopeless.
Reese knelt by the dragon. “Is there anything we can do?”
Victor shook his sorrowful head; this time his left ear flopped off. “Only stay vith me. I don’t vant to be alone.”
Taffyta’s lip quivered as she sat beside the dragon and patted his hide.
How sad it was that Victor wouldn’t live to see Christmas day. It made the children forget about toys and treats, tinsel and trees. They forgot all their Christmas wishes except one, that the poor sick dragon would be healed.
The royal children had always been too selfish to cry for anyone else. But today, each time they had helped someone, and brought them a smile, their hearts grew bigger and more beautiful.
Saltwater welled in their eyes. They tried to blink it away, but it grew until their eyelids couldn’t hold it any longer. Fat tears tumbled down their cookie faces and landed with a kersplash on the dragon’s nose and neck, spotting his slimy green skin.
But then, those spots began to glow.
Reese and Taffyta wiped their blurry eyes. Yes, the splotches shone white and bright, sparkling and spreading until they covered Victor from horn to hoof in dazzling light. The children stumbled back, shielding their eyes as Victor lifted into the air! His radiance flickered through a blizzard of white snow as he spun in the sky, faster and faster. Then, with a colorful blast like an exploding firework, Victor burst open his wings.
He was magnificent, whole, and strong! His scales shimmered in the light of the moon.
Their wish had come true!
“Compassion looks good on you, Victor, dear.” Came the hag’s husky voice from behind them.
Reese and Taffyta turned. No hag stood on the lawn, but a beautiful lady with holly berry hair, holding an emerald-tipped wand.
“What—Who—How?” stuttered the prince and princess.
“I am the Northern Enchantress of Goodness and Light.” She held out her silvery hand. Reese kissed it, and Taffyta curtsied, stunned silent by her beauty. “You have passed the test, my children. There is not a more selfless way to spend Christmas Eve than by blessing those in need, especially the sad and the sick. Tell me, what have you learned this day?”
Brother and sister thought hard, then Taffyta said, “It is more joyful to give than to keep.”
“I know it’s true, but it seems so silly and backward,” puzzled Reese.
“The last are first, the first are last,” the enchantress riddled, gazing upon the Christmas Star now rising in the east. “Backward, befuddling, but beautiful.” She smiled down on the prince and princess. “You have learned well. A blessing on all your Christmases, now and forever, and may you always hold the memory of this day in your heart.”
“Thank you m’lady. We will! We will!” Cried the children.
Victor the Valiant flew the children home through cotton candy clouds that tasted like spiced pears and honey. The buildings, chimneys, lamposts, and Christmas trees glittered far below them like little toys, and above, the stars twinkled merrily.
Victor landed on the castle’s tallest turret and licked their cheeks. “Do svidaniya. Pleasant dreams, my children.” And with a whoosh of air flapped away.
Reese and Taffyta snuggled into their fluffy beds and slept with smiles on their faces and contentment in their hearts.
They knew that Christmas day would bubble over with joy, whether or not they got all the toys they wanted or all the sweets they could eat, because they would share what they had with their new friends. They would dance and sing and play and be thankful for one another.
And it would be the Merriest Christmas of all.