Chicoutimi lowered the heat on his stove as the juice boiled over, and Pictou took a good sniff of the fruity and spicy scent. “Mmm, good mulled wine without the alcohol,” he mused, and Chicoutimi decanted the whole saucepan into a glass bottle, sticking one of his handmade labels onto it and tying a tiny price tag around the neck. “This’ll be ten dollars,” said Chicoutimi as Pictou retrieved a ten-dollar bill from his wallet, handing it in to Chicoutimi in exchange for the mulled juice. “Merci,” Chicoutimi thanked him in French, storing the bill inside his cash register. “Merci beaucoup,” Pictou thanked Chicoutimi back, placing the juice inside his hamper, which by now was nearly full up with Christmas dinner essentials, including the stuffed turkey. “Nearly there now,” Pictou smiled, peeking inside his hamper again to revise all his shopping as he, Port Hawkesbury and Stellarton left Chicoutimi’s stall, waving goodbye to him.
At a nearby diner, Calgary, Winnipeg and their parents were sipping on some mugs of hot cocoa to warm their cold lips and hearts. “There, that’s certainly making you better, isn’t it, Winnipeg?” Calgary asked Winnipeg, smiling. “Mmm-hmm,” Winnipeg nodded, taking another sip of cocoa.
Pictou and his parents approached Longueuil, the fruit-candy vendor, for the finishing touch to the Denoons’ Christmas dinner. Only today he didn’t seem to be selling fruit candies. Instead, on his counter lay rows of sparkly Christmas crackers in rainbow hues. “Oh, Christmas crackers!” Pictou exclaimed joyfully, scanning the array of colourful crackers up and down. “Oui, indeed they are,” Longueuil nodded. Pictou picked up one of the crackers and gave it a gentle shake, hearing something rattling inside. “Oh yeah, what’s inside those crackers is obviously a surprise,” Longueuil smiled. “I’ll be having three, please,” Pictou asked politely. “Well, since we’re a family of three, it makes sense,” Port Hawkesbury giggled as Pictou picked a dark green, bright blue and black cracker. “It’s one cent for each cracker, petit monsieur,” Longueuil asked Pictou, “so since you’ve got three there, that comes up to… Three cents.” Pictou fetched three spare cents from his wallet and handed them over to Longueuil, exchanging Pictou’s coins for the crackers he’d chosen. “Merci,” Pictou thanked him in French, promptly storing the crackers inside his hamper, which was now almost filled to the brim. “Merci to you too,” Longueuil thanked him back, and Pictou took one last peek inside his hamper. “Alright, it looks like I’ve got everything for Christmas dinner tonight,” he smiled, and so did Port Hawkesbury and Stellarton, who ticked the final item off Pictou’s shopping list in his notebook. Pictou waved goodbye to Longueuil as he and his parents began to stroll off. “Be seeing you soon again!” Longueuil called out to him, waving both his arms in the air.
At Halifax’s office, the boss switched on his desk microphone. “Will all the party guests please make their way over to the dining table in the middle of the office for the annual Christmas dinner?” he announced. Everyone including Halifax and Lloydminster listened to his voice over the office loudspeakers and promptly began to make their way over to the dining table which the boss had specially set up for the Christmas dinner, chatting to each other jovially. The boss switched the microphone off and left his office to take his place at the table. On seeing him arrive, everybody slowly sat down at the seat which was marked with a place-card personalized with their full name. Halifax and Lloydminster safely stored their suitcases beneath the table and stuffed their phones back into their trenchcoat pockets.
“Of course, every Christmas we have to have a celebratory dinner,” the boss began, laughing. “So as you can all see, I’ve made each of you place-cards personalized with your name. When we’ve eaten up, you can keep them as a memento of this year’s Christmas party.” He then stretched out over the table and lifted the lid off the cloche to reveal a bronze, meaty and juicy turkey garnished with holly leaves and berries. “And of course, what Christmas dinner would be complete without a lovely fresh turkey?” Everyone’s chatting began to pick up with excitement as they lay their hungry eyes on the golden turkey while the boss brought out some Christmas puddings, mince pies and bottles of mulled wine. He poured a little brandy over each of the puddings and set them alight, flambéing the alcohol into a rich, sweet drunken sauce. “And it wouldn’t be a Christmas dinner without some flaming Christmas puddings either!” he guffawed, and everybody else, Halifax and Lloydminster included, laughed out loud at his punning joke. The boss fetched his finest silver steel knife and began to carve the turkey into thick slices, dividing them between each plate. Halifax took up the gravy boat and poured a little sauce over his turkey, tossing in some potatoes and carrots and passing it over to Lloydminster. Once the gravy boat had gone around the whole table, everybody – even the boss – started to happily chew down their Christmas turkey and stuffing. Halifax and Lloydminster decided to drink some decaf hot cocoa with their turkey rather than mulled wine as they always avoided alcohol.
Arriving back at their house, Pictou and his parents started to set out the table for their Christmas dinner. Pictou fetched the turkey from his hamper and placed it in the middle of the table. It was still pleasantly hot because of being wrapped in the foil to keep it out of the bitter cold. Pictou decorated each of the three seats for him and his family with a cracker and a little tinsel around the plates. “I’d better boil the vegetables really quick,” he reminded himself, fetching a bag of mixed vegetables from the freezer and packing them into a saucepan, filling it up with water and setting it on the heat. Pictou retrieved a baking tray from the cupboard and wrapped around it thoroughly with foil, then he fetched a bag of roasting potatoes from the freezer and laid rows of four each across the tray, generously smearing each one with goose fat. “Leave them to roast while I keep a watch on the vegetables,” he told himself, smiling as he salted the boiling vegetables to bring out their flavour.
Calgary, Winnipeg and their parents were still at the fairground, sitting down at a wooden table inside the diner. “I think this is the first time we’ve had Christmas dinner outside our house,” said Calgary, who was looking over at Edmonton and Winnipegosis further out in the market. “Yeah,” Winnipeg agreed, nodding his head a little. Calgary retrieved his tablet from his inside jacket pocket and pressed the camera icon to open the camera. Switching it over to video recording mode, he held his tablet against the window and began to shoot the bustling market and fairground atmosphere against the illuminated city lights. He set the camera into night mode to lighten the image more, making all the minute details stand out from the cold darkness. Calgary slowly turned around to capture the entirety of the fairground and market in a 360-degree fashion.
Just then, Edmonton and Winnipegosis returned carrying a large hamper, rather like Pictou’s. “This’ll be our Christmas dinner for this year,” Winnipegosis told both Calgary and Winnipeg as he lay the hamper down on the table. Calgary stopped filming and put his tablet down beside the hamper while Winnipegosis slowly pulled the blanket back to reveal all the essentials for today’s Christmas dinner, including of course a large, juicy golden turkey with sage and onion stuffing, which they’d bought from Kitchener’s stall at the market. Some members of the diner crew came over to supply them with plates, cutlery and napkins with festive decorations decking the edges. “Thanks,” said Winnipegosis, and he fetched a meat carving knife from the counter to slice the turkey into thick fillets, dividing the steaks between each plate and sprinkling some carrots, roast potatoes and broccoli over. “I’ll have some gravy on mine!” Calgary grinned, picking up the gravy boat and pouring a good helping of gravy over his turkey. “So will I!” said Edmonton hungrily, taking the gravy boat off Calgary and pouring lots of gravy over his whole plate. “Aw, Dad, now you’ve only gone and poured all the gravy over!” Calgary moaned, then he and Edmonton both laughed out loud, bumping each other playfully and tucking in to their Christmas dinners, as did Winnipeg and Winnipegosis.
The oven pinged, signifying that Pictou’s roast potatoes were ready. Protecting his hands with oven-proof gloves, he opened the door and slid the tray outside, placing it on top of the counter and waving at it to cool off the excess heat. The potatoes sizzled with the molten goose fat. Pictou closed the door and switched the oven off, then checked on the vegetables. The saucepan was now boiling over, steam rising into the atmosphere. Pictou turned the heat all the way down until the flames were extinguished and let the pan boil for a few more seconds until the water calmed down. He kept his gloves on as he grabbed tightly onto the handles, taking care not to get scalded by the searing-hot water, and poured the contents into a large ceramic bowl with a colander over the top to catch the vegetables and filter the water out. Pictou overturned the colander, tipping the vegetables into the bowl, and poured the water into the sink.
Pictou fetched the turkey from the table, still hot thanks to the foil, and began to carve it into thick slices. He divided a couple of the slices between each plate, adding an equal amount of potatoes and vegetables and giving them a finishing sprinkle of salt and pepper. “Alright, Christmas dinner’s ready!” he called out, prompting Port Hawkesbury and Stellarton to descend the stairs to the kitchen. “Aw, he made Christmas dinner all by himself,” Port Hawkesbury cooed at Pictou as he lay each of the plates down on the table, pouring a little gravy over. “I think that’s the best present I got this year.” “Aw, thanks so much,” Pictou giggled, stroking his cheek. “Well, now we can enjoy the fruits of your labours, Pictou,” Stellarton smiled. Pictou poured his parents and himself a glass of Chicoutimi’s mulled ‘wine’. “Merry Christmas,” he wished for his parents, clinking his glass against theirs. “Merry Christmas to you too,” they wished him back, clinking their glasses against his.
“Oh, another thing before we eat…” Pictou began, sticking his cracker out to Port Hawkesbury, who grabbed on to the other end. They both tugged as hard as they could until the cracker gave way and burst open, scattering fruit candies across the table. “Oh! So that’s what was inside the crackers!” Pictou gasped in realization, and Stellarton gave him the other end of his cracker, pulling hard again and making more fruit candies scatter across the table. “Oh, lots of candy here,” he said, collecting the candies up into a pile beside his plate, then even more candies sprinkled everywhere. “Oh, even more candy!” Stellarton gasped, adding all the remaining candies to the pile. “I pulled my cracker, that’s why!” Port Hawkesbury giggled, as did Pictou. “Oh vous…” Stellarton mock moaned in French, drooping his hand down slightly, making Port Hawkesbury and Pictou giggle even loudly, and he laughed with them as they began to enjoy Pictou’s festive foodie offerings.