Willow placed the sweet minced fruit pie on the plate then licked the sugar off her fingers. For a moment, she nearly snatched the pie back and put it in her mouth, but then her mother bustled over.
‘And a carrot for Rudolph,’ her mother announced as she placed the bright orange carrot next to the plate.
Willow looked up at her mum and almost asked the question that had popped into her mind.
‘Now, we need a bowl of water and some whisky…’ her mum said suddenly, ‘Will you get the water?’
With a nod, Willow followed her into the kitchen. Her mum got a bowl, filled it with water and handed it to her. Willow carried it carefully back into the living room and placed it on the coffee table next to the carrot.
She stood for a few moments and took the room in. It was heavy decorated with a real pine tree in the corner draped with multi-coloured fairy lights, shinny red and gold balls, red and gold tinsel and atop was a golden star. The mantel had real holly and berries laying across it and stockings hung up above the fire place. From the ceiling, lights and thin plastic shapes hung down.
Willow’s mother came back in with a tumbler glass half full of amber liquid. She placed it next to the plate.
‘All set. Right, it’s time for bed now. Santa will be on his way.’
‘But mum, why do we need to do this?’ Willow finally asked with a wave of her hand at the carrot.
‘Well….I guess…because it’s tradition,’ mum answered.
Willow stared at her waiting for more.
‘I think that Santa and the reindeer get hungry. They are doing a lot of travelling, so they need the energy.’
‘Then why don’t they stop? Or take food with them?’ Willow asked.
‘They can’t stop, they don’t have time. They have to get around the world in a whole night. Maybe though, Mrs. Claus makes them sandwiches,’ mum answered.
‘Do reindeer eat sandwiches?’ Willow wondered out aloud.
‘Also, we are thanking Santa for coming,’ mum added, ‘and it’s a nice thing to do.’
Willow looked at the coffee table, she wasn’t sure she believed in this anymore.
‘Plus, also,’ her mum said quickly, seeing the still puzzled look on her daughter’s face, ‘Santa has been asleep for much of the year and he’s really hungry.’
Willow frowned harder and looked from the food and drink offerings to her mother.
‘It’s bedtime now, sweetie, come on,’ her mum broke in.
Shrugging and deciding to let this conversation drop, Willow let her mum shoo her from the room. Saying goodnight, first to her father who was sat reading a book in his study then her mother, Willow went to her bedroom and lay on her bed pondering about Santa till she fell asleep.
Downstairs, her mother finished off wrapping presents. As she finished putting them in the stockings, her husband appeared in the doorway. He went to the coffee table and picked up the tumbler of whisky.
‘I don’t think we can pull this off next year,’ she said softly, ‘Willow is asking too many questions and not accepting my answers.’
Willow’s father picked up the mince pie and went to his favourite armchair. He sat down and took a bite out of the pie.
‘We’ll have to tell her. She’s grown up so fast,’ Willow’s mother added.
‘Maybe she’ll figure it out. It’s what we did.’
Standing up, Willow’s mother picked up the carrot and began eating it. In her mind, she was trying to figure out the best way to tell her daughter the truth.