Christmas had never meant a great deal to Jane, but the year she was thirteen it suddenly blossomed with new meaning.

It was their first Christmas at Sunshine - so had Dad named their Lakeside Gardens home after Jane hung gold green curtains in its diamond-paned casement windows, set deep into its grey stone walls. The name suited the house so well, especially when they ate supper in the west-facing dining room, and found themselves flooded in light from the sunset across Lake Ontario. Dad wrote a poem on the sunset, and Jane had it framed in the entrance hallway.

Jane began planning for Christmas months ahead. What fun it was to create their own, new Christmas traditions as a family! Dad and Jane hunted in the ravine for pine boughs to make wreaths for the front door of sunshine. Dad carried home a small Christmas tree which mother and Jane filled with ornaments they bought from Queen Street. Jane asked Phyllis - for Phyllis persisted in being Jane's friend - if she couldn't have their set of NOMA Christmas lights, which she knew lay discarded in the Forest Hill garage. She climbed atop each of the four pine trees and hung them with fairy lights that twinkled against the luminous winter skies.

Dad's publisher sent her an advent calendar, and Jane thought there was no better way in the world than to count down the days by opening the little windows with hidden surprises. They set up a delightful nativity set with figurines whittled out of pine wood by the stone hearth, and Jane waited eagerly for the day they could add Baby Jesus to the manger. Jane had purchased it from a little out-of-the-way craft shop on off Bloor. Jane, who had never prowled around Toronto before when she lived at 60 Gay, was suddenly at liberty to do so and learned to love Toronto with its cosmopolitan fabric and small community boroughs. She loved taking the quaint red-and-white streetcars home from school, where the bus-driver with side whiskers never failed to greet her with, "Hello, russet." She always picked up fresh bread from the Polish bakery near the bus stop for supper, and the buxom Polish lady always added a surprise strudel or baklava to her purchases. She was already good friends with Mrs. Townley's gardener, who was ever watering the dourly lawn when she walked to school and even more dourly when she walked home - until Jane advised him to stop. Jane, whose thumbs were as green as any gardener, frankly informed Jim Flaherty that watering the garden at night was a waste of freshwater and promoted insect growth. So Jim devoted himself to pruning the flowers and shrubs at dusk, until the cool autumn dim faded into winter and he found himself idle. The November morning when he bagged up the last of the crinkling, raked leaves and bundled up brittle, dead branches for disposal, Jane arrested him and demanded his Christmas plans.

"S'pose I'll buy myself some cranberries, and a pie. Can splurge on that much, Miss Jane, before I hole up for the winter." he muttered uncomfortably.

Jane knew that ever since Jim moved out from Saskatchewan, he had lived alone in a shabby little boarding house on Dundas, full of drunken inhabitants and stale restaurant smells. Christmas there! It was a disgrace to the very name of the season. "Come to Sunshine. My Christmas won't be the same without a friend around. We'll be having roast turkey with cranberry stuffing, potato scallops and creamed vegetables. And a flaming plum pudding." Jane had hitherto never made any of these dishes, but the moment she said it, she knew she could.

Then there was the family from her Sunday school class. The first Sunday Jane arrived at St. Vincent's Church, she had gone dutifully to join the girls' sunday school in the basement. The class was disorganized and some of the younger girls were crying in confusion. It turned out that the teacher - the seventeen year old minister's daughter Lori - had taken the train last night to Buffalo to elope. Jane, older than most of the other girls at thirteen years old, and tall for her age, approached frazzled Mrs. Benson: "Won't you let me be their new Sunday School teacher?" She quieted the children by asking them to take courage, and read aloud to them the story of Daniel and the Lion. Then she recounted her own escapade with the circus lion, and when she finished the wide-eyed little girls surrounded this laughing, impressive stranger with curious questions. Very soon they decided she was no longer a stranger, and each went home secretly wishing they had Jane for an older sister.

Reverend Benson asked her one day if her class didn't have any messages for Maybeth Jakab. Seven-year-old Maybeth and her baby brother Terry had been part of her Sunday School class until her mother had to have an operation, and Maybeth was sent to live with a half-blind great-Aunt on the old line road. It was far away to walk to church, but Reverend Benson drove to see them once in a blue moon. Maybeth was lonely for her friends. Reverend Benson thought they could write her letters and Christmas cards to cheer her up.

It was that afternoon at Eaton's when Mother led Jane mysteriously to the children's department. It was festive with music boxes and teddy bears, but Jane was too old for toys, and didn't have any siblings to shop for. She thought of little Maybeth Benson. And then she broached the idea to her Sunday School girls:

"Could you all bring in five cents next week? We'll pool the money, and have an excursion to Eaton's on Saturday. We'll buy gifts for Maybeth and Terry, but we musn't forget her Aunt and mother, too."

They had a delicious afternoon picking out presents for their old friend: a blue sweater with a snowflake pattern, adorable yellow pajamas with purple butterflies printed on the hem - "Maybeth always wanted pajamas and cried because she was the only one in a nightdress when we stayed all night at Carlissa Kyle's last summer" Nellie Moore explained to her - a silk ribbon barette with dangling pearly beads. For Terry they found a few picture books with lovely animal illustrations, a jack in the box with a bobbing orange head, and a stuffed velvet giraffe. They bought lace hankerchiefs for the old Aunt which Jane folded in lavendar from her Lantern Hill garden, and a beautiful soft woolen shawl - between the shades of purple and grey - for the recovering mother. Then they spent the next class wrapping the gifts in foil and tissue paper, and writing christmas messages with colourful crayons. They made a box of ginger cookies, and Jane meant to concoct a fruitcake on Christmas eve to send with Reverend Benson's delivery. Then, as she folded her own red-and-green paper card, she wondered what to write to the little girl she had never seen:

"Dear Marybeth and Terry,

Look for a sleigh with jingling bells in your driveway on Christmas day. Santa has sent it, and it will convoy you to a little stone house called "Sunshine." There, we have prepared a great, big Christmas feast for you, followed by an evening toboganning on the ravine.

Santa's helper,

Jane"

Jane knew just how she would work this Christmas magic. The old whittler, who had made the nativity set, had an ancient cutter in his garden shed that could be oiled and cleaned. The Townleys kept two dappled riding horses. She could get Jim to harness them, and she would tie on them the cowbells Ding-Dong Bell had jokingly sent her for a gift. "I can just picture your face when you pick up this rattling package." he wrote. Jane thought of the bells jingling on the ponies' collars. She had always longed for a sleigh ride like the song:

Dashing through the snow

In a one-horse open sleigh

O'er the hills we go

Laughing all the way.

"I'm going to pray hard that it'll be a white Christmas." she said as she laid out her plans to mother. "We need enough snow to use the cutter."