Marion had established the tradition of Christmas at Mount Lœng House, now. Christmas Eve, or the Gallifreyan date closest to it was celebrated with a party to which all of her closest friends among the aristocracy came to dine with the servants of her house as equals, and all received gifts that she had spent a great deal of time and thought on, not to mention quite a bit of money.

That party was fully prepared for. The final preparations were being made in the grand dining hall. The table was beautifully set. The Christmas trees and the silver decorations were magnificent. Outside caterers were taking over the kitchens from the de Lœngbærrow staff in order that they should enjoy a meal they hadn’t had to cook for themselves this one day of the year.

Tomorrow, Christmas Day lunch was going to be a private affair. Marion and Kristoph were entertaining only two people – Argis Mielles and his granddaughter, Rodan. A special stash of presents, including a bicycle with stabilisers were set aside for that occasion, and Marion was looking forward to seeing the little girl open her gifts.

But, as if that wasn’t enough, Marion had organised another party for the afternoon. Kristoph had tried to say that she was already far too busy, but she insisted that she had enough help. A lot of the preparation was done the day before, including the making of two dozen assorted jellies that were the fruit of her last excursion to Liverpool. The Christmas cakes had been made a whole week before. Gallons of strawberry and chocolate ice cream had also been imported from planet Earth to accompany the more traditional Gallifreyan delicacies on the menu.

The ballroom was decked out with paper chains and a fourth Christmas tree to go with the one in the hall and the two in the grand dining room. Kristoph’s TARDIS was placed at one end of the ballroom disguised as a huge, traditional fireplace with a roaring fire in the grate. There was a reason why that had been done, but it wasn’t time for that surprise to be revealed, yet.

The children arrived a little after thirteen o’clock, collected by Gallis Limmon in the hover bus that he used when he brought them to Mount Lœng House for their lessons with Marion. His sister had come along, too. She was intrigued by this foreign custom of Christmas and wanted to see what it was all about.

“It’s the one thing I really miss about Earth,” Marion explained to her. “Christmas is a very special time for people on my planet. Well, most of them, anyway. Or at least in the part I come from. It’s a time when we give instead of taking and we try to appreciate each other better. It’s... all about...”

She showed her guests the nativity set that she had placed on a side table. She gave a short version of the First Christmas story and did her best to explain the importance of that event in the two thousand years that followed. Her explanation only partly worked for two main reasons.

Firstly, two thousand years on Gallifrey was barely a single generation. Events that were distant and mysterious on Earth were hardly even recent history here. So they didn’t understand why it was important that a child had been born in a stable such a short time ago.

Secondly, of course, modern Gallifreyans had no religion as Marion understood it. The nearest thing they had to a God was Rassilon, and he was very much a man, not a deity. He didn’t create Gallifrey. He didn’t even create Gallifreyans. He merely made some of them into Time Lords and gave them the powers they have to use as they saw fit.

And Rassilon had sired twelve sons, none of which were born in a stable.

The religious origins of Christmas were never going to be accepted on Gallifrey. Marion knew she wasn’t supposed to try. It was enough that her friends accepted the Nativity as a charming morality story about good triumphing over evil. And they accepted her foreign tradition of Christmas as a time of joy and friendship and the giving of gifts in token of that friendship.

She looked at the children playing party games. The sort that Marion knew needed a little adaptation when the children were telepathic and telekinetic, too. Hunt the Thimble had to have new rules that prevented the levitation of the thimble from its hiding place. Blind Man’s Buff involved all the other participants gently blocking the second sight of the blindfolded child. Hide and Seek also had to have rules about not using telepathy. On the other hand, some fun new games were invented that utilised their burgeoning skills. They had a very good time seeing who could make their brightly coloured balloon rise to the ceiling of the ballroom fastest using the power of their minds.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, either,” Misha Limmon said as she picked up a bright orange balloon and felt the rubbery texture beneath her fingers. There were literally hundreds of them hanging from the ceiling and the walls of the ballroom and bouncing loose around the floor. Occasionally there would be a bang when one burst but there were plenty more balloons to be had.

“It’s just a balloon,” Marion told her. “Made of a synthetic material that expands when inflated. Caolin and the footmen did wonders yesterday getting them all blown up. I think I have finally seen the advantage of a Gallifreyan respiratory system. They could inflate a whole balloon in one breath.”

“I’m not sure Rassilon envisaged his people’s superiority over other races in quite such terms,” Kristoph said as he came to Marion’s side, smiling warmly. “And I don’t think my great-great-great-great grandfather who had this house built imagined the grand ballroom being put to such purposes as this.” He looked around wryly at the balloons and streamers, at burst balloons and other colourful detritus on the finely laid floor of purple márrág stone, one of the most sought after materials in the twelve galaxies. The floor had been laid six generations ago, and hardly looked worn after all those millennia. It could probably survive this one afternoon of rough treatment. Even so, he thought some of his ancestors might be causing disturbances in the Matrix just now.

“Oooh, I think that was a bad idea,” Marion groaned as the children succeeded in opening up a colourful papier-mâché Christmas star containing sweets and party favours – including plastic whistles, paper horns and poppers. The resulting noise was deafening for several minutes before Kristoph drew his sonic screwdriver from within his robe and turned it to a rarely used setting. The effect was like turning down the volume on the TV. It was clear from the children’s faces that they thought they were still making amazing noises. But the adults were in a blissful bubble of silence.

“We take the name of this device for granted,” Kristoph said, waving the tool in the air. “SONIC screwdriver. It has some interesting effects on SOUND.”

“That was my fault, I’m afraid,” Marion admitted. “I should have saved those for when they went home. Never mind. It is almost time for tea.”

“And almost time for me to play my special role in these proceedings,” Kristoph added. “One which I hope none of my fellow High Councillors will EVER find out about, I might add.” He kissed his wife on the cheek and left the ballroom. She clapped her hands to attract the attention of the children as two of the footmen took the cover off the long table at the far end of the room. Caolin, the butler, took charge of the sparkling crystal fountain where fruit punch cascaded down into a deep trough and was recycled back to the top again continuously. Thirsty youngsters could help themselves with brightly coloured plastic cups and it never ran dry. The party food on the table showed no sign of running out, either. The children ate their fill, fascinated by the concept of sausage rolls, vol au vents filled with salmon paste, tiny triangular sandwiches and other treats, as well as the jellies and rich Christmas cake that was on offer.

When they were full of food, Marion invited them all to sit on the márrág stone floor. Márrág stone had the unique property of being warm to the touch, so it was comfortable to do so. They sat in a ring with Marion and the other adults and sang Christmas songs that they had learnt in the weeks leading up to the party. The grand ballroom of Mount Lœng House on the Southern Plain of Gallifrey rang with the sound of ‘Jingle Bells’ and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” “Chestnuts Roasting”, “Winter Wonderland” and a favourite among the little ones, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”.

The strains of the last song were dying away when something began to happen to the fireplace at the far end of the ballroom. First, the fire roared up higher than ever, then it died down and went out. A shower of soot dropped from the chimney, and then a figure dressed in a red velvet suit who carried a bulging sack with him,. There was a collective gasp from the children. They had been singing about a man called Santa Claus and there he was, stepping out of the fireplace swinging his sack upon his back.

“Ho ho ho,” he said. “Are these all good children I see here?”

“They are,” Marion replied since the children seemed to have been rendered speechless temporarily. “They have all been very good. They learn their lessons well in school and do as their parents tell them at home.”

Then let them come and receive their presents from Santa,” he said. Marion brought a chair for him to sit upon and he opened his sack. He picked out a brightly coloured parcel and called out a name.

“Marla Soren,” he said. The dark haired child hiccupped in surprise and stood up nervously. She stepped towards the broad-shouldered stranger with the huge white beard and red hood. She looked at his twinkling brown eyes and gave a little sigh. Then she stepped forward and took the parcel he held out to her.

“Thank you, sir,” she said in a small, quiet, overwhelmed voice. She went back to her place, clutching the parcel. Santa called another name. Callum Grieves stood and went up to the fascinating but rather daunting figure and accepted a present from him. One by one each of the children were rewarded. Those still waiting looked anxiously at the sack, wondering if there would be enough presents for them all. Would anyone be missed out? Who would be called last?

Lorris Canno was the last. The boy was almost grief-stricken, wondering if he would be left without a present. The sack was looking decidedly empty, now.

“You’ve been a good boy?” Santa asked him.

“Yes, sir,” the boy answered. “Except... once... sir... I threw a ball... and it went through a window... and it went into his Lordship’s study... His Excellency... the President. He doesn’t know it was me. I was too scared... But... sir... I am sorry about it. Please, tell him I’m sorry. Even if...”

Santa reached into his sack and pulled out a parcel that looked too big to have been contained within it. He pressed it into Lorris’s trembling hands.

“You’re forgiven, child,” Santa told him. “Go and open your present with your friends. And don’t worry about windows. Merry Christmas, Lorris.”

“Merry Christmas to you, sir,” the boy said. He clutched his present and walked back to his place on shaking feet. Santa stood and looked at them all.

“I have to be on my way now,” he said. “But may I hear another fine song from you as I go?”

Marion led them in another chorus of ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ as Santa returned to the fireplace. Once he had ascended the fire sprang up again and burned merrily. The children watched it for a little while before settling down to open their presents.

A few minutes later, Kristoph returned to the party. The children, forgetting in their excitement, to remember that he was the Lord High President, called out to him that he had missed the visit of Santa Claus.

“Did I, indeed?” he replied with a twinkle in his brown eyes. “But I see he brought presents for you all. That is a very fine doll, Rowetta. And what have you got, Lorris?”

“It’s...” The boy looked at the box inside his package curiously. “I’m... not sure, sir,” he answered. “I think...”

“It’s a train set,” Kristoph told him. “A model of a train line with locomotives to travel on it. Just like the trip you went on a few months ago.”

The concept was unknown to the boy. Kristoph knelt on the floor with him and helped him to lay out the pieces of track. Around him, budding young architects built castles of Lego and future engineers began to assemble bridges of Meccano, a zoo of finely made miniature animals was opened for business and little mothers had tea parties with new dolls and toy tea sets.

Marion sat with Misha Limmon and enjoyed a glass of orange juice while Gallis came and joined Kristoph and Lorris with the model railway.

“I almost didn’t recognise him dressed in that costume,” Misha said. “Our Lord High President entertaining Caretaker children.”

“I don’t imagine it has happened before,” Marion agreed. “But perhaps... I know I can’t introduce the religious meaning of Christmas to Gallifrey. I know I shouldn’t even try. But it would be nice if the idea of gift giving and making other people happy could continue.”

“Perhaps it will,” Mishe assured her.

Kristoph looked up from the first successful circuit of the miniature rail track of a small locomotive pulling four carriages and a guards van. He heard what Marion and said. He tried not to be sad on a happy occasion like this.

He knew that Christmas was not going to become a tradition of Gallifreyan life. It would be one in the de Lœngbærrow House so long as Marion was mistress of it. But there would come a time, sooner than he would like, when she would not be there.

He knew the spirit of Christmas on Gallifrey would die with her.

Then he shook off those premonitions and gave his attention to the little steam train that brought a smile to the face of young Lorris and made him forget that he was in the company of the Lord High President, whose study he had once violated with a small red rubber ball. The spirit of Christmas existed on Gallifrey at this time, at least. And he was determined to make the most of it.