Ana’s boots slurped on the slushy sidewalk as she hurried to school, hugging a large paper bag against her coat. Her brown eyes were calm, but inside she was excited. Today her class was filling the Christmas box.
Ahead, waiting for her under the usual tree were Lem and Kyle. Pulling her coat around the bag, she lowered her eyes and kept walking. Whump! The expected snowball hit her arm. Splat! Another exploded on her shoulder.
“Tell the teacher,” Lem taunted.
Kyle threw another snowball, brushing her long dark hair and just missing her ear.
They knew she wouldn’t tell. Talking wasn’t one of her favorite things—not at school. At home Ana talked in a whirl of words that rolled off her tongue and spilled into the happy, noisy world of her family. But that was Spanish. The English they expected at school just refused to come out. For months she had attended this new school in near silence. A few snowballs wouldn’t make her talk now.
Entering the school yard, Ana opened the sack and took a last peek at her gift for the box. It was beautiful! She smiled, knowing how wonderful it would make someone feel. Two years ago, when her family had first moved from Mexico, someone had left a Christmas box on their doorstep. In it were oranges; a ham; hot chocolate mix; chewy caramels; and soft, white mountains of divinity, which melted into nothing on the tongue. Six homemade Christmas socks, one for each family member, were filled with surprises. And now she could share the same thrill with someone else.
Standing in the classroom door, Ana watched Mrs. Manning set a large, brightly wrapped box on the desk. Entering eagerly, Ana hung up her coat and pulled off her boots. She was sitting on a footstool, tying her tennis shoes, when Mrs. Manning said, “Everyone who has gifts for the box can bring them up now.”
Ana turned to watch as the others carried up their gifts. Elizabeth had a can of tuna; Marc, two cans of chicken noodle soup. Lorene brought a puzzle she had received on her birthday. “Only one piece is missing,” she said. Jean had some candy canes; Eric, a box of stuffing; and Neil, an obviously used stuffed animal. Most of the kids hadn’t brought anything. Ana’s eyes lost their sparkle.
Then Lem and Kyle went to the front of the class. Lem was flexing his arm muscles. “Look what we got for the basket,” Kyle shouted, commanding everyone’s attention. Opening his backpack, he unloaded a number of cans onto the desk. He barked like a circus announcer: “Spinach, lima beans, brussels sprouts, rutabagas, and parsnips. We cleaned out the cupboards of all the vegetables we can’t stand!”
Ana tried to imagine a family finding this box on their porch. She could picture the children pulling out can after can of vegetables and later putting the puzzle together to find a piece missing. It was wrong!
She jerked her shoelace and tied it too tight. She had spent a whole Saturday and four afternoons carefully layering papier mâché, paint, and finally crepe paper. They’ve never had a Christmas box, she decided.
“Ana, do you have something for the box in your bag?” Mrs. Manning asked.
Ana nodded and carried it up to the desk. Twenty-seven curious faces turned to see what she had brought. They were quiet as she gently tugged a star-shaped piñata from the bag. Then everyone was wowing and oohing and talking to each other.
“It’s beautiful, Ana!” Mrs. Manning exclaimed.
Ana had thought that she would feel proud and happy when the class saw her piñata. She didn’t. Instead, warm tears slid down her cheeks. She hadn’t cried when they moved here, even though it was her third new school in two years. She hadn’t cried when no one spoke Spanish, or when they laughed at her English, or when she decided not to try to be friendly with them anymore. But now the tears came.
Words came too. She tried to push them back, but they were too strong. “I made it,” she said clearly.
The class was instantly silent. Ana could talk!
“We come from Mexico. The first Christmas in our new country … , we are very sad. Then a box—a Christmas box—was left at our house. The note says, ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Country, from your secret friend.’ ‘Thank you,’ we shout to the night. ‘Thank you.’”
Mrs. Manning hugged Ana close, and everyone started clapping. A few kids chanted, “Ana talked! Ana talked! Ana talked!”
Ana brushed the tear tracks away and placed her piñata in the box with the vegetables.
Lorene raised her hand. “Mrs. Manning, could I take the puzzle home and bring something else tomorrow?”
“Me, too,” Marc said. “I think I can do better than soup.” A half dozen voices joined in, and heads nodded agreement.
“OK, class,” Mrs. Manning said. “We’ll keep the box here for another day. Anyway, I wanted to bake some cookies for it and didn’t get them done.”
Ana wore her boots home and carried her tennis shoes in the brown sack, even though the sun had dried the sidewalk and reduced snowmen to crusty mounds. Lem and Kyle were waiting as she, Jean, and Lorene passed the tree. Ana, laughing and talking so fast that her language mixed into “Spanglish,” was explaining how to make a piñata. The boys scraped some snow from under bushes to throw at them, but the giggling girls ran off together.