Chapter 12 Summary
Every year, Grandma takes a cruise to the Caribbean around the holidays. She always holds a little going-away party in her cabin on the cruise ship—and this year, for the first time, Margaret’s parents give her permission to go. Her parents bring Grandma a present, a jewelry box so that she can keep her jewels safe during the trip.
Grandma seems to appreciate this gift, and she says that all her jewelry needs to stay safe for Margaret’s sake because someday it will be hers. This annoys Margaret, who does not like it when Grandma talks about dying. But Grandma has her whole death planned out, complete with instructions for her funeral and the care of her grave.
After Grandma’s boat leaves, Margaret’s mother spends a week “frantically busy” writing Christmas cards. These cards—like the family’s annual gift exchange—do not imply a belief in the religion behind Christmas. In Margaret’s words, Christmas cards are her mother’s way of keeping in contact with friends and finding out “who married whom and who had what kids and stuff like that.”
Margaret is curious about the Christmas cards, so one day when she is home sick from school, she looks through the pile of addressed envelopes. In the process, she learns “something really strange.” One of the cards is for her other grandparents, her mother’s parents. Supposedly Margaret’s mother has had no contact with these people since she married Margaret’s father. But Margaret does not ask about the card because she guesses it is supposed to be a secret.
At school, Margaret’s class is the choir for the Christmas-Hanukkah pageant, and the students spend the weeks prior to the pageant practicing a series of songs. One of the boys, Alan Gordon, refuses to sing the Christmas songs because they are against his religion. A girl, Lisa Murphy, refuses to sing the Hanukkah songs for the same reason. Mr. Benedict explains that singing the songs is not the same thing as practicing the religion, but both kids get their parents to write notes giving them permission to remain silent when they so choose.
This pageant gets Margaret thinking, and she tells God about it:
I want you to know I’m giving a lot of thought to Christmas and Hanukkah this year. I’m trying to decide if one might be special for me. I’m really thinking hard God. But so far I haven’t come up with any answers.
Margaret sings all the songs at the pageant, as do most of the other kids. But Margaret does not feel anything special at all. The thing she likes best about the performance is watching the kindergartners, who sit near her choir. They act silly the whole time, and one boy pees in his pants in the middle of the assembly. This makes it hard not to laugh.