Edward wasn't the kind of grumpy dragon who went around blowing fire and scaring people. He was small and thoughtful, and he had two good friends, Emily and her little brother, Will.
The children had discovered him one winter afternoon when they were out playing tag. Edward had been making a lot of fuss, roaring and flying around and such, so at first, they were frightened. But when they learned that roaring was really just the way dragons sang, they went back to see him every day. The three had endless fun sliding down hills, making faces and telling jokes. And when the deep snows came, they toasted marshmallows and read books together, Emily and Will snuggling under Edward's warm wings.
Before they knew, it was Christmas.
When Edward saw the colored lights twinkling from Emily and Will's house, he was curious. What was this Christmas thing? he wanted to know. Emily did her best to explain.
"It's a giving time," she said. "It makes everyone feel good inside."
"We string lights, too," Will burst out. "We give presents, and there's a big sing-along parade in the town square!" Edward beamed.
"Hmmm, "I think I have presents already," he murmured. "I have two good friends, a comfy home, and birds to land on my wings and sing with me.
Then he pleaded with his friends to tell him more about the parade. "We have last year's pictures," Emily offered. "Come home with us, and we'll look for them."
While it's true that Edward wasn't a full-sized dragon, neither Emily nor Will could push him through their front door.
"How about the chimney?" Edward suggested. "You might get stuck there, too," Emily sighed. But to make him feel better she brought out a plate of ginger cookies. The cookies weren't as good as toasty hot coals, but Edward ate all of them to please her. The plate, too.
That's when Will had another idea.
"Who needs pictures?" he told Edward. "Why not fly over the Christmas parade and see it for yourself? You can sing, too!"
Edward was hopeful. "No one will mind that I'm a dragon?" he asked.
"A nice dragon," said Emily, patting his nose. "You'll be fine. People will think you're a big parade balloon."
That gave Will an idea.
"Hey! How about being a big parade balloon?" Will said.
Emily clapped her hands.
"Yes!" she cried. "I've always wanted one of those!"
"How can I be a balloon, when I'm a dragon?" Edward wondered.
"A pretend balloon!" Will explained. "We'll dress you up like something -- a Santa, maybe. You can look like you're floating over everybody, and wish them, 'Merry Christmas!' Nobody will be scared. You'll be perfect!"
Edward wasn't sure. "People aren't used to dragons ..." he mumbled.
"Say no more!" Emily interrupted. "It's Christmas. Let's do this!"
On the day of the Christmas parade, Emily and Will worked hard to turn Edward into a Santa Claus. Will taped red tablecloths around his scales for a Santa suit, and Emily tied black garbage bags on his feet for boots. Together, they made him a cotton wig and beard, then -- ta-da! -- strung ornaments from his wings. To keep up his spirits, they also fed Edward gravel sandwiches.
That night, the parade route sparkled with white lights and candles. Families gathered together, singing and waving -- sometimes on the back of trucks draped in tinsel and paper stars.
It had been the same parade every year, but this year would be different.
This year, there was Edward. Not only Edward, but Emily and Will, rope in hands, leading him forward like a make-believe Santa balloon.
Scared and excited, Edward flapped slowly over the town square, roaring Christmas songs just the way he'd practiced.
The crowd loved him.
No one fainted or ran or even screamed. And even though he melted a few candles with his hot dragon breath, the townspeople cheered long and loud. When the parade was over, they gathered around Edward to praise him. They shook his claws and said things like, "We wouldn't have missed it for the world!" and "You'll come back next year, too, won't you?"
"I feel wonderful!" Edward said later to Emily and Will, "like maybe I made everybody happy -- giving them something, I mean."
"That's it, that's Christmas!" shouted Emily.
"For sure!" echoed Will.
"Then, I like it a lot!" exclaimed Edward, hugging them both as carefully as any dragon can hug small children.
"Thank you! You've made this my first and very best dragon Christmas!"
Still brimming with joy, Edward turned five perfect midair somersaults for them and blew colored sparks across the sky for fireworks.
Then, he flew his two best friends off for Christmas hot chocolate and -- yes! -- more gravel sandwiches.
This is the fifth year that Sarah Wilson, a Danville children's author and illustrator, has entertained the Times' younger readers with an original holiday story. Wilson, the author and/or illustrator of 28 books, has two more scheduled for publication in 2008 --"Friends, Pals and Brothers, Too" (Holt) and "The Day We Danced in Underpants" (Tricycle).
Story and illustrations by Sarah Wilson