He spent the early hours of the evening waiting (hoping) to hear the doorbell, but perhaps carolers didn't sing at apartments and so Giles - after loading his pockets with a stake, a cross, and Holy Water - went out into the night. Even after four months, he wasn't used to the weather, which was warmer than London's by a good ten degrees. The brisk pace he set quickly took Giles into a neighborhood of single family homes.

Instead of the camaraderie of carolers at a door, The Carol of the Birds, sounding as if it had been recorded on synthesized instruments, blared out from someone's front yard. The house's Christmas lights blinked on and off in time to the music. Plastic reindeer pulling a sleigh looked about ready to fall from a neighbor's roof. Looking further down the street, Giles wondered why even an American would display a large plastic chipmunk when the creature's nose blink red. At least it wasn't a chipmunk but it was, in fact, the final straw. Giles turned his feet back toward the flat.

The wreath on his front door seemed out of place. The collection of golden jingle bells that had glittered cheerily in the store seemed somehow detached from the traditions of the holiday when hanging on his door. The boughs of evergreen, draped throughout the apartment and topped with red bows, were more traditional and brought forth a nostalgic feeling reminiscent of Christmases from his youth.

As the holiday had loomed closer, Giles had become increasingly nostalgic. He hadn't felt a need to track Advent until about a week before Christmas, and so he had six candles, rather than the full twenty-four, lined up on his mantlepiece. He lit the candles from left to right, starting with the one that had been lit five times already, moving onto the second candle that had been lit four times, and continuing on to the sixth candle that hadn't yet been touched by flame. The light from the candles didn't create quite enough holiday cheer and so he touched the match to the paper surrounding the excuse for a log he'd picked up in the grocery store. The faux-log flamed quickly and Giles sat back in a chair only to rise again almost instantly.

Perhaps he could prepare the mince pie that evening, but that would leave him less to do on Christmas day. The Queen's Message, due to the time difference, would play in Sunnydale at seven in the morning. Cooking his meal would take up some time but certainly wouldn't fill his day. On the other hand, there was the gift set out on his coffee-table. His mother's letter had suggested it would be a copy of Hampton's treatise on the link between Sumerian and the D'narthian demon tongues. If so, it would keep Giles happily distracted for days. Perhaps he should open it immediately, but no. He'd promised himself he'd save it for Christmas day.

Past the present, he'd laid out one Christmas cracker. It was silly, he knew, but Giles rather thought he'd open it with his present and wear the crown. It wasn't as if there'd be anyone around to see him act the fool, and anyway it was a perfectly reasonable tradition no matter what Buffy thought. There'd certainly been no need for her to look so confused when he'd explained Christmas crackers to her.

He'd spent most of that morning draping evergreens, decorated with red bows and bells, throughout the library and was finishing up along the top edge of the rare book cage when Buffy had waltzed in, invading the school's library as if she had every right to be there rather than at class or lunch or wherever she was supposed to be. "What are you doing?" she'd asked.

He'd glared down at her from the top of the stepladder. While the decorations weren't heavy, between the greens, the bows, and the bells, he'd been traipsing up and down that ladder for hours. The least she could have done was offer to help. "I am aware, you know, that Americans do in fact drape greenery at Christmas even if most of you do appear to prefer plastic to fresh boughs."

Her gaze had traversed the remaining greenery set out on the table as well as the candles, electric lights, and tinsel he'd decided to forgo. "It's just that it looks like Christmas exploded in here." And then she's seen the bag. "There's more?" Without even a by your leave, she'd darted over and pulled out a box. She looked down, up at him, and down at the box again. "Uh, is this a fancy way to wrap cigars? You know smoking kills, right?"

Cigars? What on earth went through her mind? "They're crackers."

She shook the box. "Crackers? Won't they get stale, wrapped only in Christmas paper? Who would wrap crackers anyway?"

"They don't contain biscuits. The whole package is called a cracker. It's a holiday tradition. You pull the cracker to open it. There's a small pop and the prizes pour out, usually a small toy, a joke, a crown."

"A crown?" Buffy tore open the box, pulled out one of the crackers, and held it up as if to get a closer look. "How would you fit a crown in this thing?"

"A paper crown."

Which is when she'd brought out the dubious look. "A crown. That's made of paper." She'd dropped the cracker, not even bothering to put it back in the box. "Because that makes sense."

"It's traditional. One wears them on Christmas day."

There'd been absolutely no need for her to snicker.

"Isn't there someplace you're supposed to be?"

"Willow's explaining math to Xander. It was giving me a headache."

Giles had turned back to the evergreens, hoping that if he made himself obviously busy she'd go away.

"Isn't it a bit late to be decorating now? It is the last day before Christmas break."

He'd finished with the last bow but continued fiddling with it. "They'll provide a touch of festivity if we need to research over the holiday."

"Oh, that's cheerful."

Earlier the glow of the fire and the candles had given the room a certain warmth but now, even though the flames had not diminished, the room seemed colder. What had he been thinking? His traditions - holly and ivy, the Queen's Christmas message, stockings hung by the bed - these were as alien to Sunnydale as their plastic reindeer and electronic Christmas carols were to him. He could decorate, cook up a full holiday meal, but he would still be alone. Giles picked up the cracker and tossed it in the trash. It had been a stupid idea. Opening the liquor cabinet, Giles pulled out the brandy. It wasn't as if he'd be needing it to make a sauce for a plum pudding.