Tears of joy were streaming down many of the forest dweller’s faces after the vision of Little Pine faded away. Everyone was so glad to have seen him again, and so touched by his words.
It was the elves who broke the spell. They let out cheers and started tumbling through the forest, whistling, whooping, and turning somersaults in sheer glee. Pretty soon everyone was laughing and singing as they returned to the projects they were working on before Little Pine appeared.
For the rest of the day, the forest was humming with chatter and laughs as its dwellers talked about seeing Little Pine and how he had touched their hearts. They put more effort than ever into decorating their surroundings, rehearsing their songs, and preparing treats and gifts. Little Pine said his friends would be popping in, after all, and they wanted to be at their best for them. Plus, new visitors were appearing every day, critters of every kind, many of whom had traveled for days to reach the forest. And the dwellers went out of their way to make all visitors feel welcome and comfortable.
As the sun sailed behind the western edge of the forest and the stars rose in the sky, Holly noticed that her neighbors were having trouble settling down. Softly, she began to sing the traditional Festival songs that everyone knew and loved. Little by little, quiet spread throughout the woodland as its dwellers finally drifted off to sleep.
Holly continued singing even then, in case some of little ones or visitors were still awake. Her quiet voice floated up past the tops of trees and across the still surface of the lake. Finally, she let her singing turn into a sweet, soft hum.
That was when, to her surprise, she heard a tiny peeping in the bough of a neighboring pine. Looking up, she saw a tiny cardinal sitting in decorated nest. ‘Why Hello!” she said to the little red bird.
“Hello, Ms. Holly. Your songs are so beautiful! I’ve never heard anything like them before. We don’t have holly trees where I come from.”
“So you’re one of our visitors!” Holly said. “Welcome! It’s a delight to have you with us for our Festival. Have you met our cardinals?”
“Thank you, and yes, I have met your cardinals. They’re the ones who decorated this beautiful nest for me. They’re very gracious. They built special nests all over the woodland for us visiting birds. It turns out we’re cousins!”
“Did you just get here today?” Holly asked.
“Yes. I have been flying and resting for days. But it was worth the trip. Your forest is even more beautiful than the stories we’ve heard about it. I just had to come and see it for myself.”
“You must be tired, then, after all that travel,” Holly said. “Would you like me to sing you to sleep?”
“Thank you! That would be wonderful, Ms. Holly. Everyone here is so very kind.”
“I’m glad you came, pretty red bird,” Holly said. “Let’s sing together until you fall asleep. Would you like that?”
“Oh yes!” said the tiny cardinal. “I would like that very much.”
Holly began a simple Festival song, and for a few moments, the little bird sang along. Then it snuggled deep into the soft bed of pine and down and floated into dreamland, full of joy.