Author’s note: for those who do not know, Postum is a coffee-replacement beverage developed in 1895. It was discontinued in 2007 before re-appearing in 2013, quite possibly due to the publication of this story. You can read all about Postum on its Postum Wikipedia page.
Sally walked down the sidewalk that lined the quiet street, chatting happily with the five fellow carolers she had come out with this year. They were talking about work, the kids and what they were going to do for the rest of the holiday.
“Did you watch the tree lighting on TV the other day?” she asked the man, Bill, walking next to her?
“No, I did not watch,” he replied. “I hate the way they have made this such a commercial spectacle now and that they kill a tree to allegedly celebrate the holiday!”
“Oh, I think it’s lovely,” Sally said. “The tree is decorated so nicely… and you know – they only take the really old ones, the ones that are not going to live much longer. This year’s tree is 70 years old and nearly 13 meters tall!”
“A big one!” shouted someone from the front of the group.
“Yes, it is one of the larger trees that I remember them using in Times Square.”
“I still think it isn’t right,” said Bill.
“So you don’t have one in your house?”
“Well, of course I do. But I keep it in a pot and use the same one every year.”
“That’s remarkable! It must be a lot of work!”
“Yes, but it is worth it,” Bill said as they turned into the driveway of the next house they were going to spread their holiday cheer to. “Every little bit of calcium and fertilizer I add to the soil is an act of love!”
“Wow,” she said as she took a sip of her steaming hot beverage. The hot, sweet liquid burned her throat as she swallowed it. “Ahh,” she said, smacking her lips with satisfaction. “Nothing like a skinny-soy-double-chocolate mocha latte with just a touch of ginger and honey. It always gets me going and in the mood to party!”
“I don’t know how you drink that stuff,” said Bill. “Too sweet for me.”
“It’s festive!” Sally proclaimed, holding up the green and white decorated cup. “See, it has the traditional green, spear-shaped leaves and the pretty white flowers and even a bunch of red berries!”
“Yes, I have the same cup,” said Bill. “But it is what’s inside the cup that matters. Your drink is just barely able to still be called — ”
“Hey,” interrupted Sally, “I don’t make fun of that battery acid or motor oil you are drinking, do I?”
They arrived at the door and rang the bell. The yard, covered in the thin layer of snow that had fallen earlier that morning, was glowing brightly with the cheerful holiday lights and decorations of the season.
Bill took a long sip of his drink to prepare to sing. “Ahh,” he said, mockingly smacking his lips at Sally, “It’s pure, sugar free, organic and all natural. A sweet, sweet nectar from heaven.”
“You know,” said Sally, pensively. “They say that decaf coffee and iced coffee are good options at this time of year.”
“Don’t believe it,” said Bill, urgently. “That’s just some marketing swill that the fancy coffee companies have brewed up to sell more coffee. Full caffeine and hot — that’s the only way to go!”
The door opened before Sally could respond and the group broke into song, using the traditional five part harmony they had practiced for the entire year.
“Oh Coffee Tree, oh Coffee Tree!
Your spear shaped leaves surround me!
Oh Coffee Tree, oh Coffee Tree!
Your ground up beans uplift me!
Robusta or Arabica,
Grown in the shade, you’re wonderful!
Oh Coffee Tree, oh Coffee Tree!
The world truly adores you!”
The family on the other side of the door smiled and clapped, then opened the door and handed out the traditional bags of Holiday Biscotti. Sally, Bill and the others graciously took their bags and thanked the family, wishing them the happiest and healthiest blessings on this International Coffee Extravaganza Day.
Turning to leave, Sally remarked about the finely decorated yard. “I’ve never seen one of those blow up Espresso machines before,” she said. “That’s pretty awesome. And look! It even makes its own steam!” The group laughed as the blow-up decoration made a whirring noise and a white puff of steam floated out of the silver-colored canister.
The driveway was decorated with artificial coffee trees on each side, some decorated in traditional ways with red coffee cherries strung as garland, different fancy coffee mugs dangling from each evergreen branch. Some others were flocked with specks of white that were meant to symbolize the first attempts at steamed milk. Still others were decorated with animated coffee flowers which were meant to show the coffee tree as it grew its beautiful, jasmine-like flowers but also show the delicacy of the flowers which only lasted for several minutes or hours in the best conditions. Sally watched as one flower opened and then seemed to wither away while other flowers opened and withered in their own patterns.
“Remember when they all opened and closed at the same time?” she asked Bill as they continued walking down the driveway back to the street. “The technology has improved so much now that each flower opens and closes on its own. When I was a girl, it was awful; if one flower failed, the whole string failed. I remember the cuts and blisters I got from testing individual flowers over and over until finding the one that was broken.”
“Ugh,” agreed Bill. “That was awful. The flower technology is so much better today.”
They continued up the street, happily munching on Holiday Biscotti and drinking their hot coffee-based drinks as they talked about the traditions of International Coffee Extravaganza Day. Sally commented again on how much effort it must take for Bill to keep his coffee tree healthy all year round.
“Oh, it’s not too bad,” he said. “I just think about the holiday, about how much work it takes for the Great Coffee Barrista to come around on December thirteenth every year, bringing a steaming cup of finely brewed coffee to every good little girl and boy. The Great Barrista has to work hard to brew and deliver the coffee at the peak of flavor and temperature. With that in mind, every little bit of work I put into the soil for the benefit of this tree is an act of love and a year-round celebration of the Earth and all of its beauty!”
“Wow,” she said. “I thought the Great Coffee Barrista was just a myth.”
“Oh, no,” said Bill. “The Great Coffee Barrista is real. She wears a coffee-colored suit with red trim and a green hat with a white flower on the end. On December thirteenth she lands on the roof in a giant, flying percolator, led by eight glazed biscotti. She wears tiny, coffee mugs on her belt and shoes, to make a pretty jingle as she travels. ‘For unto us the coffee is ground’, says tradition.”
Sally was going to debate the existence of the Great Coffee Barrista with him, but they came upon the next house, Number 13 Canephora Way. The yard was dark and the house seemed to only have a dim light within it. They decided to go up to it anyway, to try to spread some holiday cheer to the people who lived there. “Maybe they’re lonely, sad and depressed this holiday season,” said Sally. “Maybe we can help them feel the warm love of International Coffee Extravaganza Day.”
“Maybe,” said Bill, hesitantly.
They arrived at the door and rang the bell. They waited for a while, getting anxious and shifting around to stay warm in the cool evening. Finally the door opened and a man peered out. He looked angry and tired. He was wearing a robe and had not shaved.
The group jubilantly broke into song, singing a collection of famous coffee commercial jingles. The man smiled crookedly and walked away from the door. Returning after a few seconds and carrying a brown paper bag, the man opened the door. “Thank you for your… song,” he said in a croaking voice as he held out the bag. “For your troubles. You may take two, if you’d like.”
The group thanked him as they smiled and reached into the bag, grabbing the small, fun-sized bags and stuffing them into their traditionally decorated International Coffee Extravaganza Day Bags with the other goodies they had collected. Turning to leave, Bill looked at the treat they had just been handed.
Suddenly, he let out a loud, blood-curdling scream.
“It’s Postum!” he cried.
“That’s right, sonny!” said the old man, cackling loudly, his voice echoing through the night and sending small nocturnal animals scurrying for cover. “Wheat bran, wheat, molasses and a fine, corn-based maltodextrin. Nothin’ finer!”
Bill was trembling as he held the small bag of Postum granules in his hand. In friendly, bright red lettering it said “Fun Size” but that did not convince Bill in the least. Sally tried to console him but he was simply muttering, tears streaming down his face. “It’s Postum,” he repeated. “Postum. The Drink of the Beast.”
Sally looked at the package. “Original Postum,” she said. Turning to the man who stood smiling at them at the door, she said, “You could have at least gotten the artificial coffee flavor.”
“Oh, no, dearie,” he said, showing his browninsh-yellow stained teeth. “No artificial colors of flavors, I am just looking out for your health!”
The group helped Bill to his feet, with Sally prying the Postum package from his hands. The old man flipped a switch and lights went on throughout the yard. Sally looked around and gasped. “He has decorations!” The group looked out at the yard and spotted tea spoons and tea cups placed decoratively throughout it. An inflatable tea pot sat in the middle of the display, inflating rapidly as it rose to challenge them on this most holy of days to coffee drinkers. Tiny tea lights in various colors twinkled around the yard.
“He’s a Tea Totaller!” the group shouted in near unison as they turned to face the man.
“That’s right – I’m a minister in the Church of the Celestial Teas. I’d suggest you leave before I start flocking the trees with my favorite blend of chamomile flowers, rose hips and hibiscus!” The old man cackled loudly and went back into the house, slamming the door closed behind him.
“I knew they existed,” Sally said, “But I can’t believe we have one here in the neighborhood.”
“The neighborhood is not what it used to be,” said Bill, slowly recovering from his post-traumatic Postum shock.
“I didn’t know they still made Postum.”
“They don’t. It was discontinued in October 2007. These must be old.”
“No expiration date on the package.”
“What’s to expire?” yelled Bill, waving his hands in the air. “It’s not like the flavor will get worse over time. This is worse than decaf! At least decaf was originally a real coffee bean.”
“Too true,” said Sally.
“Well,” said Bill, looking back at number thirteen, “I know that we’ll be coming back here.”
“What? Why would we come back here?”
“Oh,” said Bill. “For I.C.E.D. in July… you know, July thirteenth – half-way to the next International Coffee Extravaganza Day. It’s Make Fun of Tea Drinkers Day. We drape coffee filters in their trees and place bags of used coffee grounds by the doors so that when they open the door the grounds pop out all over them. One year, when I was a kid back home, we spread whole coffee beans in the living room of old man Sutter’s house. He thought rabbits had gotten into his house and spent days trying to find them before they dropped more of their, um, pellets, on the carpet. Make Fun of Tea Drinkers Day is my favorite holiday.”
“Isn’t that kind of borderline illegal?” asked Sally.
“Oh, but it’s Tradition,” said Bill. “With a capital ‘T’. That makes it okay.”
“Oh,” said Sally. “In that case, it sounds fun. I’ll definitely join you for that! But it will never replace International Coffee Extravaganza Day as my favorite holiday.”
The pair continued to debate their favorite holidays as they walked with the group and continued up the road, singing their cheerful holiday tunes to the rest of their neighbors. Sally was thrilled to be a part of the tradition of coffee caroling and despite the run-in with the Tea Totaler, she felt this had been the best International Coffee Extravaganza Day in her life.
(written for the [Fiction] Friday prompt on December 5, 2008: Invent a holiday for which your character is a big fan)