The circus is coming to Poplar! Its opening parade conveniently passes right by Fred and Violet’s new general store, where Fred is reluctantly serving as uniformed shopkeeper. The store does at least give him and Reggie an excuse to visit the circus tent while it’s being set up, to ask if they would like the newspaper delivered—but really because Reggie is eager to see the polar bear advertised on the posters.
Unfortunately, Snowy is long dead, but everyone tells Reggie the polar bear is convalescing at the North Pole. Jacquetta Ellings, the ringmaster’s daughter and an aerialist, is pregnant with her third child. She sends her other children to show Reggie the circus animals.
Suddenly, there’s an explosion: a gas tank on one of the caravans has burst into flames. As people rush about, Fred and Jacquetta desperately call for their children. Finally, Reggie emerges from the smoke with the two young boys. He tells Fred that he kept the boys safe and calm. As a reward for his bravery, Fred gives Reggie a beer. When Reggie eventually finds out that Snowy is dead, he asks Fred and Violet to respect him enough not to hide things from him. Then he asks for another beer.
Jacquetta and her family take rooms in the local pub, since their caravan is destroyed. Nurse Crane checks on Jacquetta to make sure the crisis didn’t cause any damage. Jacquetta is fine, but Nurse Crane is worried about her father and his persistent cough. After admiring Jacquetta’s costumes, she sends Dr. Turner to check on Mr. Percival.
The ringmaster has lung cancer, although no one but him knows. His remaining lung is filling with fluid, the cancer may be spreading, and he has already had radiation therapy. Dr. Turner encourages him to receive ameliorative hospital treatment and to stop smoking, but he refuses. He doesn’t want his daughter to know.
Sister Monica Joan also wants to deny her infirmities. When she trips on a loose shoelace while climbing the stairs, she badly breaks a leg and is forced to convalesce in the hospital. She’s despondent about the effects of age, she laments to Sister Julienne, who says that she also feels time’s effects, especially with Nonnatus House’s fate uncertain.
Sister Julienne seems to be making preparations for something, however. She institutes a patient survey and a suggestions box at the clinic, to the chagrin of Miss Higgins and Nurse Crane. Going through the extra paperwork does at least allow the two women a chance to bond: they both discuss their ideal Christmas celebrations and laugh about the gifts given to “spinsters” like them.
Trixie’s godmother is worried that Trixie will turn out a spinster, and has paid for her to use a matchmaker instead of sending her annual Christmas dress allowance. Trixie is upset by her godmother’s implications, but eventually decides to try the matchmaker—reluctantly. The matchmaker has “reservations” about Trixie—she lives in a convent and won’t drink—and her matches are not ideal, as Trixie experiences when she meets several.
After Trixie gets her hope up about one possibility and is then stood up—he had the wrong hotel, Julienne relays to her after receiving a phone call from the matchmaker—Julienne cheers her by telling her there is something bright in the future. Nonnatus will not be closing, but expanding; she’ll have more details in the new year.
That might happen without Valerie. After her grandmother’s death, she tried to resign as a midwife, but Sister Julienne believed she wasn’t in a proper state to make such a decision and instead arranged for her to go to the Nonnatus clinic in South Africa—Valerie didn’t want to just take a leave of absence and not work.
Lucille is offended that Valerie left without telling her, but Cyril explains that Valerie must be having a very difficult time. He has his own difficulty: his (and Lucille’s) church will have to close, as the renter of the home they use for services is moving, and there’s nowhere else to host the congregation. Cyril does find something else to occupy him while at Nonnatus House: when the phone rings and no one else hears it, he answers.
It’s Sister Monica Joan, desperate for some company. Cyril promises that he and Lucille will visit her. But when they do, Monica Joan is upset to see Cyril: she’s ashamed that she’s hooked up to a catheter. Lucille is appalled: there’s no medical need for her to be on a catheter. She chastises the attending nurse and asks Sister Julienne to let Monica Joan return to Nonnatus House by Christmas—the staff can nurse her. Julienne agrees.
Unfortunately, the Turners won’t be at Nonnatus for Christmas, for the first time. Shelagh wants Mae to feel at home in the family and thinks they need some new traditions. She has Dr. Turner order a turkey from Fred for their dinner.
Shelagh is occupied with the pregnancy of a woman with whom she has recently been reacquainted. She and Gloria Venables were in the hospital together with difficult pregnancies. Gloria lost her child, one of seven miscarriages. But she has had a surgery that should help, and is nearing the birth of her latest. Worried about the birth and looking for more care than the hospital offers, she comes to the clinic.
Shelagh learns that Gloria no longer bothers to buy things for the baby; she’s learned not to hope. So Shelagh brings her to Violet’s store after hours to order some clothes and offer support. When Gloria thinks she has started labor but hasn’t, Dr. Turner decides to keep her in the clinic for monitoring until the birth.
Jacquetta gives birth in her rooms in the pub, attended by Sister Hilda and Nurse Crane. Her father listens anxiously from the stairs as Dr. Turner uses forceps to deliver the baby. After the delivery, Jacquetta feels weak and begins turning blue. She’s having a heart attack. As an ambulance comes for her, she holds her newborn.
Nurse Crane stays with Jacquetta’s father, giving him oxygen to ease his cough. She tells him about her dream of feeling what it’s like to fly on the trapeze, cheering him with her love of his calling.
Jacquetta stabilizes at the hospital. Her father asks Nurse Crane to stop by the circus. When she arrives, she finds a costume waiting for her. He lets her swing on the trapeze, to her delight. When she descends, a coughing fit overtakes him, and she sends him to the hospital.
After he recovers, he tells Jacquetta that he’ll close the circus and will accept treatment at the hospital. She thanks him for the life he gave her, and tells him she wants to christen her newborn and two other children in the circus—she may be done with the performing life, but it’s still in her children’s blood.
As Gloria’s labor begins but drags on endlessly, Shelagh asks her to open up about her miscarriages. Gloria has given them all names and imagined rich lives for them; finally talking about them helps her let go of them and focus on her coming child. She gives birth to a girl and asks that Shelagh be the one to cut the baby’s cord before putting the girl in Gloria’s arms.
Feeling emboldened by her stint on the trapeze, Nurse Crane calls Miss Higgins. They meet at the clinic at night and share their dream Christmas feasts together. When Christmas itself rolls around, they share knowing glances over their gifts. The Turners—along with Cyril and the Buckles—have come to Nonnatus after all. The turkey they got from Fred wasn’t plucked or butchered, so they decided to join everyone else for a warm, lovely Christmas dinner.