It has been several months since James and Helen became engaged. Tristan is back from school for the holidays, awaiting his exam results, and Skeldale House is bedecked with holly for the Christmas Eve party. Mrs. Hall runs into Diana while shopping for groceries with Tristan, and Diana advises her to enjoy the admiration of Gerald after he wanders past. Wear something to catch his eye at the party tonight, Diana suggests.
Mrs. Hall leaves Tristan to finish the shopping in order to intercept the mail carrier, pocketing a letter as she enters the house. She mentions to Siegfried that Diana will be alone on Christmas Day and urges him to invite her to lunch, but he says that might raise certain expectations—and gets Mrs. Hall to drop the subject when he asks why she hasn’t invited Gerald.
Siegfried heads off to Mrs. Pumphrey’s, where he finds her sitting alone in a shut-down house: she lets her staff go home to their families for Christmas. Tricki-Woo is ailing and won’t eat. Siegfried diagnoses him with gastroenteritis and brings him back to Skeldale for treatment.
Even with medication and supervision, Tricki doesn’t improve, although Siegfried is impressed by Tristan’s knowledge and suggestions. Tristan has received his exam results—they were in the letter pocketed by Mrs. Hall, who wanted to prevent a repeat of last time—but he hasn’t told Siegfried.
James has been running around, called to treat the farmer Kitson’s cow so early that he is still in his pajamas when he arrives to give the cow a shot. Kitson is overly concerned with how much everything will cost, and refuses to let James look at or treat a dying ewe. But when Kitson walks away, James sneaks over to the ewe and gives her an anesthetic to ease the death. He also picks up a discarded piece of wood, and later carves it with a woman’s face. It’s a Christmas tradition carried on by his father, where they burn the log to bring prosperity in the new year.
James hasn’t spoken to his parents since their visit, and has only corresponded with his father by letter. Mrs. Hall says his mother will be missing him on Christmas, but he is scheduled to speak with them Christmas Day.
James also stops by the Alderson farm to drop off gifts and finds Jenny hard at work preparing a Christmas feast. He didn’t think to tell Helen that the two of them are expected at Skeldale by Mrs. Hall for Christmas lunch; he and Helen will have to decide whom to disappoint.
They stop by Kitson’s to check on his cow, who is improving, and James tells Helen what he did for Kitson’s ewe. Meanwhile, the farmer hides the ewe—miraculously back on her feet again—from James.
Back at Skeldale, Siegfried asks for James’ advice on Tricki, who is getting worse. James suggests that having Mrs. Pumphrey around might help the dog recover. The door is ringing with guests for the holiday party all the while, and Helen is forced to play host. Mrs. Hall had dressed up but decided to change after Siegfried’s startled reaction upon seeing her. When she finally appears downstairs, Helen is relieved. She also doesn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Hall that James and she will be missing Christmas lunch.
With Siegfried gone to pick up Mrs. Pumphrey, James is forced to play Father Christmas and Helen his elf. In between seeing children, James lets slip that he assumed he and Helen would live at Skeldale after their marriage—the Alderson farm doesn’t even have a phone, and he needs to be on call all the time. Helen wonders what she would do at Skeldale: she needs to work the farm. They realize that they will have to make a decision—including about Christmas lunch—no matter whose feelings are hurt.
Diana tries to engineer a kiss between Mrs. Hall and Gerald by dragging them both under the mistletoe. Gerald tells a panicked Mrs. Hall that they can just remain friends if that’s what she wants. She makes an excuse to retreat.
Tristan has learned that his old flame Maggie is getting married, although that doesn’t stop them from having one last night of fun in the cupboard. She tells him she—and all Tristan’s other girlfriends—think of him just as a fun fling, not more. You have to put more in if you want more out, she tells him. Tristan is gloomy for the rest of the night.
Tricki still won’t eat, even with Mrs. Pumphrey sitting beside him, explaining that she spoils him because she has no children or grandchildren; it’s just her and him at the holidays. But Helen has an idea when, while drinking with the farmers in the kitchen, she hears from Kitson in the midst of an argument over the worth of the veterinarians that the ewe to whom James gave anesthetic survived.
She tells James and Siegfried, and they decide to try the anesthetic on Tricki, to allow his body to recover. It might kill him, but Mrs. Pumphrey is willing to take the risk. She holds Tricki’s paw and whispers to him as he’s given the injection.
Siegfried apologizes to Diana that he didn’t spend time with her at the party and invites her to lunch on Christmas—but she has the same response as he did, and suggests a simple nightcap instead. Mrs. Hall notices Gerald cleaning up and goes to the kitchen to scold him: he’s a guest, he has to leave! But then she rethinks it and gives him a kiss on the cheek—for the mistletoe—and invites him to Christmas lunch, to his delight.
James, Tristan, and Siegfried all wake early the next morning to check on Tricki. After a shot of adrenaline, the dog rouses to a bowl of food. He’s finally eating again. James brings him to Mrs. Pumphrey and stops in, on second thought, for a sherry with her. When he then goes to the Aldersons, he tells Helen that there would be a place for her at Skeldale House, as proven by her help with Tricki last night. The farmers open up to her in a way they won’t with James or Siegfried.
James also has a new plan for Christmas lunch.
It will be a significant meal, as Siegfried has noticed the discarded envelope from Tristan’s exam results. After some misdirection, Tristan reveals that he passed. He and his brother argue for a bit: Siegfried wants to see the letter as proof. Finally, Tristan shares it: he passed with distinction. He thanks Siegfried genuinely for all his brother has done for him since their father died, to Siegfried’s embarrassment.
And then they set off for Mrs. Pumphrey’s with food, gifts, and tree in tow. Gerald and the Aldersons come, too: James has combined the lunches. As everyone opens up the house and decorates, Siegfried and Mrs. Pumphrey play carols on the piano for everyone to sing along. “I’ll never forget your kindness,” she tells them all during their feast.
James calls his parents that evening, telling him that he misses them and thanking them for paying for his college, which led him to his current, beloved life. He then burns his carved log and recites “Auld Lang Syne.” While he, Helen, and Tristan play a game and Siegfried looks on with fondness, Mrs. Hall notices a bomber plane pass overhead. She closes the curtain and returns to the warmth of the family.