Jo wakes up first on Christmas morning, disappointed there are no presents. Then she remembers their talk with Marmee and looks under her pillow. She finds a little red book.
The other sisters wake up one by one. Each of them has a copy of the same book under their pillow – Meg's is green, Amy's blue, and Beth's gray. The narrator doesn't specifically say what the books are, but it's strongly hinted that they are copies of the Bible.
The girls resolve to read a little of their books each morning before doing anything else. They begin right away.
After half an hour of reading, the girls go down to breakfast. They find their mother gone and their servant Hannah preparing the meal.
Hannah explains that a poor woman came to the door begging and Mrs. March has gone to see what she needs.
Meg prepares a basket containing the little presents the girls bought for Marmee the night before. Amy has disappeared, taking her present, a small bottle of cologne, with her.
Amy returns with a larger bottle of cologne, explaining that she is trying to be unselfish and she went back and exchanged the little bottle. Now she has spent all her money on her mother's gift. The girls praise her and add her gift to the basket.
Marmee comes in and tells her daughters that nearby there is a poor family, hungry and cold, in need of charity. She asks the girls to give their Christmas breakfast to this family.
At first the girls hesitate, but almost immediately they agree and begin bundling the food into containers so they can carry it.
Mrs. March, Hannah, and the girls make their way to the shack where the poor family live. The family consists of a mother with six children and a newborn baby.
The mother and children are overjoyed to receive food and firewood. They speak broken English interspersed with German and their last name is Hummel, so they are apparently recent immigrants.
After their charitable act, the girls go home to eat bread and milk. They are content, even though they don't get to eat any of their fancy Christmas breakfast.
Marmee goes upstairs to collect old clothes for the Hummels. The girls organize their gifts for their mother and Beth plays the piano as Marmee comes back into the room. She is touched and wears or uses each of the gifts right away.
For the rest of the day, the girls prepare for their evening entertainment – a performance of the play that Jo wrote. They have made all their own props out of household items and the girls play all the parts themselves, with Jo in the male roles.
A dozen of the girls' friends come over that evening to watch the play. At the sound of a bell, the curtains open on the first act of The Witch's Curse: an Operatic Tragedy. Here's where the play-within-the-novel begins:
In the first act, Hugo, the villain, played by Jo, sings to the audience about his love for the beautiful Zara, his hatred of the hero Roderigo, and his evil plans for them both.
Hugo orders the witch, Hagar, played by Meg, to give him a love potion and a poison. She summons spirits that provide both potions, but after Hugo leaves she explains that she actually has a grudge against him and has cursed him!
The curtain falls and there is a pause while the scenery on the stage is changed. When the curtain comes up again, the audience realizes that the girls have constructed a wooden tower. At the top of the tower is the heroine, Zara, played by Amy.
Roderigo arrives and convinces Zara to run away with him. As she is climbing down, the train of her dress catches on the window and pulls the tower down with a crash! Amy drops her character and starts saying "I told you so!"
The sister playing Zara's father Don Pedro (either Meg or Jo) rushes in and hushes Amy, forcing her to go on with the play.
Don Pedro banishes Roderigo from the kingdom, but Roderigo and Zara defy him. He sends them to his dungeon, and they are led away by a shy servant, played by Beth, who forgets her lines.
The third act is set in the castle hall. The witch Hagar sneaks in to foil Hugo's plans. She hides and watches Hugo bring two cups, one bearing each potion, but she manages to change them for harmless drinks before they are taken to Roderigo and Zara. She tricks Hugo into drinking the poison and he dies horribly, to the audience's glee.
In the fourth act, Roderigo has been told that Zara has deserted him, and is about to commit suicide when he hears a song under his window explaining that she is in danger. The key to his cell is thrown to him and he tears off his chains and escapes.
In the fifth and final act, Zara defies her father Don Pedro and refuses to go into a convent. Roderigo rushes in to rescue her. The lovers plead with Don Pedro, but he remains unmoved. Finally the servant enters with a sack of money and a note from Hagar, promising Don Pedro a fortune if he allows the marriage and a curse if he doesn't. He relents and the play ends happily.
The audience applauds fanatically, and their excitement is only briefly squelched when the collapsible bed they're sitting on closes up under them.
Hannah appears and asks the girls down to supper. Everyone is surprised because they didn't know about this part, and they discover a feast – cake, fruit, bonbons, fancy flowers, and even ice cream.
The sisters all have different theories about where the feast came from. Their mother explains that their rich neighbor, Old Mr. Laurence, sent it as a Christmas gift to reward them for their charitable act in the morning.
Jo wonders if the idea for the gift came from Mr. Laurence's grandson, Laurie, whom the girls have seen next door several times.
The girls talk about the Laurences. One of the guests knows that Old Mr. Laurence makes his grandson study hard with a tutor. Jo says she wants to get to know him, but Meg has been too prim and proper to let her speak to the boy without an introduction.
Mrs. March approves of Jo's plan to get to know young Mr. Laurence, saying that he is polite and gentlemanly. Jo decides that they'll ask the boy to help them next time they perform an amateur play.
As the girls enjoy the feast and the flowers, Beth remembers her father, far away, having a different kind of Christmas, and wishes she could send her flowers to him.