On the eve of Christmas I was at home sitting by the crackling fireplace, sipping some hot cocoa and reading a good book about sitting by fireplaces and sipping hot cocoa. The hero of the story wasn’t doing much of anything and after a half hour of his insight into mistletoe, I heaved the book across the room. There had to be something more joyful and eventful than reading an unjoyful, eventless book. I am a lover of the season. The fact that we can set up trees in our houses without being lugged into mental institutions should atone to the humility of this time of year. The snow, when it gathers up outside—the fire, when it warms the marrow—and the mistletoe...
I was interrupted suddenly, losing my train of thought, with the ringing of a phone.
“Hey, Chips,” a thin, young voice said over the receiver.
“Oh, hey Gabe,” I said.
Gabe was my friend Barbra’s young son. Recently, Barbra and I were not on friendly terms due to an incident where I was to babysit the little kid and make sure he was safe; but due to a series of bizarre circumstances involving the criminal organization the Mashed Pudding Syndicate, the boy almost got swallowed up by a lion that was camping out under his bed.
“My mom wants to talk with you,” he said and I could hear what sounded like the phone getting nosily handed over to Barbra.
“Chip!” Barbra said.
“Because it’s the season, I thought I’d wish you a whole lot of Christmas Tidings and hope that Santa gets you what you want this year.”
It was always Barbra’s custom to call and say something along those lines and I was getting tired of it—to speak of Santa as if he was a real person!—and being a little annoyed at her interruption and a little peeved at how terrible that book was that I had been reading, I may have been a tad harsh with my reply—it was not in the spirit of the season.
“Santa isn’t real, Barbra!” I boomed. “Enough is enough! All that nonsense was fine when we were kids, but not at all now.”
“What!” I heard a young voice wail. It was Gabe’s.
“You idiot, Chip!” Barbra yelled. “You were on speaker!”
I could hear Gabe wallowing in the background.
“And the night before Christmas,” Barbra said.
And I did what anyone would do after ruining Christmas for a little kid. I hung up the phone. Out of sight, out of mind.
But it wouldn’t get out of my mind. I couldn’t shake it. I ruined a young-one’s Christmas. I felt terrible. I tried everything to get it off my mind. I even tried that book again, but nothing sufficed. I just sat and stared at the Christmas tree and the large jet-propelled sleigh that Prince Bumper had gotten me for Christmas (he always did enjoy spending his money on other people).
And then there came a loud knock on my door. It was late, real late and I couldn’t imagine anyone I knew to be so intrusive to knock at the door at such an hour. Christmas was nearly here—the night, it was not young. But the intruder was welcomed because it meant I could get my mind off of things.
I opened the door.
There stood a woman all in bright red, smiling at the doorstep. She had a satchel slung over her shoulder. She pulled out a list that was tucked in her red jacket and looked at it, made a note with a small pencil, then checked it one more time for good measure. She folded the paper and placed it neatly into her jacket pocket.
“Hello, Chip,” she said.
“Who are you?” I asked. I’d never seen her before in my life. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“The name’s Christina,” she said, extending her gloved hand. She looked over my shoulder. “My mode of transportation broke down and I was wondering if I could stay in your place for a bit to keep warm. I have friends coming to help me out.”
“Sure,” I said, shaking her hand. I could never turn anyone down, especially on the Eve of Christmas.
She made her way into my home and, before I could let her know she could make herself at home, she had made herself at home. She sat on my sofa, set her large bag beside her, pulled off her boots and plopped her bare feet on my coffee table, wiggling her toes.
“Make yourself at home, why don’t you,” I said.
“I have,” she said. She looked about the place and slowly she began to frown. “Have you any cookies?” she asked.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Cookies. Do you have any?”
“Yes,” I said.
She motioned for me to sit down and I sat in the sofa across from her.
“You do, then?” she asked.
“I was only asking because I see that you haven’t any out.”
“Why would I have them out?”
“Because,” she said. “Santa comes tonight. Don’t you leave Santa cookies?”
“I doubt anyone as big as he needs more calories.”
Her face turned from a frown to a grimace.
“You know,” she said, crossing her arms. “Maybe the depiction of Santa being fat is merely an artist’s representation of how full of joy he is. Think of Buddha. The Buddha wasn’t fat, but many western depictions of him show him sporting a few extra miles around the abdomen area; that is to signify knowledge and spiritual growth. But Siddhartha wasn’t fat at all.”
“Listen, I don’t know who this Sid is; but what’s this got to do with cookies?”
“When did you become so faithless?”
“You used to be imaginative once. Everyone was. Every little boy dreams. Every little girl hopes. Every adult despite their propensity to “THINK BIG” is a wisher. From the old man carrying his lucky rabbit's foot, to the gambler with his lucky die, to the mother with her three children and the dream of an education—What, Chip Marion Baker, happened to that dreamer inside?”
“How do you—?”
“It’s simple,” she said, sipping at the milk she had in her hand and taking a bite out of a cookie (I hadn't a clue where the milk and cookies came from; they just suddenly materialized in her hand). “Everyone dreams, Chip. It’s what moves us. So when are you going to be moved?”
"Well," I said, looking around the place. "I actually just moved in last month."
"No, you fool. I mean when are you going to feel again?" She offered me a cookie. “When did you let Christmas become so dull, boring, uneventful and so Un-Christmas-Like?” She raised an eyebrow.
Well, she had hit a nerve. Christmas had become very dull and drab for me. Things weren’t the same anymore. Something had happened that I couldn’t remember. Something had happened on a Christmas that I didn’t want to remember. It’s funny how trivial things can seem, but how important they really are in building or breaking you. It’s always the small things that seem to matter, in the end.
Christina pulled something out of the bag she had set beside her. It was something I had always wanted. Something I had asked for when I was a kid. Something that I felt I needed because my parents; they never listened.
She handed it to me.
“A megaphone,” I whispered. My eyes glowed with memories of the past. “I always wanted one. I remember the Christmas I asked for it. I remember how excited I was. I really thought that mom and papa had bought it for me. But instead—instead,” I got emotional at this point, “instead they bought themselves earplugs.” I cradled the megaphone that Christina had given me. “Who are you?” I asked.
“You know that. You’ve known it the whole time. That’s why you brought me the milk and cookies.”
“I did no such thing.”
“I think if you remember correctly then you’d realize that you did.”
And she was right, reader. She was right! I had fooled myself. There’s something the brain does when it’s confronted with magic, it tries to compensate—which means it tries to lie to you because it can’t handle the truth. I had brought her the cookies because, deep down, deep within myself, I knew who she was...
And then, before I could say her real name, there was a knock on the door. I went off and opened it and standing there in the doorstep was a really tall, elderly man with large, pointy ears. He was smiling brightly, with teeth stained red from the candy cane that he was chewing on.
“I think it’s for you,” I said to my companion.
Christina stood up and met the tall man outside. They stood out of earshot, but from the expressions on their faces the conversation they were having was about some very unpromising things. When Christina came back, chewing on a candy cane and looking very gloomy with the tall man, standing tall beside her, I realized I had to finally let her know who I thought she was.
“Santa?” I asked.
“But you’re—you’re taller than I thought.”
“Usually people say the part about me being a woman first.”
“Yes, there’s that, too. Why did all the stories say you were a man?”
“Simple. History’s a liar.”
“Sexist, too,” the tall man said.
I looked at the tall man.
“Name’s Chip,” I said to him, extending my hand.
“Pipsqueak,” the giant said. “I was just telling Santa here that ruining Christmas is a no go.”
“Wait?” I asked, a little confused about what I just heard. “What?”
“Oh, you know Rudolph," Pipsqueak said to me. "He’s always trying to be Mr. Bright-Guy. He thought he could take the sleigh on a new route using his little red nose and his—what did he call it Santa?”
“His internal GPS.”
“Yeah, his infernal GBS. Well, he nearly killed the Misses. Luckily, Santa was able to land here in Zoic, but the sleigh is all busted and a few of the reindeer got really badly scrapped up from the mountains that Rudolph took them through. Chris, she called me to come down here and help, but there isn’t nothing I can do.”
“You came all the way from the North Pole?” I asked Pipsqueak.
“Don’t be absurd. I’m retired. I live up the block. I used to be top sled and sleigh repairmen in my day as Lieutenant in the Elf Toy Factory.”
“I thought elves were supposed to be small.”
“Don’t believe everything you here, kid, you’ll come off as an idiot.”
“Thanks for that.”
“Anyways, I’ve got to be going. I’ve got a roast in the oven.” And he was gone without a goodbye.
“That was the best sleigh repairman?” I asked.
“No,” Santa said. “He likes to think he’s the best sleigh repairman." She frowned. "What am I going to do Chip? I don’t have a sleigh. I have reindeer that are hurt. I can’t ruin Christmas.”
“That’s what I was wondering about, Christina—I mean Santa. What do you mean by 'ruin Christmas?'”
“Well, I already delivered all the presents for the good kids—But the naughty kid’s, the ones on the bad list, I haven’t gotten to ruin Christmas for them. Ruining Christmas is ruined.”
“Santa,” I said, cradling the megaphone in my hand. “What if I told you I had an idea? What if I told you I know how you can ruin Christmas for all the bad children out there?! You just have to listen.”
We were soaring through the snowy air and the reindeer—Rudolph, Dasher, Vixen, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen (the others, they were hurt and resting at my place)—the reindeer were pulling us and the new sleigh that Prince Bumper had kindly got me for Christmas. It felt just as comfortable as my sofa did by the fireplace. Santa sat next to me, one hand on the reins, the other holding a steaming cup of cocoa.
“Thank you so much, Chip,” she said, smiling at me as she landed on the roof of a fellow Zoicterranean.
“No, problem. The sleigh is yours. And, like I said, after this pit-stop I’ll make sure Dancer, Prance, and Comet are taken care of while you’re off ruining Christmas for the lot of them. I’ve got plenty of carrots they can munch on; my optometrists gets me a whole slew of them every year for the holidays.”
The roof we had landed on was the flimsiest roof of the flimsiest house in the flimsiest suburb of Oxshire, Zoic. Now that we were on the roof, I was looking forward at seeing how Santa was going to get in the house.
Did she really descend down chimneys?
“Do you really descend down chimneys?” I asked.
“Don’t be absurd,” Christina said, pulling out of her pocket a skeleton key. “I’ve got a key.” And she pulled a ladder from her toy bag and set it on the side of the house. We made our way to the cold, snowy earth and she, with the aid of her key, broke into the house.
“Ever get into trouble for breaking and entering?” I asked.
“Once. I did 20 years in a Prussian Penitentiary in the 1500s.”
“It was the Czar’s house I broke into. He said he would set me free if I would give him more than just coal, but I can’t break my policy. If you’re naughty you don’t get anything but coal… Well, except during the Industrial Revolution; coal would have been too useful... So I gave naughty kids silicon. Surprisingly, all of those naughty kids eventually went on to invent the computer.”
And she unlocked the door and we made our way into the house. I tried to rouse the tenants by gently knocking on their bedroom doors, but no one would awaken from their slumber. So I did what any reasonable adult would do upon breaking into someone's house. I shouted out their names using the megaphone. And blearily Gabe, holding his slingshot; and Barbra, holding what appeared to be an iron, came stumbling into the living room.
“This megaphone works great,” I said to Santa.
Gabe had his slingshot loaded and readied, but when he saw who had accompanied me, he lowered it; his face went from an ashen horror to sun-bright joy.
“Santa!” he said, running towards Christina. He tucked the slingshot into his gown and wrapped his arms around Santa Claus.
“Merry Christmas,” she said as the kid, with his inhuman like strength, nearly squeezed the life out of her.
Gabe released her and began hopping around joyously.
“I knew Santa was real.”
“You’re a woman?” Barbra asked.
“Oh, yes. The media always gets things wrong,” Santa said.
“I’m trying to set things right,” I said. “I’m sorry I messed things up for Gabe. But wasn’t I surprised when Santa came knocking on my door. Her sleigh wasn’t working and—”
Barbra did not look at all surprised or happy.
“How dare you,” she said and crossed her arms. Her expression was cross. She was cross. “You ruin Christmas for Gabe and then expect me to believe that you came her, with this—this trollop—”
“Hey!” Santa said. “There’s no reason to disrespect me.”
“I apologize,” Barbra said. “But you're ridiculous to think I or Gabe will—”
“Oh, Barbra,” Christina said. “When did you lose your wonderment, your dreams—"
"Shut your trap!" Barbra said. "You break into my house and start talking about nonsense and expect me to believe a word you say! And you! Chip! You break into my house and lie to my son!" And Barbra would have went on like this for quiet sometime; possibly until dawn or even the new year... and well, Santa just didn't have that sort of time. And so, as Barbra was letting off some steam, Santa, with the wave of her hand, transported us from the warmth of the house, to the cool darkness of the world outside. We were standing on the roof before the reindeer—and it was then that Barbra realized who Christina was—that she was truly Santa.
“Now you believe me,” I said to Barbra as she stared at the reindeer. “Santa needed my help to ruin Christmas.”
Santa elbowed me in the ribs.
“I mean to save Christmas,” I said.
“I can’t believe it!” Gabe said and he danced around on the roof. He loved dancing on roofs (I’m sure you’re well aware of his roof-antics as I’ve already discussed them in my last story, the one about Lions & Slighshots & Bedtime..., Oh, my!).
Santa pulled from her bag a present that was wrapped in green and red wrapping and handed it to Gabe. He looked at it and smiled.
“You must promise me that you won’t open it until I’m gone,” she said.
“Oh. Okay.” The boy smirked.
And with that, Santa and I ascended the sleigh and said our farewells.
“Will I see you again?” the boy asked.
“Of course,” Santa said. "Good luck getting down." And she pulled at the reins and we began our ascent. "It’s great that we went to see him and that he believes in me again..., but you do know all he got was coal, right?”
And as she said this I felt a sharp sting on my forehead and something heavy and cold fall into my lap. It was a piece of coal. Another one soared at me and struck me in the eye.
Gabe had apparently already opened his gift.
“I think he’ll like that just fine," I said.
“That kid is a troublemaker,” Santa said. “He’s the sole reason I check my list twice.”
And we flew off into the night towards my humble abode in the little Island Nation of Zoic.
“So, what are you doing later?” I asked her as the cool, nightly wind rushed by us.
“Are you asking me out on a date?”
“You know I’m hundreds of year’s old, right?”
“Yes, but you don’t look a day older than 300.”
She blushed, but then it may have been from the cold.
“I’m married,” she said.
“Oh, I was hoping that part of your story wasn’t true. He’s a lucky fellow.”
“Her name’s Sarah,” Santa said.
“She’s a lucky lady, then.”
“She is. We both are very happy.”
And we landed back at my house. And before she left she wished me a merry Christmas and thanked me for my help.
“Christmas wouldn’t have been ruined without you. How can I thank you?” Santa asked.
“Don’t thank me,” I said, hugging my megaphone. “I think it's every persons duty to make sure that Christmas can be properly ruined and I'm honored that I could be there to ruin it. Thank you, Santa.”
And she rode off, flying up into the night sky, becoming nothing more than a spec in the inky nebulous.
I held up my megaphone for her and for all to listen: “Merry Christmas and Thanks for listening!”