It was a beautiful Christmas Eve, one of those picture-perfect moonlit evenings when the freshly fallen snow hangs gently from the boughs of the evergreen trees. Everyone in town is now tucked warmly in their beds, awaiting their annual midnight visit from ole Saint Nick. The town hall clock strikes midnight and just like that, the jingle of sleigh bells is heard in the distance. Soon Santa Claus and his famous reindeer will visit every home.
Yet this particular year, something is different. Very different, indeed. It seems that Santa is not nearly as jolly as he has been in the past. As he hops down the chimney of Dr. White’s big two-story home, he’s huffing and puffing a bit more than usual. And rather than his jovial Ho-Ho-Ho, we hear more of a mumbling and grumbling that sounds like a puppy about to lose her treat.
It seems that this year, Santa is finding fewer and fewer homes where his visit is all that important. Now-a-days, more and more people around the world are able to go about their own Christmas shopping, buying this and that toy, or game, or gadget on their own. Sadly, nobody needs Santa anymore to bring that one-of-a-kind, special gift that makes Christmas morning so special.
Now Santa, as you know, has been delivering Christmas presents to children around the world for a very long time. Year after year, his workshop bustles with activity. Little elves scurrying about, making hundreds and thousands, no wait, millions and billions of specially designed toys, each carefully crafted according to very specific orders from Santa himself.
In recent years, these special orders have been on the decline. As a matter of fact, would you believe that last year, Santa returned to the North Pole on Christmas Eve with over 15,000 unwanted toys? Apparently parents made other plans to buy fancy electronic games or other wiz-banged computerized gadgets that the children much preferred over Santa’s toys. To Santa Claus, a man who takes his work very seriously, this was a big blow not only to his business, but to him personally.
This year, by the time Santa arrived at Dr. White’s home, he was finding that nearly half of the items he had brought with him were simply not needed. To add insult to injury, the good doctor’s house was so crammed with store-bought gifts that Santa, in his growing disappointment and disgust, decided there was only enough room for a few North Pole candy canes to be scattered here and there beneath the tree. For heaven’s sake, even the stockings that were hung with care over Dr. White’s fireplace were already brimming with store-bought candy and other pre-packaged goodies. Why there wasn’t any room for even one small slice of Mrs. Claus’ famous fudge! What’s a person to do?
So by the time Santa ascends up Dr. White’s fireplace, we find him grumbling much louder than when he descended. As he walks toward his sleigh, the reindeer are getting a pretty good earful on how tired old St. Nick is of traveling from town to town on Christmas Eve, only to find more and more people not really all that excited about his visit.
“I’m getting kind of sick of this, Blitzen.” Santa says, as he throws the leftover presents back onto his sleigh. “Why do I bother? What’s the use? I work my fingers to the bone for 364 days each year, getting myself ready to bring special gifts to children all over the world. Yet town after town, I find the same thing. Nobody cares anymore. Nobody, Comet. Nobody! Why, at the last house, all I found on the table was a smashed-up butter cookie and a half-full glass of soymilk. Rudolph, I’m just not sure I want to keep doing this year after year, what about you?”
Rudolph took a deep breath and hurried the reindeer team on to the next house. Maybe there they’d find an expectant household who would truly appreciate all Santa does in making Christmas so special. Well, sad to say, our story doesn’t get much better from here on. By the time Santa and his team of reindeer get back to the North Pole, Santa’s mood has soured just about as much as that lukewarm milk he drank back at the Baxter home in Poughkeepsie.
Back at the North Pole the entire town is fully prepared to welcome home their native son. The lights are all hung, the trees all trimmed. The “Welcome Home” banner hangs proudly over the town square. In the distance, the faint sound of sleigh bells cues the community band director to ready his troops for the celebration music. In just a few moments, St. Nicholas and his faithful reindeer would touch down at center stage, ending yet another annual round-the-world excursion. The crowd broke into wild applause as Santa stepped from his sleigh.
Yet this year, as I told you earlier, was different. As much as the elves had wanted Santa’s welcome home party to be special, it was pretty obvious to most observers that St. Nick was not smiling. In fact, it looked like Santa was scowling.
“Howdy, Santa…welcome back!” Sam the Elf calls out in his ever-so-jolly high-pitched voice. Sam has served as head elf for nearly five hundred years now, and everyone knows that if anyone can cheer up Santa, it certainly will be ole Sam.
“Made good time tonight, Santa. It’s only a few minutes after midnight!”
But nothing Sam could say this evening could help cut through the fog surrounding Santa’s mood. No, indeed. Santa was in no mood tonight for cordial how-do-you-dos. Not even Mrs. Claus’ warm welcome could overcome the hard cold fact that Santa had brought back with him over 125,000 unwrapped packages this year. Think of it! Over 125,000 hand-crafted gifts, specially designed by Santa himself for 125,000 special children. All of them refused. All of them not necessary. No sir. Not needed anymore. These 125,000 kids wanted better gifts than these, and sure enough, their parents made sure they got ‘em.
Everyone at the North Pole realized that business was declining. Some elves secretly feared layoffs, and now that the Christmas season was finally over, the hard times were most likely here to stay. With 125,000 returned gifts, most of the elves knew that things would be hard around the workshop this year. Yet to be honest, while everyone was fearful of the situation, no one, not even Sam, expected to hear the words that came out of dear old Santa’s mouth that dreadful Christmas night.