19 The Father of Christmas
Long ago there lived an explorer named Nicholas. He traveled around the world in search of new lands, new animals, and new relics to discover. And in every place he visited, Nicholas found a special gift to bring back to his son Christian.
In his most perilous journey, Nicholas traveled to the Arctic to find the North Pole. After weeks of tireless dogsled trekking , Nicholas reached the northern Arctic Circle where very little life could survive.
Nicholas relied on the direction of his compass. As the weeks turned to months, Nicholas could still not find the North Pole and his food supply was getting low. His compass began constantly spinning and it could no longer help him find his way. So Nicholas decided to head back home to civilization and admit defeat. But it seemed that no matter what direction he walked in, he kept finding himself stranded deeper and deeper in the vast wilderness.
By this time, Nicholas' beard had grown long and it was constantly covered with snow and ice. It was at his most desperate moment, when he had all but given up, that Nicholas saw small footprints in the snow. Hungry and freezing, Nicholas followed the footprints to a small village. He could not believe that anyone could live in such a frigid place, but there were dozens of small huts around him.
Nicholas unleashed his dogs and went exploring as he did best. In the center of the village there sat a small tree, the only one within miles and miles. But what caught Nicholas' eye was a hat sitting atop the tree. It was reddish brown in color and had a ball on top. Nicholas fought through the wind to reach the small tree and grabbed the hat. Not only did it look warm, but also he thought that it would also make a perfect gift for Christian—if he ever made it out of the Arctic and back home.
The moment Nicholas placed the hat on his head, everything changed. The villagers left their huts and came out to surround him. He noticed that each of them was roughly three feet tall. The dogs became frightened and ran away at the sight of the crowd. Nicholas was too startled to chase after them.
Knowing how to deal with peoples of all different cultures, Nicholas asked to speak with their leader or chief.
We do not have one, replied a woman with a smile, "all of us are equal. But Michael is 2,000 years old, and that makes him the eldest."
How can that be? asked Nicholas.
Michael stepped forward and spoke. "The hat you are wearing was removed from the top of our tree. That tree is the North Pole, where there is no day and no night. As long as the hat stays here, we are unaffected by time. Now that you wear the hat, you, too will not age."
Me? asked Nicholas as he tried to take off the hat.
It cannot be removed, said Michael, "I am sorry."
But I must get home, said Nicholas, "please tell me how to find my way back south to my village."
You cannot leave us, pleaded the woman.
It's true, said Michael, "if you were to leave with the hat, we would not be able to survive."
Nicholas was devastated . He sat down on his sled and cried. He needed to get back to his son.
I can never leave? asked Nicholas.
You may leave for one day a year, said Michael. "Such a short time away would not harm us."
Then I choose to leave in three days, said Nicholas, "on the day of my son's birthday." But after a moment of thinking, Nicholas grew sad once more.
I cannot go anywhere in one day's time. My dogs have left, and it would take weeks to get back home, even with your help.
We have eight caribou in the hut over yonder . You may use them for your sled if you like. I think you will find the trip much shorter while you wear the hat, said Michael.
Nicholas did not know what Michael meant, but he was pleased to be leaving in a few days all the same. Part of him was thinking that once he left, he might never return.
The villagers took very good care of Nicholas. They fed him well and gave him the largest and grandest hut they had. Nicholas spent the next two days building gifts for his son. Nicholas was an excellent carpenter , as that was the first trade he had ever learned. By the day of his departure, December 25th, Nicholas had built his son dozens of wonderful gifts out of wood. The villagers helped him pack the presents into a reddish-brown sack and helped him load the sled.
Good luck, said Michael.
Goodbye, said Nicholas.
No sooner had Nicholas grabbed the reigns, than the caribou took off sprinting. So fast, in fact, that Nicholas thought his sled might actually be floating above the ground. Moments later there was no longer a question in his mind—the caribou, the sled and Nicholas were flying! He looked down to see the smiling face of Michael as he waved him goodbye.
Nicholas and his sled flew through the sky, faster than he could imagine. Soon he was back home in his village and parking the sled outside his own home. He could not believe that he was finally home after his long journey.
He tried to open the front door, but it was locked and his key no longer worked. Wanting to surprise Christian with his gifts, Nicholas used a trick his own father had shown him years earlier when he wanted to play a prank on his younger sister. Nicholas climbed up to the roof and slid down the chimney. Being in his home gave him a comfort he hadn't felt in a long time, but there was no one in sight.
Nicholas searched the house, but Christian was no longer there. None of his belongings were there either. Everything was gone. Nicholas lit a candle and sat down in his empty home for hours and hours. He did not know where his son could be, and it was his son's birthday. Nicholas decided that if his son no longer lived there, perhaps he was somewhere else in the same village.
He wanted his son to know that he loved him. He wanted his son to have a gift from him on his birthday. So Nicholas went to every house in the village and dropped a single toy down each chimney, hoping that one of the toys would reach his beloved Christian.
The heartbreak of not finding his son had reminded Nicholas of those waiting for his return up north. He could not let them down, no matter how much he wanted to stay. So with every gift gone, Nicholas hopped on his sled and flew back to the North Pole.
That night the tiny villagers consoled Nicholas. And on that very same night, Nicholas made a deal with the villagers. In exchange for his loyalty and his promise to stay in the North Pole with the hat, the villagers would help him make toys.
He would teach them how to build and carve and assemble, and they would make toys all year round. And every year on December 25th, his one day of freedom, Nicholas would deliver the toys to all the homes of all the children in the world, knowing that one of them would surely reach his son.
This went on, year after year. And each year, the story of Nicholas grew. He soon became known as St. Nicholas for the joy that he spread.
(By Daniel Errico)