Finally, around five o’clock on Christmas Day, the worship service starts to wane and everyone walks over to the North Pole Civic Auditorium for the annual North Pole Christmas dinner. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that the after-dinner desserts and conversations continue in the auditorium well into the wee hours of December 26th.
Well, as I mentioned before, this year is quite different. Mrs. Claus awoke on Christmas morning around eight o’clock with the hopes that Santa’s sour mood would have dissipated with a good night’s sleep. But unfortunately, Santa rolled out of bed in much the same manner that he went there. It was only after much coaxing by Mrs. Claus that Santa reluctantly agreed to even attend this year’s Christmas morning church service!
Now it didn’t take long for most of the North Pole community to see that something was drastically wrong. Santa never once got out of his seat to play the bass, nor did he even ask Mrs. Claus to dance during Joy to the World. At the Christmas dinner over at the Civic Auditorium, Santa sat very quietly, playing with his food more than enjoying it. By about eight o’clock, Santa got up, stretched a bit and placed his napkin neatly over his dessert plate. Looking around the room, he smiled briefly at Mrs. Claus and Sam, and then quietly walked toward the big front door. Mrs. Claus quickly excused herself and began to follow, but before she could get her warm coat over her shoulders, Santa had already gone outside, leaving his coat, hat and gloves behind. Mrs. Claus and Sam peered through the frosted pane of the auditorium door, only to see poor Santa, shuffling his boots through the fresh layer of white snow that had fallen throughout the evening meal. No one had ever seen Santa this low. No one knew how hard this next year would be. Not even Sam or Mrs. Claus.
I won’t take too much of your precious time telling you all about the details of the next twelve months. Suffice to say that it was one long year at the North Pole workshop. While Santa did occasionally make his way over to the assembly room to see how the elves were doing with the new work orders, everyone could tell that his heart was just not in his work at all this year. Mrs. Claus was her ever-cheerful self and Sam, being the level-headed elf that he is, kept the work force together, focusing everyone to keep their eyes on their ultimate goal of making Christmas all it’s meant to be.
I should tell you as well, that behind the scenes, there were numerous attempts to help Santa get out of his funk. Mrs. Claus probably played the biggest role in keeping Santa from falling into a deep depression. Martha (that’s Mrs. Claus’ first name, by the way, just so you’ll know) kept reminding Santa of all the good his work had accomplished over the last seventeen hundred years. Sam, on the other hand, convinced Santa to make several appointments with Dr. Weinstein the Elf. As the North Pole’s only resident psychiatrist, Dr. Weinstein skillfully walked Santa through some of the really hard emotional issues surrounding this difficult season in his life.
In June, Dr. Weinstein and Sam arranged for Santa and Mrs. Claus to take a short sabbatical to Florida. This time away from the North Pole proved to be very beneficial for both Santa and Martha and for a few weeks after their trip, it actually looked as though Santa might be turning the corner.
By September, however, pre-Christmas orders were more than 50% behind the dismal figures of last year. Sam tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, but Santa saw right through them, and by October, his spirits had dropped lower than the temperature atop North Pole Majestic Mountain on the coldest day of the year.
And so we find ourselves once again on Christmas Eve. As usual, the elves have outdone themselves in bringing together all the many details that make Santa’s annual visit all it has been for so many around the world. By noon on Christmas Eve day, the sleigh was decked out with fresh holly, the reindeer brushed and groomed, and the countless toys and gifts all wrapped, packed, and stacked in postal code order. The stage is set, but unfortunately this year the only missing piece is Santa himself. There he sits, all morning long, staring out the frosted window of his study on the second floor of his home. Mrs. Claus came in several times throughout the morning to freshen up his coffee or to offer him a mid-morning snack. But each time Santa seemed unaware of Martha’s loving touch.
Outside the main office, Sam is pacing the floor, wondering silently to himself if this will finally be the year he won’t be able to pull the whole thing off. For nearly five hundred years now, Sam has served faithfully as Santa’s head elf, and not one time has a disaster caused the show to be canceled. Heaven knows, each year has had its own set of massive headaches that come close to shutting down the whole operation. Why, back in 1876, Sam thought the blizzard that hit most of the country might just keep Santa from visiting over 100,000 homes. Then, of course, there was 1939, the year of the pea soup fog that nearly shut down even the North Pole. Without Rudolph, who knows how Sam would have dug his way out of that one?
But this year is totally different. In all of his days Sam had never seen Santa be this close to not making the trip. Why, just think. In just a few hours, Santa needs to be dressed to the hilt in his Christmas attire, but right now, he’s sitting in his study, wearing his winter nightgown. Plus, Mrs. Claus says that he has not even shaved or showered in three days!
The dinner hour is now approaching, and the time is coming for the elves to gather in the town square. The weather at the North Pole is picture perfect: thirty degrees below zero with strong gusts of southerly winds blowing light and fluffy snow across every sidewalk in town. Yet tonight, no one in the crowd has their mind on the weather. Everyone has their eyes focused on the Claus residence. Mrs. Claus is in the kitchen, preparing the traditional community wide farewell dinner. Sam stands by the sleigh, readying the reindeer with their traditional sleigh bell harnesses.
But then it happens. Santa, dressed in his red work slacks, suspenders, and an old white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, swings wide the doors of his second floor study, and steps out on the balcony. With a flair for the dramatic, Santa calls out over the courtyard to Sam.