The toy-making machines were up for sale, and the workshop was quiet.
Even the usual decorations – the red ribbons, the pretty bows, the towering trees and the sparkling lights – were missing from their normal perches.
Usually, the Christmas season was a busy – and jolly – time for the North Pole, but this year was different. The elves were on vacation, and Santa and Mrs. Claus were soon to follow.
In fact, Rudolph and his fellow reindeer were ready to take the Clauses – recently retired from their annual gift-giving duties – to the South Pole for an extended and well-deserved rest. Their sunny retirement villa was ready to be occupied, and Jolly Old Saint Nicholas was now sporting a clean-shaven face. This year, there would be no red suit, and Santa would instead don a pair of swim trunks. He was looking forward to working on his tan, and Mrs. Claus was planning to enjoy a holiday free from the usual hustle and bustle of baking goodies.
There would be no holiday ham this year, either; instead, the Clauses were planning to order a pizza for Christmas Day lunch, and Santa had already issued strict orders banning all Christmas movies from his new residence. It was quite an absurd year, and newscasters across the world could not believe it was happening. Was Santa really retired? Who was going to deliver gifts for all the good boys and girls throughout the world? How would Christmas continue under these circumstances?
You see, Santa and his cast of characters at the North Pole had been making Christmases bright for many, many years, and, truth be told, Santa was just tired. He was not getting any younger, and, as sometimes happens, to, ahem, “the older generation,” he was pretty grouchy. He had noticed that children no longer seemed appreciative of their gifts, and his elves had shifted from making cute dolls and toy horses to complicated gadgets like iPhones and PlayStations. The innocent days of Christmases past were gone, it seemed, and it was enough to depress Santa and cause him to ponder a life free of toys and late-night deliveries via the chimney.
Plus, his doctor had been fussing at him for years about all of the milk and cookies, and his suit was falling apart from all of the expanding at its waistline. It was just “bah humbug” all around for the formerly jolly old man, and, one day earlier in the year, he had made his decision. He talked it over with Mrs. Claus, and they even drew up the plans for their retirement home, which was built in record time. He issued a press release announcing his retirement, and that was that. The Clauses were done, and all their assorted North Pole junk was now on eBay. It was over.
Or so it seemed.
The sleigh was packed for its voyage to the South Pole, and the Clauses were doing their last-minute checks to see if anything had been left behind. Rudolph – who was planning to retire to Antigua after this last trip – was rearing to go, and Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen were hitched to their posts. Mrs. Claus boarded first, and Santa – hiding a stash of cookies in his overnight bag – quickly followed. The sleigh took off, and, in record time, they were in the sunny South Pole. It was heaven to them.
Or so it seemed.
Sure, the first few days of December at the South Pole were great. Their new home was beautiful, and the Clauses spent their days on the beach. Santa was nice and bronze, and he had even decided to ditch his steady diet of cookies. He was looking slim and trim, and, within a week, his jolly mood seemed to return. He was in paradise with Mrs. Claus, who spent many nights now glued to the television watching “The Bachelor.” Santa was no longer on a rigid work schedule, and his constant aggravations – mostly coming from his elves, who were very nice but talked an awful lot – were gone. There were no more public appearances to be made, no more children to hold and no more “Letters to Santa” to be read. It was glorious.
Or so it seemed.
It only took Santa a few weeks – and a few episodes of “The Bachelor” – to realize he had made a terrible mistake. He loved his job, and he had allowed a foul mood – and a few bad days – to cloud his judgment. He had forgotten his mission of spreading joy, and, most importantly, he had let down millions of children who would find nothing under their trees this year. He watched the news and read the newspapers, and he found the world in a state of despair. Of course, Amazon.com was planning a “Santa Drone Service” to drop toys down chimneys on Christmas Eve, but those darn robots could never replace him, the red-suited fat man who brought countless amounts of Christmas cheer! How dare they even try, he thought.
He pried the remote control away from Mrs. Claus and shook her back to reality. They had to get back to the North Pole and save the holiday, he declared. He pulled out his flip phone and called Rudolph, who was fast asleep on a barstool in the Caribbean. Rudolph, for his part, ignored the first few calls, but he finally gave in and answered. “Rudolph! You lazy oaf. Get that nose over here … and get me back to the North Pole,” Santa bellowed. The reindeer rolled his eyes and begrudgingly set off in search of his fellow sleigh-drivers. They complained, too – but, with the hefty promise of a big Christmas bonus and raises in the new year – they hitched to the sleigh and headed to the South Pole.
Santa and Mrs. Claus boarded the sleigh, and, during the trip back to the North Pole, Santa frantically dialed all of his elves, telling them to return to work immediately. The eBay listings were canceled, and, by the time the sleigh skidded to a stop in front of Santa’s workshop, the North Pole even had some Christmas decor displayed. Unlike the reindeer (who were never that great as employees, anyway, but they were cute and liked by the kids), the elves were happy to be back at work, and, in record time, the workshop was churning out toys. Mrs. Claus returned to the kitchen, and Christmas goodies were baked … even as “The Bachelor” played on a small television set by the sink.
Santa seemed to have a new lease on life after his scare with retirement, and he raced around the North Pole to get ready for the big day. His beard grew back, and he even purchased a new red suit. On Christmas Eve, he happily boarded his sleigh, and he headed around the world, dropping billions of gifts to children everywhere. Sure, there were iPhones, iPads, PlayStations and all sorts of other complicated gadgets, but there were also dolls, toy soldiers, books and even this weird pooping flamingo. Santa could not understand the appeal of some of these gifts, but, on Christmas Day, he watched the news from around the world and saw many little smiling faces. Santa realized that, sure, tastes change over the years, but what never changes is the magic that Christmas brings. Oh, and the smiles. The big smiles were worth all of the North Pole hassle.
Santa settled back into his comfortable recliner by his roaring fireplace, and he took a big bite out of a cookie. He thought about the past few months and its adventures, and he evaluated the things he had learned. For one, he learned to not make rash decisions based on a bad mood, and he learned that a few bad days did not mean everything was bad. He also learned the value of appreciating the things he had. His last thought before he fell asleep – for a well-deserved nap – was that, just maybe, he could do this Santa thing for a few more years after all.
• Rudolph decided to stick around, too, but he negotiated a few months of vacation time in his new contract. He bought a place in Antigua, and he became a popular karaoke singer in some small-time Caribbean bars. The red-nosed reindeer took advantage of his celebrity status and was a source of endless aggravation for Santa with his talk show appearances.
• Santa – thoroughly tired of “The Bachelor” – had all television sets removed from the North Pole, but Mrs. Claus could often be found watching the show on an iPad in the workshop attic.
• The Amazon.com “Santa Drone Service” was a disaster, and several chimneys were destroyed in trial runs.
• After years of unsuccessfully trying to get Santa to eat better, Santa’s physician retired from medicine in frustration. He was last seen delivering newspapers for The Pine Belt News.
The story was written by Joshua Wilson, editor of The Pine Belt News, with illustrations by Matt McClure, an advertising representative for The Pine Belt News. Thank you to Keith's Superstores for sponsoring the story!