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Where Did Santa Claus Come From?

It was the last Christmas that my daughter believed Santa Claus was a physical person at the north pole.  We were trimming the tree when she asked me, “How did Santa get started?”  I’m not a creative person, but the question opened the way for my imagination to make a rare appearance.  I found that the germ of a story was already in my mind, and so I told it to her, filling out the details as I went.

My wife has made me write it down and post it here.  Why not?  It’s Christmastime and politics will get along fine without us for a few days.

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It happened over a thousand years ago in a town high in the German Alps.  One dark winter evening, old Herr Klaus sat by the fire in the inn.  You would often find Klaus there when the icy chills came.  Klaus had been the town’s master carpenter for nigh on 50 years and he was now grown old and stiff in the joints.  And while he could still repair a cart wheel or build a table at need, he did these things less and less as time went on.  Most often he made toys for his own pleasure and that of the townspeople’s children, or else he sat with a mug of beer here by the fire in the inn.

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Klaus had dozed, but now he woke with a jump at the sound of excited voices.  A stranger had joined the company; a hunter wrapped in snow-matted fur seeking warmth and refuge from the winter blast. A haunted man he seemed, with a foreign accent and terror in his voice.  “The demons of the north, I tell you!” he said.  “They’re up on the pass all right, howling and rumbling. I have only just escaped with my life.”

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That morning, the hunter had left a little village up over the high pass 10 leagues to the north.  He had not gone far when the sky became laden and dark, and a deadly north wind began, and he knew that a horrible snowstorm was almost upon him.  But he dared not turn back to the little village, for its men were mostly off  fighting wars, and so the villagers had no store of winter supplies.  Nor would any supplies be coming this winter to the village, he knew, for the storm that was coming would surely block the pass for the season.  The poor village folks seemed bound to starve or freeze.  It was no good going back there to share their grim fate.  So all day the hunter had slogged and stumbled and forced his way over the pass through the wind and deepening snow, reaching the warmth of the inn with the last light of day and at the very end of his strength.

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When old Klaus heard all of this, he rose from his chair by the fire in the inn and told the assembled townsmen that they would have to rescue the poor villagers if they could.  But even though Klaus was  the jolliest and most generous man anyone knew, and even though he spoke with passion and authority, none of them would agree to go out into the storm to save the villagers from freezing and starving –  not when the demons of the north were howling on the high passes.  And so Klaus told them he would make the dangerous trip alone, and nobody could dissuade him.

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No cart could force a road through such a snow, but Klaus knew about an old heavy sleigh in the stable that just might make it.  Back in those days, only the very rich had horses, and the people in Klaus’ town had donkeys and reindeer.  So to the old sleigh Klaus hitched eight reindeer, and he filled the sleigh’s lamps with oil and lit them.  And while none of the townsmen would go with Klaus, they all brought coal, fuel oil, bread, cheeses and sausages, and they helped load the sleigh with these provisions.  On top of the load Klaus packed toys he had made to give to the village children. With a wave to the townspeople he drove away north on the road  to the high pass, and his lights quickly disappeared from view.

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I don’t know what the journey through that horrible storm was like, because old Klaus never told anyone about it.  The uphill leg of the trip must have been very hard for the reindeer, stout as they were, because the sleigh was so heavily loaded.  And old Klaus must have grown colder and colder the further he drove from his chair by the fire in the inn.  How the demons of the north must have howled!  The snow would have been most deep on the northern, downhill side of the pass.  They say that the storm left drifts many feet deep.  The sleigh’s good wide runners, the steep downhill grade and the heavy load explain, perhaps, how Klaus was able to force a road through the drifts, all the way to the village below.

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The villagers heard Klaus’ sleigh bells and came out of their dark, cold houses to find him.  His hands were frozen to the reigns and his beard was caked with ice.  But no breath of steam could be seen from his mouth because old Klaus was dead.  They unloaded the supplies from the sleigh, thanked poor old Klaus, lit their lamps and their stoves with the fuel Klaus had brought and ate their first good meal in days.  They had to leave old Klaus as he sat in the sleigh, for they could do nothing for him until the spring thaw.

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Not all of the spirit beings out that terrible night were evil.  There were  good spirits of light, too, and Klaus’ journey had caught their attention.  Perhaps they were the old pagan gods of the Germanic people.  Or maybe they were angels of the new religion that the Christian priests had brought to the people.  Whoever they were, they appeared and gathered around  Klaus’ sleigh, radiating a light that astonished the villagers who watched from their doorways.  The tallest and brightest of the spirits laid his hand on old Klaus’  head and spoke to him, saying, “Awake, Saint Klaus, and receive this boon for thy love and courage! From this night onward, thou art immortal like us, and once every year thou shalt  take again thy heroic journey to bring joy and hope to people everywhere.”

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At that moment, Santa Claus opened his eyes and looked on the beings who had woken him.  A kind and happy smile broke out on his face and “Ho ho ho!”, he laughed. He shook the reigns and the sleigh took to the skies for the very first time.

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One comment on “

  1. Anonymous says:

    Merry Christmas to you and yours this season. And thanks for the story.!

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