A party for Santa
Santa Claus was barely able to stand on his feet. Moments ago, he had delivered the last presents to three very happy children. Now he was dragging himself back to his sleigh. His reindeer were exhausted, too, not even raising their heads to greet him. Luckily the sled was empty of gifts now, so the reindeer wouldn’t have to work so hard anymore.
Santa climbed up onto his seat, took the reins and gave the reindeer their signal. “Ho, ho, ho!” he called. There was no reaction from the reindeer; not a one did so much as bat an eyelash. “I know, I know, you are wiped out! But we still have to go back home today! Or would you rather spend the night in that windy shack again, where they served you those old dried-up baked apples last year?” Six pairs of eyes turned to look at Santa with horror. And before a single second had passed, the sleigh took a giant leap forward, its runners squealing as it turned before taking off into the air. “Well, there we go!” grumbled Santa into his long, white beard.
A few hours later, they were barely plodding along, moving at no more than a snail’s pace. On top of that, one of the reindeer was limping. Nothing helped – the team simply needed to rest. “Hold on just a bit longer!” shouted Santa to his team’s lead reindeer. “We’re going to take a break very soon. Just another half hour. But if they’ve got nothing but old baked apples there again, I will haul them over the coals, that you can believe!”
Just a few minutes later, bright lights appeared up ahead. What could it be? Not the shack they were headed to – it was still half an hour away and not nearly as beautifully decorated with lights! The reindeer had seen the lights, too. And they must have sensed something, because suddenly they were dashing along as energetically as if they had just started their journey. That’s when Santa smelled it too, the unmistakable scent of freshly baked apples filled with raisins and marzipan!
Seconds later, the sled came to a stop in front of a little cottage aglow with lights. Rudi’s Heavenly Rest Stop read a sign above the door. “I could not have planned this any better,” Santa thought to himself. “A new rest stop in the perfect spot, and at just the right time!” He jumped off the sleigh. The reindeer snorted, fidgeting in their harnesses. “Yes, all right, calm down, I’ll bring you something!” he called over his shoulder. Santa yanked open the door to the rest stop and was immediately greeted by a friendly man in a plaid shirt and corduroy pants, a white apron tied around his waist. “Oh, there you are. We’ve been expecting you,” the man said. “I’ve got a box of baked apples all ready for you! Here you go!”
Santa was speechless. “Um,” was the only sound he could get out, taking off his pointy red hat with its white fur trim in utter embarrassment. “But how do you know who I am, and how did you know I would be passing by here?” he asked. “Oh, you know, the grapevine,” answered the man. “You hear all kinds of things through it. Now just take these baked apples, please, and get back to your journey home!” Santa suddenly found himself outside the rest stop door, where the reindeer proceeded to empty the box of baked apples before he even had a chance to put it on the ground. It was their favorite fuel, after all! The rest of their homeward journey passed in a flash.
They arrived at home, parking the sleigh between the house and the storage shed where the gifts were kept. Looking around from atop his sleigh, Santa began to wonder. There were quite a lot of footprints in the snow in the yard – where did they come from? After all, nobody had been home, and everyone knew that a visit to Santa Claus at this time of year was pointless! What’s more, the smell of a fire burning filled his nose. He looked up, and sure enough, smoke was curling out of his chimney. Something was very wrong here!
He jumped from the sleigh, steadied the reindeer and armed himself with the snow shovel he always took along on his sleigh. Then he headed for his front door, snow shovel at the ready. When he reached the door, however, it was flung open from the inside with a great swoosh, and light and warmth streamed out, accompanied by peals of laughter, music, and the sight of happy faces. “Surprise!!!” shouted all the angels, nutcrackers, snowmen, pixies, and wood gnomes who had come from near and far, across the entire universe. There were even a few other Santas there, who had obviously managed to get home faster than he had.
Santa lowered his shovel. He had absolutely no idea what was going on. “Um,” he stammered for the second time today. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what day it is!?” Olaf, a snowman, said to him. “Uh, yeah, I guess I did kind of forget. My birthday isn’t until May!” replied Santa. Everyone giggled. Olaf thrust his twiggy arms into his round, snowy hips. “Why, my dear Santa Claus! It was 50 years ago today that you began serving as Santa Claus. And since then, you’ve brought presents to so many children that we can’t even begin to count them. That is something we simply have to celebrate! The first thing we’re going to do is crank up the Northern Lights machine. We’ve all really been looking forward to that. Come inside now!” he said, taking the shovel away from Santa and tugging him into the house by the arm. People on Earth didn’t notice much about the special celebration going on that Christmastime, only that the Northern Lights danced continuously across the sky at night. Perhaps someone forgot to turn the machine off after the party?