You’ve all heard the story of St. Nicolas, the jolly old elf who, every Christmas Eve, travels around the globe bring joy to all the good children. But how did Santa Claus really begin?
The story goes way back, but I fear that if I were to start at the beginning it would take too long. Let me set the stage: it was not too long ago, a century, maybe, when Christmas wasn’t as loved a holiday as it is today. Children went to bed, not giddy with anticipation as one would expect, but sad and fearful for what awaited them in the morning. For every year on Christmas Eve, Not-So-Saint Nick would make his way around the world in a black sleigh pulled by mules (A species of animal just as disagreeable as him) and would steal all the toys, treats, and decorations that make people pleased. And in their place, he would leave a large clump of coal. And when the day’s work was done, he would travel home to the North Pole where he would lock up his stolen treasure into giant storehouses, never to be seen again. For countless ages, Nick would rob from the world, but it wasn’t until a few decades ago when things really began to change.
“Come on people, let’s go!” It was two days until Christmas Eve, and the elves working in Nick’s coal mines were still five tons away from their annual quota. He cracked his whip in the general direction of the exhausted creatures, scaring them into higher speeds.
“Keep it coming, runts! You know what happens if I’m not satisfied!” he roared. The elves around him did a collective shudder. Once, a few years back, the quota wasn’t filled and they all suffered, the supervisor, Jingles, was hurt the most. He was demoted all the way to the Pit, the very bottom of the mine where the air is so thick with coal dust you can’t see the hand in front of your face.
“Um, Sir,” a small, slightly nasaled voice peeks out from behind Nick’s black clad thigh. “Perhaps if you supplied us better tools we could be a bit more efficient…”
“Are you questioning my authority, Spackles?” he thunders.
“My name’s Sprinkles,” says the elf quietly.
“No, sir, I’m not challenging your authority, sir.”
“Good. Or else you would be joining Jingles down in the Pit,” he sneered, then turning from the slaving creatures, he cackled evilly and strode out of the cave and into the light.
But little did he know that he was being watched, and discussed, in a council of elders high above in the clouds.
“Order, Order!” Father Time bangs his gavel down hard upon the table, his long gray beard cascading down his face like sooty rain. His eyes are stormy and tell of times both distant in the past and stretching beyond to the future.
“We will have order in this council!” He booms, his voice like a thunder clap.
“Now,” he begins once all was quiet, “Something must be done about this thieving Nick!” He scans the figures before him: Easter Bunny, Sandman, St. Patrick Leprechaun, Tooth Fairy, and Cupid, searching for even a glimmer of an idea.
“Ooh!” says the Leprechaun, “We could send him on a wild journey across a rainbow. He’ll be so distracted; he’ll forget all about stealing!” His red beard quivers with excitement as he thinks about it.
“But you forget, Lucky,” says Tooth Fairy, “you can’t walk on a rainbow.” She smiles smugly, wings fluttering.
“Well, what do you expect we do?” Luck asks, green clad arms crossed.
“I suggest we knock ol’ Nicky’s lights out every Christmas Eve!” says Bunny, fists batting in the air.
“Order!” interrupts Time. “None of these will work,” he sighs. “We can’t just eliminate him, or else another will rise to take his place! No, we must change Nick! That is the only way!”
“But, Time, how do we do that?” Sandman asks. Wispy, lavender clouds encircled his head, causing any who inhaled them to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Time only smiled.
“Only two more days…” sang Nick. He is sitting at his dinning room table, enjoying a meal of cookies and milk, cold, of course. A single candle illuminates his plate, enabling him to just barely see, but not so much that the room felt cheery.
“The notion of all those children’s disappointed faces always puts me in a wonderful mood!” he smiles and stuffs another large bite of chicken in his mouth. Then, all of the sudden, a gust of hot wind swirls around the chamber and the candle flickers out. A booming voice fills the room.
“NICK,” it bellows. “YOU ARE A DISGRACE! YEAR AFTER YEAR, YOU TERRORIZE THOSE LESSER THAN YOURSELF, NOW, A CURSE IS BEING PUT UPON YOU!” Nick is shaking, his arms and legs quivering like a blender full of Jell-O, but the ominous voice wasn’t finished.
“FROM THIS POINT FORWARD, YOU SHALL EXPERIENCE ALL THAT YOU HAVE BESTOWED ON OTHERS! THE ONLY WAY TO RESTORE WHAT YOU HAVE LOST IS TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT!” And then, just as suddenly as it began, it is gone. But all is not the same.
“What was that?” Nick gasps. “That milk must’ve been spoiled or something…” but as he looks down at his plate, he finds that it was gone.
“Huh,” He muses. “That’s weird.” Nick gets down on his hands and knees and peers under the table, feeling around with his palms for his lost meal.
“I must have already finished it and forgotten,” he says unconvincingly, chuckling nervously and goes up to bed.
“Has it begun?” asked Cupid.
“Stage one is in action,” replies Time
Nick wakes for his routine midnight snack of candy corn and syrup at precisely 11:58. He springs out of bed and shuffles down the hallway to the kitchen. Wrapping his robe more tightly around his bulging midsection, he opens his refrigerator, lips smacking.
“What?” He exclaims in surprise. He runs from the fridge to the nearest cabinet and flings it wide. He continues this behavior until every single pantry, drawer, and cubby hole is thoroughly scrutinized. But all of them are as empty as carton of eggnog on Christmas Eve.
“How can this be?” wails Nick, sitting cross-legged in the middle of his kitchen. Then the words of the disembodied voice came back to him: From this point forward, you shall experience all that you have bestowed upon others. A cold sweat breaks out on his forehead as he remembers all of the horrid things he had done over the years.
“If this lack of food happened last night,” he says, recalling the disappearance of his dinner. “Then what is to happen to me today?” Then, with a sudden realization, he leaps from his floor and runs as fast as his chubby legs could carry him back to his bedroom. Nick throws open the door and stares in horror at what awaits him. The room is empty, his bed, rocking chair, and carpet were gone. Even the closet is completely empty.
“How am I to survive this?” he moans, collapsing on the floor. After a good fifteen minutes, he collects himself and rises to his feet. “If I am to suffer, then so shall my workers!” he decides matter-of-factly, and stormed out of the house and into the snow.
“Get up!” shouts Nick as he reaches the Elf barracks. “Get up, all of you! Get to work!” he leans down and snatches Sprinkles up by his trousers. “What are you doing, Sprenkle?” he hollers.
“I was sleeping, sir,” the elf squeaks.
“And why aren’t you in the mines?”
“But, sir, we stayed up late and completed out quota!” Sprinkle protests.
“Well,” derides Nick, “you can always get a jump start on next year.” And with that, he tosses the poor little creature a out the door and scoots him along with a swift kick in the pants. He chuckles evilly and turns toward the mansion, but it to had disappeared. Nick shrugs, trying not to show how much it bothers him, and shuts the door to the Elf barracks.
“Has he changed at all?” asks Lucky.
“Not yet, my green friend,” answers Time. “You must give it awhile.”
“But what if he doesn’t change before tonight?”
It had been fourteen hours since Nick had discovered his fate, and, being quite a large guy, is so hungry he that debates whether or not to eat the coal from the mines.
“Even the Elves have enough nourishment,” he says, then a thought occurs to him. “I can just order him to give me their food! Then all this will be forgotten.” He stands and shuffles to the mines, giddy with pleasure at his own cleverness.
“Sprackles!” He calls. “Where do you keep your stores?” he asks cheerily.
“All the coal we mine goes straight--” he begins.
“No, no, no,” interrupted Nick. “Your food stores.” Sprinkles face becomes red.
“Do you mean to say that you want to eat our food?” he huffs. “You work us to death, pay us no wages and beat us if we don’t do exactly what you want. And now you want our food? You don’t even know my name!”
Nick is speechless, never had any elf acted this way before.
“If you’re not careful…” He begins.
“Yeah, Yeah, you’ll throw me in the pit! Well, at least I wouldn’t have to be around you!” he spits.
Nick is beyond amazement and turns in shock to the outside.
“Now?” asks Sandy.
“What does this mean?” Nick muses to himself. “How am I to live without food, a house, and the respect of my workers?” he sits in the snow, dumbfounded. “Wait. The voice said that there was a way to set it right!”
“Not Yet. He has to say it!”
“He said that it could be returned to normal if all was set right, but how to I do that?” Nick muses, his bearded chin resting on his fist as his thought swirls. “If only I knew. I would anything to have it all back.”
“Now!” said Time
“YOU CAN ONLY REGAIN WHAT WAS LOST BY SETTING ALL THINGS RIGHT!” the same voice that was in the dining room booms. “RETURN WHAT WAS STOLEN!” and just like that, it disappears.
Nick leaps to his feet in shock at hearing the voice again.
“Wait!” he calls. “How am I supposed to give it all back?” but the voice is gone. I’ll just use my sled, Nick thinks. He strides over to the stables where he keeps his mules and sled, hoping beyond hope they are still there.
When he walks into the rickety structure, Nick discovers that some changes had been made. Instead of his usual team of mules, a team of eight, sleek, beautiful reindeer are before him. Their coats area soft and brown, a stark contrast to the mules’ coarse grey pelts.
“Okay, next stop, supplies!” he announces, dashing out the door and over a slope to the hundreds unopened storehouses. When Nick had first started his career, he made the colossal barns enchanted so that anything kept inside would stay in the same state as when they were first put in there. But there is one problem… there is no way Nick could get all of the stuff he needs to in the sleigh on time!
“I’m going to need a LOT of help,” He mutters. His first thought is to recruit the elves and get them to help, but after what just happened with Sprinkles, Nick was 100% positive he is on his own. But he knows he can’t do it alone.
He stoops his head to get into the mine, but he spots Sprinkles right away.
“Sprinkles, hey, Sprinkles!” he calls. The little elf’s face darkens when he sees Nick, but before he can say a word, Nick gets right to the point.
“Sprinkles, I want to apologize to you and all the others for the way you’ve been treated. You have always worked faithfully and diligently, and I’ve never appreciated that.” Sprinkles’ face softens, and Nick presses on. “I want to change, but to do that, I need your help. Please.”
Sprinkles grins. “Come on, boys!” he calls over his shoulder. “We’ve got a new job to do!”
In just a few short hours, the sleigh is packed and ready. The reindeer are hooked up and ready, anxious to begin the journey.
“Sir,” Sprinkles speaks. “If you really want to change, it might help to have a new name!”
“You’re quite right!” Nick chuckles “How about Nicolas? It’s similar enough, but more refined.”
“Wonderful! Nicolas it is!” And with that, the two parties’ wave to each other as the sleigh rides off into the night.
It is a long journey, but, house by house, country by country, continent by continent, it is done. Children expecting to wake up with their happiness swiped found presents and feasts. A shiny red bicycle here, a doll in a frilly dress there. Turkeys and pudding, gravy and pie. All sorts of wonderful things are returned to their rightful owners, granting joy and wonder all across the world.
“Who are you?” asks one man who encounters Nicolas.
“I am Nicolas, here to right what was wrong,” He replies.
“You are truly a saint.” The man gushes.
“Then you shall call me Saint Nicolas!”
And those who didn’t see him, heard stories of a jolly old man riding a sled pulled by reindeer, a red bathrobe flowing about him, bringing happiness to all.
“Is it complete?” asks Tooth. “Has he really changed?”
“Yes, he has.” Answers Time, a triumphant grin on his face.
“But won’t he just turn back into the despicable thief he was before?” comments Cupid, worried.
“No, Cupid, I don’t believe he will.”
So, there you have it. How it all began, I mean. How one individual, with a little encouragement, completely changed his life for the better.