Virus Threatens Santa’s Reindeer

There is nothing better than starting the day with Anya’s chocolate chip pancakes smothered in maple syrup. Sitting in my desk chair, I patted my now satisfied stomach and began going through my messages as I do each morning. The first two messages were about improvements Bernard and I had discussed for the workshops. When I read the third one, an alarm sounded in my head. I got up and headed straight to Highstep’s office in the reindeer barn. Arriving out of breath, I tried to tell him about the message.

“Whoa Santa. Take a minute to catch your breath,” Highstep said as he turned away from Reiney, one of the reindeer herders in his office.

Placing my hands on my hips, I took exhaled slowly and said, “I just read a message from Hanna, one of the elves on vacation in Lapland, Finland, about the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) spreading through herds of elk, moose, and reindeer in the Korvatunturi Mountains”

Nodding his head, Highstep looked at Reiney and said, “Get the reindeer herders together and bring our herd inside as quickly as possible like we discussed.”

“I’m on it,” the elf responded as he left the room.

Highstep then sat on the edge of his desk and pointed to a chair for me. “Hanna copied me and Vetter, our veterinarian, on the message. I wanted to get started right away to protect our reindeer.”

“I understand your desire to get things going quickly,” I said leaning forward. “This sounds pretty serious. How bad is it?”

“The CWD virus is a contagious virus affecting reindeer, elk and moose in Scandinavia, Canada, and Russia. It results in abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and in some cases, death. The worst part is that no one knows exactly how it spreads,” Highstep explained. “I’m sure Vetter will know more. I was going to find you as soon as I got the herders moving.”

Standing and turning towards the door, I insisted, “Well then let’s see what Vetter knows about this virus.”

When we arrived at Vetter’s office, her receptionist, Pyrder, didn’t say a word and just pointed to the lab. Not taking the time to look up from her work, Vetter said, “Santa, Highstep I’m glad you are here. I’ve been working on the problem since I got the message this morning, and have talked with several veterinarians from around the world who are working on it as well.”

Looking over Vetter’s shoulder to see what she was doing, Highstep asked, “Do we know how it spreads yet?”

“Unfortunately, that’s the worst part. No one knows exactly how it spreads, but researchers studying the deer family, seem to think it spreads from animal to animal and not from something they may come in contact with.”

Feeling relieved I said, “Then our herd should be safe since no other deer come to the North Pole.”

“Not so fast Santa!” Vetter exclaimed. “We may not have deer visit here, but each time the mail elves pick up mail, they are in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and could come in contact with other deer. You also have elves taking reindeer sleighs to visit their homeland, and those reindeer definitely are with other reindeer.”

“How are we going to ensure that our reindeer do not get it?” I questioned knowing how tragic the virus would be to our work at the North Pole.

“For right now, Santa, we need to keep you, your Mail Elves, and any Scout Elves here at the North Pole.”

“The Scout Elves won’t be an issue since they do not leave until late November or early December. I will inform Carter to suspend any mail collection until further notice and have Faer cancel all my appointments with J.A.T.S. (Jolly Assistants to Santa) Corp members,” I responded.

“We should separate the herd into small groups. That will limit the number of other reindeer being exposed to the virus if one of them is infected,” Vetter informed us.

Highstep was quick to tell Vetter, “We are already moving our reindeer inside the village and separating them into their pens.”

“That’s a good first step,” Vetter responded. “I am working on a test that should be ready by the end of the day. It will allow us to know if any of the reindeer are infected. Once we identify those infected, we will have to quarantine them for two weeks and monitor them.”

“How bad is it if they are infected?” Highstep wanted to know.

“It’s hard to say. About three percent get really sick and die from the virus, while others show no effects at all,” Vetter informed us as she continued working.

Getting concerned with the situation, Highstep asked, “Is there something we can give them to make them better if they are infected.”

“At this point there is no cure. And before you ask, there is not a vaccine either,” Vetter reported. “If there is any good news, it’s that some veterinarians think they may be close to both a cure and a vaccine. That might be tomorrow, next week, or several months from now.”

“That’s horrible!” I exclaimed. Not liking what I was hearing I asked, “What are the signs that a reindeer is infected?”

Rising from her stool Vetter explained, “You will notice changes in their behavior. This could include decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, a blank facial expression, and repetitive walking in set patterns.”

Placing both his hands on his head as if he had a headache, Highstep asked, “So what can we do?”

“Until I have the test ready, just observe the reindeer for symptoms. If you notice any of them showing any of the signs, then you need to quarantine them.”

Gently grabbing Highstep’s arm to lead him towards the door, I said, “We need to let Vetter get to work on the test. Let’s go tell the herders what to watch for in the reindeer.”

“Santa, there is one more thing you should know,” Vetter said with concern in her voice. “Viruses like this are known to jump from the animals to people and elves. I don’t know if this one will, but you need to take precautions.”

“Thanks for the heads up. We have our work cut out for us Highstep.”

Once the door to the lab shut behind us, I immediately looked at Highstep and said, “Go back to the reindeer barn and tell the herders what to look for. As a precaution give all the elves a mask we use in the wood shop. Tell them they must wear it while working with the reindeer.”

With urgency in his voice, Highstep responded, “That’s a good idea. Until this is under control, I’m going to have all the herders stay away from the rest of the elves, as an additional precaution.”

“Great! I’m going to see Bernard. I’ll let him know what’s going on, and we will instruct all the other elves to stay away from the east side of the village where the reindeer are.” As we walked out of the office I added, “Good luck!” and headed to Bernard’s office.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Leaning back in my office chair, I listened to Vetter who was sitting on the other side of my desk. She was giving me an update about the CWD virus that had threatened our reindeer herd just two months earlier.

Reading from her notepad, Vetter announced, “We had 21 reindeer infected. Four became seriously ill, but none of them died thanks to the cure we got from Finland. Two weeks ago, doctors in the United States began testing a vaccine. It should be ready in June or July, and as soon as it’s available we will give it to all our reindeer. Once we have them vaccinated you and the elves can begin traveling again”

“I cannot thank you enough for what you did for the reindeer!” Standing to shake Vetter’s hand, I continued, “You and all your fellow veterinarians around the world came together to find a cure and develop the vaccine to save the reindeer, moose, and elk. If it was not for the efforts of you and your colleagues, the infection may have spread to more animals than it did.”

“Just doing our job Santa,” Vetter said as she closed her notebook and walked out of the office. I stood there for a few minutes gathering my thoughts when I remembered that Ms. Claus, Bernard, and Highstep were waiting for me in the small conference room just off of my office.

Walking into the room, I found them seated at the table and talking with each other. Ms. Claus was the first to notice the big smile on my face and asked, “So is it truly over? Are the reindeer out of danger?”

“It is. Vetter just gave me her final report, and we are returning to normal. The reindeer are safe and sound once again.”

Excited by the news, Highstep said, “The herders will be glad to know they no longer have to stay away from the other elves anymore.”

“That is a relief, and brings me to the next point. Santa while the three of us waited, we talked about the virus,” Anya said.

“What if this happens again,” Bernard chimed in. “The next time it could be a virus that affects people and elves. And we have 20 times as many elves as we do reindeer.”

“We might not be as lucky to find a cure or vaccine as fast as we did for the CWD,” Highstep added.

“Santa, I think we should come up with rules and procedures we can put in place if anything like this happens again,” Anya stated.

With both Highstep and Bernard nodding in agreement, I responded, “This was unexpected and scary for quite some time. Since the Mail Elves, Scout Elves, and I travel all over the world, there is nothing to say it won’t happen again with the reindeer or the elves. We need to be prepared.”

“This is the slow time of the year for me. I can start working on a plan of action for anything that could interrupt our operations. After all, we cannot disappoint the children,” Anya offered.

“Highstep will want to keep an extra eye on the reindeer after what has happened, and Bernard and I have work to do getting the workshops ready for next Christmas, so if you are sure you don’t mind doing it . . .”

“I’d be happy to. My assistant Sophia can help. I will want to get Vetter as well as Dior, our physician, involved as well,” Anya responded.

Feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, I said, “Then it’s settled. Ms. Claus will get started on the plan so that we are prepared for whatever might happen in the future. We will all need to be more vigilant. After all, nothing should stand in the way of the Christmas season.”

Notes From Santa

To read more about Highstep, Reiney, and the reindeer please check out: “How Rudolph Got His Red Nose”, which was posted on September 2, 2019; and “Dasher Becomes Part of Santa’s Team”, which was posted on October 28, 2019; and “Reiney Meets Cupid”, which was posted on February 10, 2020;

 To read more about Faer, and the J.A.T.S. Corp please check out: “Santa’s Summer Explorations”, which was posted on August 5, 2019; “Santa’s Christmas Visits”, which was posted on October 21, 2019; and “J.A.T.S. Training”, which was posted on March 3, 2020;

To read more about Scout Elves please check out: “Scout Elves are Coming”, which was posted on November 4, 2019; and “Scout Elf Shortage”, which was posted on February 17, 2020;

I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

No More Snowshoes

Walking up to the south entrance, Bootsie, one of the cobblers who makes shoes for everyone at the North Pole, was placing a pair of snowshoes back on the rack. “How’s the weather outside today,” I asked.

“It’s beautiful out there today,” he told me. “We did get some fresh snow overnight, so make sure you keep your snowshoes on.”

At the North Pole the snow can be several feet deep. When people and even elves step into deep snow they sink down into it, especially when it’s newly fallen. Snowshoes, however, provide a larger surface on someone’s feet, making it possible to walk on top of the snow.

“It sure would be nice if I didn’t have to wear these every time I go outside,” I expressed as I picked a pair of snowshoes from the rack.

“It’s better than getting stuck in the snow,” Bootsie responded.

“You’re right. It just takes so much time to put them on and take them off. It’s especially a problem when I am delivering gifts in places that get a lot of snow. I have to put them on to get to the chimney and then take them off to get down the chimney. Once I am done in the house and return to the roof, I have to put them on again to get back to the sleigh and then off so I can get into the sleigh.”

“Wow! I never thought about that!” Bootsie exclaimed. “Have you ever tried to get to the chimney without them?”

“A long time ago, I did. I immediately sunk down into the snow almost to my knee, and when I tried to take a step toward the chimney, I slipped and almost fell off the roof!” I explained.

“Seems like there should be something to make it easier,” Bootsie thought out loud.

“If you come up with something, let me know. I’d try almost anything not to have to wear these all the time in deep snow,” I said as I stood up, snowshoes all laced up.

“I hope you enjoy your walk Santa,” Bootsie said turning back toward the village.

When Bootsie returned to the Village he decided to go directly to the Cobbler Workshop. Once in the workshop, he called all the other cobblers together. Explaining in detail what I had told him about the burden of snowshoes, he said, “I’m sure between all of us, we can find a solution to Santa’s problem. Does anyone have any ideas?”

After a few awkward moments of silence, Sandy asked, “Could we use something besides straps on them? Maybe something similar to what we put on skis and snowboards we make for children. That would at least make it easier to put them on and save Santa a little bit of time.”

“That’s certainly a possibility, but I was hoping there would be a way to eliminate his need for snowshoes altogether.”

“Seriously? We might as well make it so that all a child has to do is wish for something, and it will instantly appear,” an elf in the back hollered.

“Come on. Don’t we owe it to Santa to at least try?” Bootsie responded.

“I have an idea,” Cletus said raising his hand. With everyone looking at him now, he continued, “Have any of you ever been to a circus?” When two elves raised their hands, he asked them, “What did you think of the clowns?”

“I loved the way they dress. They wear even more bright colors than we do, and I loved the way they painted their faces,” one elf responded.

“Not to mention the big red noses!” the other chimed in. “They remind me of Rudolph’s.”

“But did you ever notice their shoes?” Cletus asked. When the two shook their heads side to side, indicating that they didn’t, he continued, “The toes of their shoes are oversized, kind of like someone blew them up like a balloon.”

“I think I see what you mean Cletus!” Bootsie exclaimed. “If we could make Santa a pair of boots like them, where they are big enough to keep him from sinking in the snow . . . “

Completing Bootsie’s thought, Cletus added, “But yet small enough that he can still walk without tripping!”

“Let’s give it a try,” Bootsie said.

“Already ahead of you,” Sandy said waving a paper in the air. “This is the pattern for Santa’s boots. I’ll begin drawing a new pattern right away.”

“I’ll begin researching what materials we should use for the large toe of the boots,” an elf in the back of the room shouted.

“Okay, we have a plan. We need to keep this a secret until we have them done and tested. This plan does not leave the workshop,” Bootsie insisted.

Every elf in the room gave Bootsie a thumbs up as they got to work.

Over the next two weeks the cobblers made four different versions, but when they tested them, they all failed for one reason or another. It was the fifth pair that finally passed all their tests, and they were ready to surprise Santa.

One day after lunch, I headed down the tunnel so I could go out on my daily walk. Approaching the end, I saw a number of elves hanging out by the snowshoe rack. “Are all of you going for a walk or did you just come in?”

Bootsie made his way to the front of the elves and said, “Santa, we actually have a surprise for you. Do you remember a few weeks ago when you told me how much trouble it was to keep putting on and taking off your snowshoes while making deliveries?”

“I do, but what does…”

With all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, Cletus came forward holding the new boots. “We made these for you, so that you will never have to use snowshoes again, Santa!”

“Those are awfully big. I’m afraid I’d trip walking in them,” I stated a bit concerned with the size of the toes.

Sandy spoke up. “Santa, we designed these for, and tested them on, every surface we could think where you would walk. I think you may be surprised how well they work.”

“Well let’s give them a try then,” I said excited about the possibilities.

Pulling them on, they fit my feet perfectly and were very comfortable. Walking slowly at first inside the tunnel, I gradually walked faster, satisfied that I was not going to trip. “These feel great, and I am impressed with how easy it is to walk in them. I guess now we need to test them outside.”

All the elves parted so that I could get to the outside, where about ten inches of new snow had fallen overnight. Slowly placing one foot on the snow, and then the other, I stood for a few moments, to see if I would sink into the snow.

“Come on Santa! Take a few steps, you won’t sink,” I heard one of the elves shout out.

Trusting them as I always have, I began walking around. Amazingly I stayed right on top of the snow as if I had snowshoes on. After a few minutes of walking around I returned to the entrance and exclaimed, “You guys are the best! I can’t wait to show Ms. Claus!”

After a big group hug, I headed down the tunnel excited to show Anya. Walking into our place, it did not take long before Anya asked, “What on earth do you have on? I’ve never seen boots that big!”

“The cobblers made these for me so that I will not have to change in and out of snowshoes all the time. I just tested them, and they are fantastic!”

“Your excitement reminds me of how the children react when they get to talk with you. I hope you properly thanked the elves for their hard work.”

“You bet I did! The best part of this, is that I did not ask them to do it. They saw my need and took it on themselves to solve the problem for me.”

“After all these years you have developed a loving bond with the elves, and obviously they have done the same with you,” Anya said as she kissed my cheek. “I like how they always watch over us and try to make life easier. What a blessing they are.”

Santa’s Notes:

I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

Santa’s Improved Sleigh

Handing me a plate with a baker’s dozen of cookies on it for my lunch. I was about to take a bite of my first cookie, when Ms. Claus shook my shoulder. “Wake up Santa. Nap time is over. Sledge just called and he needs to see you right away.”

Sitting up and wiping the sleep from my eyes, I drowsily asked, “Sledge, from over in the sleigh barn?”

“Is there another Sledge?” Ms. Claus responded with that loving impatient look she gives me when I ask a silly question. “Do you think he has the modifications to your sleigh ready?”

“I hope so!” I exclaimed. “With over 148 million homes to visit now, I need to pick up the pace or I may not get all the deliveries done on time.”

“Well you better hurry.”

Walking into the barn, I saw my sleigh off to the right with a pair of legs sticking out, just like in Wizard of Oz, when the house fell on the witch. “Sledge?”

Rolling out from under the sleigh, Sledge jumped to his feet and wiped his hands on his striped coveralls, covered with grease and grime.

“Ms. Claus said you wanted to see me. Are the modifications completed?”

“Not yet. I just started removing the truss and runners from the sleigh to prepare it for the new ones.”

“Then why did you need to see me?” I responded with curiosity.

“Come over here,” Sledge said as he picked up a piece of metal and handed it to me. “This is a sample of the material Quinten, in research and development, sent over. He created it to use on the sleigh.”

I was shocked when I took the sample from him. “Wow! I expected this to be heavy, but it is as light as a feather. What is this?”

“It’s a new titanium alloy, lightweight and about 20 times stronger than anything we have ever used. When I replace the truss and runners with this material, your sleigh will be more stable. More importantly, it will weigh about a third less than it does now.”

“That’s amazing! That should help me fly faster, right?”

“Considering that you have to travel about 75 million miles on Christmas morning, this should help you get done a bit sooner.”

Noticing some blueprints on the table behind Sledge, I pointed to them and asked, “What are those?”

“I’m glad you asked. This is another improvement I plan on making. While your sleigh will be lighter and therefore faster, it still will not be very aerodynamic.”

“What do you mean?”

“On the long trips over the oceans, forests, and desserts where there are no homes, I thought there should be a way to make your sleigh move through the air more smoothly, and make it move even faster.”

“How would you do that?” I asked a bit puzzled.

“I will add a lever for you in the sleigh. When you get over an area where there are no homes and you want to make up time, all you have to do is push the lever up and the truss and runners will fold in under the sleigh, much like the wheels of an airplane after taking off.”

“I see. That should allow me to move through the air easier. But how would I get them back down?” I asked trying to find the answer in the drawings.”

“Easy! You just pull the lever back down, and they will unfold. But it gets even better.”

“How could you possibly make it any better than this?” I asked wondering how that could be possible.

“I’ve added sensors to the sleigh that will analyze all the weather conditions like wind, temperature, and precipitation to help you identify the best route.”

“You’re the greatest Sledge!” I exclaimed. “So, with Quinten’s new material and your improvements how much time will I save?”

“Our figures indicate a growth of about 6-7% in the number of homes you will need to visit over the next few years. These improvements are expected to cut your delivery time by about 12%. So, you should be in good shape for a couple of years.”  Then the bubble burst when Sledge said, “Of course there is a downside to all this. With the increased speed you will be exposed to stronger winds and more dirt in the air.”

“I didn’t think about that. I’m already . . . “

“Quinten, however, is working on a solution, Santa. He is in the final testing phase and should have a sample to show you by the end of the week.”

“What’s he working on?”

“He is making a windshield for the sleigh that will be almost invisible and indestructible.”

Not being able to figure out what Quinten could be working on, I asked, “How is that possible?”

“He is one of the smartest elves I know. He managed to find a way to make a windshield out of the hardest material known.”

“Are you telling me it will be made from diamonds?”

“You guessed it!” Rolling up the plans, Sledge continued, “Not sure how he did it, but if anyone could, it would be him!”

“I can’t wait to tell Ms. Claus the good news! This will make it possible to keep up with the growing number of children and homes I need to visit each year!” I shouted as I turned and headed out the barn door.

When I walked into our living room, I went right over to Anya and gave her the biggest hug. With look of surprise on her face, she asked, “And to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I think Sledge and Quinten have solved the problem of the world’s growing population.”

“That’s great news Santa!”

“It’s the best news I could have gotten. I will be able to get my deliveries done faster than ever before.”

“And that will give you the time to add new children to your route!” Anya said. “I think you deserve a couple of cookies and hot cocoa for that,” she said as she took my hand and led me to the kitchen.

Santa’s Notes:

I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

Illustration by FireMane Studio 

New North Pole Residents

Entering the village, Ms. Claus began to take her scarf and hat off after having gone on a long walk outside. Grabbing my arm with both hands she said, “It was so good to see Polar Pete today.”

“I agree,” I responded. “It was surprising to learn how many polar bear cubs were born in the last couple months.”

“Pete was excited. He had so many plans for them once they begin leaving their dens in March and April.”

“He’ll be a great teacher too . . .” Turning suddenly to the right, I stared in the direction of the reindeer barns.

“What is it Santa? Did you see something?”

“Anya, I thought I saw a couple of baby reindeer, but that can’t be because they are not usually born until May and June,” I said scratching my head.

“What made you think you saw baby reindeer?”

“All reindeer are born with black fur, and I could swear I saw two of them run alongside the barn.”

“Maybe it’s just that your eyes have not adjusted to being inside yet,” Ms. Claus suggested.

“You’re probably right. Do you mind if I go over and talk to Highstep, just to make sure? As head reindeer herder and caretaker, he should know what’s going on.”

“Not at all. I have a few things I need to take care of in the mail room with my assistant Sophia. I’ll see you for dinner.”

“Sounds good,” I responded as I headed toward the reindeer barn.

Heading toward Highstep’s office in the back of the barn, I checked every stall, but did not see any babies with their moms.

“Have any of the reindeer given birth recently?” I asked Highstep as I entered his office without even saying hello.

“Hi Santa. Good to see you too,” Highstep responded with a little sarcasm.

“I’m sorry, but I thought I saw a couple of baby reindeer outside and was hoping you would tell me I wasn’t seeing things.”

“Not sure what to tell you, but none of the reindeer have given birth yet. It’s still too early for that. What made you think you saw baby reindeer?”

“Ms. Claus and I were coming back from a walk when I caught a glimpse of two small black animals out of the corner of my eye. By the time I turned to see, they were gone,” I answered with some concern.

“Well I’m positive you did not see baby reindeer. Maybe you should check with Bernard. He may know something.”

“It was probably nothing but my imagination from being outside for so long. I think I’ll just head home. Sorry for barging in on you,” I apologized.

“Not a problem. You are always welcome anytime,” Highstep responded as I walked out closing the door behind me.

Walking through the courtyard, I could not get my mind off of what I thought I had seen. Stopping near the fire ring, I spun around looking in all directions to see if the mystical creatures were anywhere. Convinced that I did not really see them, I headed toward our place again, when Lyra ran past me. Not looking where she was going, Lyra bumped into me, almost knocking the two of us down.

“Whoa there Lyra,” I shouted putting my hands on her shoulders. “What’s the hurry?”

“I lost something and was trying to find them, uh . . . it,” she answered, as she avoided looking at me.

Not removing my hands, I asked, “What do you mean them? Are some of your elf friends lost?”

“No, it’s not elves. It’s …. um …. it’s nothing you need to be worried about. I have to …” her voice trailed off as I saw her staring behind me.

Turning around, I was immediately relieved. I now knew I was not seeing things earlier. Relieved, I turned to face Lyra and demanded, “What are those dogs doing here?”

“I can explain Santa, but I need to catch them before they disappear again.” Before I could say anything, Lyra was running toward the two black Labradors.

It did not take her long to grab the dogs and put them on their leashes so they could not run away. As she approached me with dogs in hand she said, “Santa, meet Mattie and Crosley.”

Bending over to pet both of them I asked, “Where did you get them? We don’t keep dogs at the North Pole.”

“Remember when you decided not to deliver pets to children as Christmas presents anymore?”

“I do. This past Christmas, when a puppy managed to get out of my bag and fell from the sleigh, Bernard and I made the decision not to leave pets as presents anymore. Luckily, my reindeer team was able to maneuver so that we caught the pup before he fell all the way to the ground. It’s just not safe anymore. But what does that have to do with Mattie and Crosley?”

“Well these two dogs were left here after your decision not to deliver pets anymore.”

“We made arrangements for all the pets left over to be adopted by loving families. How did we miss these two?” I asked.

Lyra leaned down toward the dogs and muttered, “I hid them from you.”

“I’m sorry. I did not hear you.”

“I said, I hid them from you.” Sensing I was not happy with her answer she continued, “They were just so sweet and cuddly. I could not stand to see them leave when I could take care of them.”

“That’s understandable Lyra, but this is no place to have pets. I’m afraid we will have to find someone to adopt them,” I stated as I knelt down and began rubbing their ears.

“Santa please let me care for them? If they become a nuisance or get in the way, then you can have them adopted, but at least give me a chance to prove I can take care of them,” she pleaded.

As if on cue, Mattie began licking me. “See how loving they are? That’s why I could not let them go,” Lyra said making the most of the moment.

“Lyra, if I let you keep them, I will expect you to be sure they stay out of trouble.”

“Oh, I will Santa. I will!” she said with excitement.

“That means you have to clean up any messes. No one wants to get dog dirt on their shoes. And you need to keep their beds clean, their fur brushed, and their toe nails clipped.”

“You can trust me Santa. I won’t let you down!”

“Ok, you can keep them for now. If you let me down, though, you will have to give them up for adoption. Agreed?”

“Agreed!” Lyra exclaimed. Then she ran off with Mattie and Crosley in tow, their tails wagging.

Leaving Lyra to her dogs, I walked homeward wondering if she could handle both dogs. “I’m home,” I hollered as I entered our place.

“In the kitchen,” Ms. Claus responded.

“Did you and Sophia finish in the mailroom?” I asked entering the kitchen.

“We did, thanks. Highstep have any ideas what you might have seen today?”

Walking over and giving Anya a hug from behind, I said, “No, but I did figure it out. Turns out that when we stopped giving pets to children, Lyra decided to keep two black labs for herself.”

Turning to face me she asked, “What? Are you going to let her keep them?”

“Anya, I hope I didn’t make the wrong decision, but I told her that if she took total responsibility for them, she could keep them. However, Lyra also understands that if she lets me down, they will have to be adopted like all the others.”

“You are such a softy, Santa,” Anya said giving me a big hug. “But that’s part of what I love about you.”

Santa’s Notes:
To read more about Lyra please check out: “Flying High”, which was posted on July 29, 2019; “How Rudolph Got His Red Nose”, which was posted on September 2, 2019; and “The Lost Elves”, which was posted on February 3, 2020

To read more about Highstep please check out: “How Rudolph Got His Red Nose”, which was posted on September 2, 2019; “Dasher Becomes Part of Santa’s Team”, which was posted on October 28, 2019;  and “Reiney Meets Cupid”, which was posted on February 10, 2020

I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

Illustration by FireMane Studio 

J.A.T.S. Training

“What a beautiful day to fly,” I remarked to Faer, the coordinator of the J.A.T.S. (Jolly Assistants To Santa) Corp, as we flew south high above Toronto. When he did not respond, I glanced over and saw him hanging over the side of the sleigh.

“Wow! What is that tall pointy building down there?” Faer asked.

“That is the Canadian National Tower. I use it as a landmark to know where I am during my Christmas flight.”

“I’ve never seen anything so tall before.”

“It is an observation and communications tower and the 9th tallest free-standing structure in the world. It was the tallest until 2007,” I informed him.

“Where are all the airplanes?” Faer asked, changing the subject.

“I had to file a flight plan, just like the airplane pilots do. That enables them to keep air traffic away from me.”

“So, you can fly anywhere you want, as long as you tell them?”

“Well I could, but I really do not want the children to see the sleigh if it’s not Christmas. I’ll fly directly to a specific place, like Santa Pat’s, and if I need to go anywhere, he’ll lend me his car to drive.”

Faer began laughing, “Santa driving a car. I’d love to see that!”

Snapping the reins of Ms. Claus’ sleigh, the Dulcet, just a bit to get Clarice and Olive to pick up the pace a little, I continued, “We should be at Santa Pat’s place, just south of Cincinnati, around 11:00 am. Is that when you told him we would arrive?”

“It is and he said he would be waiting for us by his barn.” Shifting in his seat and turning toward me Faer asked, “Why do you always add ‘Santa’ to the J.A.T.S. names?”

“Since they visit children on my behalf, I call them Santa because I want them to think and act like me all the time.”

“Is that why you are always pushing your Assistants to learn more about you.”

“It is, and that is why there are so many schools to train my J.A.T.S.”

Looking over the side of the sleigh I watched as we came closer to the Ohio River. “What a beautiful sight,” I exclaimed. “Just over that ridge on the other side of the river, we should see Santa Pat’s place.”

“Is that Santa Pat down there next to that red barn?” Faer asked as we flew over the ridge.

“Good eye. Let’s put this sleigh down.”

As soon as we landed, Santa Pat, wearing red bib overalls, began unhitching Olive and Clarice from the sleigh, and informed us, “I’ll let them into the pasture where they can graze with my horses; then we can go in the house to talk.”

“The reindeer will like that,” I responded as Faer jumped out of the sleigh and opened the gate.

Walking towards the house, Santa Pat said, “I understand you have some concerns about some of the J.A.T.S. members.” Holding the door open for us, he continued, “Come on in. We can sit around the dining room table over there,” pointing to the right.

Three mugs of hot cocoa and a plate of cookies waited for us on the table. “My wife knew you were coming and made these this morning.” Looking right at me, Santa Pat smiled and winked. “She promised not to tell Ms. Claus that you had cookies. Now let’s talk about your concerns.” he stated getting straight to the point.

As we all settled in our chairs, I began, “I am very proud of the great job most of my assistants do, but I sometimes see children who remind me about our last encounter. Several of the things they say I told them are just not correct.” Taking a sip from my mug, I continued, “For example, I had one little boy tell me that Rudolph was born with a red nose, when he actually got his red nose because Lyra gave him too much red fairy dust.”

Taking a cookie from the plate, I continued, “Several little girls seem to think that all Ms. Claus does is bake cookies. The girls especially need to know how important she is to me at the North Pole. She oversees the mail room and makes sure that any sensitive letters that I need to know about get to me right away.”

Holding his mug with both hands, Santa Pat responded, “Some of the misinformation comes from the assistants taking everything they read in story books as true. We are always trying to make members of the Corps better at their jobs,” he explained, “but there is still a lack of consistency. We are working on that.”

“I have been very impressed,” Faer remarked breaking into the conversation, “with some of the schools that assistants have started to help would-be Santas. I especially like how the local groups who get together help each other, like the Bluegrass Santas.”

“Thank you Faer,” Santa Pat said. “We’ve been working hard all year long to make all Santas better.”

“Yes, you have Santa Pat. I’ve noticed that the members of the Corps who have been around for several years seem to all be working hard to imitate me as best they can. I’m concerned, however, about the ones who are new each year, and have not yet attended any of these ‘Santa’ schools,” I stated as I placed my arms on the table clasping my hands.

Knowing what I meant, Pat explained, “The experienced assistants are always on the lookout for new Santas. When they find them, they invite them to a meeting and then encourage these men to attend schools and training sessions so that they can be better prepared.”

“What about those who want to become Ms. Claus? Do you do the same for them?”

“Absolutely!” Santa Pat exclaimed. “There are more and more women portraying Ms. Claus. Recently a new school designed just for them opened in Columbus, Ohio.”

“That is great news and will make Ms. Claus very happy!” I responded clapping my hands.

Taking his second cookie, Faer asked, “Are you going to the International Santa Celebration in April? I hear there will be as many as 600 Santas and Ms. Clauses there. It’s being held in Atlanta, right?”

“You’re right Faer, and yes I am going. Several workshops will be given during the event so that the J.A.T.S have a chance to learn how to be more like you Santa. I will make it a point to talk with other coordinators and school operators about better Santa training.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”  After a short pause in the conversation I asked, “Do they work on their appearance as well?”

“They work just as hard at their looks as they do on acting like you,” Santa Pat said putting his empty cup on the table. “One Santa even makes peppermint scented beard balm so they smell like they came from the North Pole.”

Placing both hands on my belly, I chuckled, “Nothing better than a well-rounded, forgive the pun, J.A.T.S. I have to laugh at times when a child tells me I’m not the real Santa because they just saw him somewhere else.”

“And that means our training is working!” Pat exclaimed with pride.

“Yes! And it also means that if the children question who the real Santa is, then they still believe in me,” I explained.

“Standing up, Faer looked at his watch and said, “Santa we need to be getting back.”

After the short walk back to Santa Pat’s barn, he and Faer hitched the reindeer to the sleigh and I remarked, “This trip was well worth the time. I’m more confident than ever that the J.A.T.S. Corps will be ready for the season.”

It only took a couple minutes for the reindeer to get us up above the clouds. The sun was setting on the western horizon in an array of brilliant reds. “Can you keep a secret?” I asked Faer.

“You know I can Santa.” Noticing the thoughtful look on my face, Faer continued, “What’s on your mind?”

“I think that Santa Celebration may give me an opportunity to see many of my J.A.T.S. in person. And since very few have ever seen me, they will think I am just one of them. I’d be able to see firsthand how well they are doing at portraying me and be able to take part in the discussions about being Santa.”

“You should take Ms. Claus as well. With more and more women portraying her, I’m sure she would like to see how they are doing as well.”

“Great idea!” I exclaimed. “This is exciting and I can’t wait to tell Ms. Claus. Could you make the arrangements for us and make sure no one finds out? I want us to be able to observe members of the Corps without them knowing. I don’t want us to be the center of attention. It would weaken the purpose of the workshops.”

“Consider it done!” Pulling a blanket up over his legs, Faer chuckled, “What an adventure you and Ms. Claus will have blending in with the others.”

Santa’s Notes:
To read more about the J.A.T.S. Corps, please check out “Santa’s Summer Explorations” posted on August 5, 2019; and “Santa’s Christmas Visits”, which was posted on October 21, 2019.

 To read about how Rudolph got his red nose, please check out “How Rudolph Got His Nose” posted on September 2, 2019.

To read more about Ms. Claus’ roles at the North Pole, please check out “Ms. Claus Gets Some Help” posted on November 11, 2019; and “Sensitive Letters”, which was posted on November 18, 2019.

I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

Photo by: Matt Dunham, The Associated Press, at the Ministry of Fun Santa School

A Gift for the Elves

Sitting quietly while drinking her tea, Ms. Claus gazed into the fire and appreciated some relaxing time. After months of activity preparing for Christmas, it was nice not to worry about anything that needed to be completed immediately. Hearing the door to the study open, she turned and smiled. “I wondered when you were going to arrive. Pour yourself some hot chocolate and have a seat by the fire, Santa. It’s wonderful just to relax.”

“Anya, I’ve been looking forward to unwinding all day with you.” Walking over towards Ms. Claus, a mug of hot chocolate in my hand, I sat in my favorite chair by the fire. “It’s nice and cozy in our study,” I said, stretching my legs as the recliner unfolded in front of me.

“What took you so long? I thought you would have shown up an hour ago. What happened to the Santa who promised he’d learn how to relax more?” Ms. Claus remarked with a grin.

“I know, I know…., but Bernard and I were looking into some ideas about toys for next year and well….”

“No excuses Santa. You do realize that Bernard’s job is to develop the list, and then you look at it in April. He’s been doing this for years, so let him be. Has he ever let you down?”

Shaking my head, I smiled sheepishly. “No dear, but it’s so hard to slow down after the official end of the Christmas season, January 7th. I feel …….”

“Restless?” she questioned, slipping her hand over mine and giving it a little squeeze.

“Yes, that’s it exactly. I feel like I should be doing something, but what?” I asked. “Outside of the challenge of training more elves to become Scout Elves to fill all the requests we have received so far, everything seems to be running smoothly. Besides Birdie took care of that situation quickly once we called her attention to the problem,” I explained. “Honestly Anya, I have nothing to do.”

“Well dear, what you need is a project!” she exclaimed grinning, “one that gives you a reason to get up in the morning but allows you to stay out of the way of the elves as they begin gearing up for next Christmas.”

Laughing, I shook my head and finally responded. “First you tell me to relax and enjoy some down time; then you suggest that I take on another project. You need to explain this one Anya.”

“Well… I’ve been thinking about things only you could do, and I could help from time to time,” Ms. Claus explained looking at me directly.  “What if you collected some of the stories about your experiences throughout the year with people, especially children and their families, and the things that have happened around the North Pole.”

“Like the ones I share with the children on my blog,” I interrupted.

“Yes! We could put them in a booklet for the elves and give them each a copy as a Christmas gift.”

“But we always have the annual Cookies and Milk Party with them!” I answered puzzled.

“I know we do, but wouldn’t it be nice to surprise them with an unexpected treat? They love hearing the stories you and I often share with them, but they have never been printed in a book. Some of our elves are new and others have forgotten some of the stories we have told them.”

Anya paused and waited for Santa to respond. Though my face revealed nothing, I’m sure she knew what I was thinking.  I stared straight ahead and began stroking my beard. Finally, I put the recliner in an upright position and turning in her direction answered quietly, “Anya, I think you may have something. I do have a lot of stories and yes I share them,” I said slowly, “but none have been put down in a place where the elves can read them whenever they want.” As I reached over and took Anya’s hand in mine, I added, “So, if you were going to make some suggestions, what would be one of your favorite stories?”

“Oh that’s easy,” Ms. Claus responded. Standing up and moving closer to the fire, she began to explain. “Remember the time we had dinner with friends at York Street Café several years ago in early December?”

Nodding, I responded slowly, “I think so. Wasn’t that restaurant in Kentucky?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Our friends and I were already there, but you came in late. As soon as you sat down, the owner came over and asked, ‘Did anyone ever tell you that you look a lot like Santa?’ We all smiled and you answered, ‘How do you know I’m not?’ And then the man just laughed and answered, ‘That’s a good one’ as if you were simply an older man with a white beard who resembled Santa.”

As the memory grew stronger, I continued. “He wanted me to talk to the children of one of his employees who were arriving soon. She was bringing her twin boys, age six if I recall, in with her.”

“That’s right. One of the twins had just gotten glasses for the first time and was feeling self-conscious. He didn’t want to wear the glasses and kept them in the case most of the time.”

Feeling secure about the memory, I smiled. “That’s right! When they walked past, I looked up from the table and said, ‘Daniel… David, it’s so good to see you.”

“Remember how surprised they looked,” Ms. Claus remarked, “especially when you asked Daniel why he was not wearing his new glasses. I think they would have spent the rest of the night talking with you if their mom hadn’t reminded them that Santa was probably hungry and needed to order his food.”

Again, stroking my beard with my fingers, I slowly responded. “You’re right Anya, that’s a great memory, but the elves know I am Santa, so……”

“That’s the point dear. They knew that, and so did the children, but the adults didn’t. They would find the story both humorous and touching because they can’t understand why most adults don’t believe in you.”

Taking a long sip of hot chocolate, I stared into the fire quietly reflecting on past memories. Finally, I looked at Anya. “I’m not sure that I told you about an experience I had this past year, but it really showed me the beauty of the season and how it affects people. “I was at a Christmas event for children. When one family came up to get pictures with me, I noticed one of the boys seemed a bit out of sorts. He never did sit still for a picture.”

I leaned forward and put my elbows on my knee. “When everyone had their pictures, I noticed the same little boy sitting on the floor of the gym. He was talking to himself, and I sat down a few feet from him. After a while, he moved closer to me and started asking questions about my suit and hair. He began rubbing my arm and repeated saying ‘soft.’ Then he laid his head on my shoulder and I patted his hand.”

“That must have made you feel good?”

“It did! Later his mother came up to me and explained that he was autistic and did not connect with others. That was the first time he ever allowed anyone to touch him. The smile on her face, as she showed me a picture she took of us on the floor, made me realize that she just got her Christmas wish early.”

“That is a beautiful memory,” Anya said quietly. Walking over to me, she slid her arms over the chair and around my neck. “I think you understand how much enjoyment your stories can bring to others, and you have so many to share.” Kissing the top of my head, she whispered, “So what do you say Santa? Shall we tackle this project together?”

Santa’s Notes:
To read more about Birdie & the Scout Elves, please check out “Scout Elves Are Coming‘, which was posted on November 4, 2019; and “Scout Elf Shortage‘ posted on February 17, 2020.

I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

Illustration by FireMane Studio 

Scout Elf Shortage

Carter, the elf who oversees the mail room with Ms. Claus, hung up his hat and put on a green plastic visor. Since most letters sent to Santa arrive during the months of October, November, and December, only a handful of elves now manned the tables sorting the mail.

Walking into the room he asked, “Do you have all the letters with requests for Scout Elves separated from the rest?”

“Just finished a few moments ago. We have them all sorted in stacks by country on the table to the right of Ms. Claus’s desk,” Stamper said. “We’re working on ‘sensitive letters’ for Ms. Claus and her assistant Sophia now.

As Carter walked up to the table, he heard the door to the mail room open. Looking back, he saw Ms. Claus enter. Grabbing an apron from the rack to protect her dress, she said, “Good afternoon everyone.”

In unison all the elves in the room responded, “Good afternoon Ms. Claus.”

“I think you should see this,” Carter said looking at Anya as she headed toward her desk, tying the apron.

“What are all of these letters?” she asked surprised.

“We were noticing a lot of letters asking for Scout Elves and thought we better separate them out for Santa. I thought you’d like to see them before we call him.”

“That’s quite a few. Many more than usual for this time of year.”

“I was thinking the same thing. Ever since 2004, when some of the Scout Elves started staying in the homes with the children, the requests have increased a lot,” Carter responded.

“Well we need to get Santa in here to see these. Call Telsa, our communication receptionist, and ask her to contact Santa. We need him in the mail room.”

“No problem,” Carter said as he hit the intercom button.

“Ask her to call Birdie as well. I’m sure Santa will also want to talk with the elf in charge of the Scout Elves.”

“You got it!”

As Ms. Claus looked over the letters with Carter, the door soon opened again. “Telsa said you wanted to see me. Is there an issue?” Walking over to Anya, I gave her a quick kiss on the check and then noticed stacks of mail.

“Yes,” Anya responded giving my arm a squeeze. “The elves have gone through all the letters we received since Christmas, and these are all the ones we found requesting a Scout Elf, or Elf on the Shelf as the children call them,” Anya said pointing to the stacks on the table.

“Wow! I don’t think we have enough Scout Elves to fill all these requests,” I stated while scratching my head. “I need to talk with Birdie.”

“I thought you might. Telsa is going to have Birdie . . . “

Before Ms. Claus could finish, Birdie entered the mail room. “What can I do for you Ms. Claus and Santa?”

With both my arms outstretched, I nodded toward the table, and instructed, “Look at all these letters from children requesting a Scout Elf for next Christmas.”

“Oh my!” she exclaimed. “That is quite a few requests. I could not possibly fill all of them with the elves I have now.”

“That’s what I feared. Is there any way to find enough elves and get them trained in time for the season?” I asked.

“Well I could visit Korvatunturi Mountain in Lapland, Finland where most of the elves live. I might be able to find enough of them willing to come to work at the North Pole.”

“Getting the elves is only part of the problem. Would you be able to train them all in time?” Anya asked.

“Since we found out about the shortage so early in the year, if we can get the elves to move here by the end of March, I should have plenty of time to get them trained.”

“That is a lot of ifs. You know how anxious I get as the Christmas season draws closer. Getting everything done in time, worries me,” I stated.

“Santa you know that it always works out in the end?” Anya remarked. “The elves always come through for you. You have to trust Birdie. If she can’t make it happen, no one can.”

“You are right, but I never want to disappoint a child.” Looking at Birdie, I continued, “I guess before I get too worried, we should see if you can find enough elves to cover these requests.”

“I can leave this afternoon to find some elves if you would like,” Birdie responded.

“I think that is a good idea. Then find me as soon as you return.”

“I will most certainly do that,” Birdie said as she walked toward the door.

After Birdie left, Anya walked over and gave me a much-needed hug. “Santa, I’m sure Birdie will be able to find enough elves to fulfill all the children’s wishes.”

“I sure hope so!”

*     *    *    *    *    *

A few days later, Bernard, my head elf, and I were making some adjustments to the train production equipment, when he asked, “Is something on your mind today Santa? You seem lost in thought.”

“I’m getting nervous. Birdie left four days ago to try to find enough new elves to fill all the requests we have for Scout Elves. I expected her to only be gone for a couple of days.”

“I’m sure she will be back soon. You know she also has family there and probably took some time to visit them.” Bernard, picking up a ¾ inch wrench, continued, “I have this under control. Why don’t you go over to the kitchen and see if they have some fresh baked cookies? I’m sure Ms. Claus would understand.”

“That’s a good idea. I’m really not much help around here today.”

The scent of cinnamon and vanilla filled the air as I approached the kitchen. Before opening the door, I heard someone call, “Santa,” from the area of the sleigh barn.

Turning to my left, I felt a smile growing on my face. “Birdie! You’re back!”

“I landed just a few minutes ago and was heading to your office.”

“Did you have any luck?” Forgetting about the cookies, we started walking toward the administration building.

“I did. There were too many elves who wanted to help, so I decided to talk to each of them and pick the very best for the job of Scout Elf.”

“Amazing!” I exclaimed as my spirits began to rise.

“We’ll have enough to cover the children’s requests with enough extra just in case you get more letters,” she said as I opened the door to my office.

“That is such good news,” I said sitting in the chair while Birdie settled on the couch. “But will you have enough time to train them?”

“I’d be lying if I said it was going to be easy. The basics of teaching them to listen and watch what is going on, and reporting back to you each night will be a piece of cake. Training them to control their magical abilities in order to manipulate what the children see and experience will not be as easy.”

“But you can do it, can’t you?”

“If I have some of the older Scout Elves help with the training, we should have them ready to go by November.”

“When will you start?”

“They will be arriving next week to begin training.”

“That is wonderful,” I said sighing with relief. “I can’t tell you and the elves how much this means to me. I sometimes wish the Scout Elf, Syrup, had never gone into that house years ago to stay with the children. It was so much easier when they just peeked in the windows to see what the children were doing.”

“And we could do it with fewer elves. However, since they stay in the homes, you have learned a lot more about what children are doing and what their wishes are for Christmas.”

Seeing relief on my face, Birdie continued, “Santa, we all get overwhelmed sometimes at the tasks staring us right in our faces. What sets some of us apart from others is that we aren’t afraid to ask for help when we need it.”

“You are so right!” I exclaimed. “I do not know what I would do without all the help I get from elves. It feels so good to know that when I start stressing over getting things finished on time, I have so many others ready and willing to help me out.”

Santa’s Notes:
To learn more about the ‘sensitive letters’ that were mentioned in this story, please check out “Sensitive Letters”, which was posted on November 18, 2019.

To read more about Scout Elves, please check out “Scout Elves Are Coming”, which was posted on November 4, 2019.

To read more about the mail room, please check out “Translating Letters For Santa”, which was posted on August 19, 2019.

I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

Illustration from Hibiscus in SL

Reiney Meets Cupid

As I walked through the barn, I noticed Highstep, the elf in charge of the reindeer, sitting on a bale of hay with his legs crossed and a smile on his face. “You look comfortable and happy. What’s going on?” I asked.

“I have a new elf, Reiney, to help with our reindeer, and I heard him bragging about how much he knew about the animals.”

“You want an elf who knows everything, don’t you?”

“I do. However, when elves graduate from Elf University, they usually think they know everything. But the one thing they can’t learn in school is the personality of each of our reindeer.” Leaning back against Comet’s stall, Highstep continued, “So I like to test each elf on their first day.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Each reindeer has some qualities that are a little different than the others. Like Blitzen. He is the fastest, but will never win a race.”

“Because he wants others to think they are faster, so they build up their confidence?”

“That’s right. Or how Vixen never brags about how smart she is so the others do not feel inferior,” Highstep responded moving over on the bale of hay to make room for me. “Have a seat.”

As I sat down, I looked around the barn for Reiney, and asked, “So where is he? Is he taking your test now?”

“He sure is!” Highstep exclaimed. “I sent him out to take care of Cupid.”

“Cupid! How is that a test? Cupid is the most loving of them all. That’s why he is on my team.”

“And that is why Cupid is the perfect test for a new caretaker elf.”

“Let me guess. You did not tell him about how loving Cupid really is?” I responded.

“Nope! By the time he figures it out, it will be too late,” Highstep said smiling even bigger now in anticipation. “Reindeer may not be able to see or hear very well, but they have a keen sense of smell. Cupid will know Reiney is in the pasture before he closes the gate.”

“And there is no way he will out run Cupid. Last time I checked, the fastest an elf can run is eight mph, while reindeer can reach speeds up to 48 mph,” I added.

Just then several elves who work with the herd came into the barn. “Did we miss it? Has the new elf come back from taking care of Cupid yet?” several of them asked.

“Not yet,” Highstep responded. “It should be any minute now. Why don’t all of you . . .”

Before he could finish, Reiney came into the barn screaming, “Help! Someone get me a towel!”

His face was completely covered, from under his chin all the way up his face and into his hair, with slobber as thick as the slime children love to make and play with today.

“What happened?” Highstep asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“Cupid came after me as soon as I entered the pasture and licked me. I tried to get away, but I couldn’t run fast enough,” Reiney said as he tried to get the slobber out of his eyes.

“He was just giving you a little love kiss,” I said as the elves rolled on the floor laughing. “I hope you realize the elves are only laughing because the same thing happened to all of them when they first started working as part of Highstep’s team.”

Handing Reiney a towel to wipe his face, Highstep explained, “Yes, you learned a lot about these antlered creatures in school. But you also need to know that, just like elves, they are not all the same. You cannot assume that any one of them will act the same as another.”

“I certainly know that now!”

“Just be prepared for anything when you work with them, and you will be fine,” Highstep said. “With my help and the help of all the other elves, you will discover the traits of each of Santa’s team.”

“That’s right,” Sledge said as he wiped some of the slobber out of Reiney’s hair. “Don’t hesitate to ask any of us if you need help. We pride ourselves on working together as a team.”

“I have to admit, I thought I was ready for anything. I didn’t realize that for as much as I learned, there was even more to understand after receiving my diploma.”

“Now you will be learning new things right along with us,” Sledge informed him.

“I think you are going to be a great addition to Highstep’s team,” I stated as I extended my right hand to shake Reiney’s. “I’m happy that you did not get mad about Cupid’s kiss, and have an open mind to learning more from your teammates.”

“Now I think you should get a shower and clean that mess off your face and out of your hair,” Highstep suggested. “Then the elves will show you around and get you started on the right hoof.” Laughing he corrected himself, “I meant on the right foot.”

Note from Santa: I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

The Lost Elves

“I’m bored!” Lyra said as she sat on a bench in the village courtyard.

With her legs crossed and her elbow on her thigh to help hold her head up, Hanna replied, “I agree. The down time between end of the Christmas Season and when training classes start up for the 2020 season is really hard to get through.”

“There must be something we can do?”

“What about going outside to see if Wiggle and Waddle are around,” Hanna suggested.

Jumping up from her seat, Lyra responded, “Splendid idea! I love the penguins. Which tunnel do you think we should use?”

“They usually hang out around the south tunnel. Let’s go get our coats and gloves and then we can meet there.”

“You got it. See you in about five minutes,” Lyra said as she took off for her dorm room, not even giving Hanna a chance to respond.

A few minutes later as Hanna was walking toward the South tunnel, she saw Lyra leaning up against the wall with her arms folded and tapping her foot. “Hope you have not been waiting long?”

“It felt like forever. I just want to get out and do something with the penguins.”

“Well I’m here now. Let’s go see if we can find them,” Hanna said as she started walking down the tunnel.

When the elves walked outside there was no sign that the penguins were around. Looking around, Lyra noticed some small hills, about fifteen to twenty feet high, that were created from ice and snow, and said, “Why don’t you go over to that hill and look for them, and I’ll get on top of the one over here.”

After a few minutes, they both returned. Shrugging her shoulders, Hanna asked, “I did not see them anywhere, how about you?”

“Not a trace,” Lyra responded with sadness in her voice. “Let’s walk a bit, and maybe they will show up.”

“Okay, but I’ve never been very far from the entrance tunnel. Do you know your way around?”

“We’ll be okay, as long as we can still see the entrance,” Lyra said as she started walking to the west in search of Wiggle and Waddle.

After walking for a while, the elves came to the top of a hill and saw an area of melted ice. “Penguins like to swim. I bet they are in that lake swimming and looking for some food,” Hanna said.

“Well let’s go down and look for them.”

“But if we go down there, we will lose sight of the village entrance.”

“It will be alright. All we have to do is walk back to this hill and then we will be able to see the entrance again,” Lyra said with confidence.

“If you are sure…”

“I am! Come on, let’s see if they are down there,” Lyra said grabbing Hanna’s hand.

When they reached the lake Hanna said, “I don’t see any sign of them.”

“Let’s just give it a little time. They may be swimming under water.”

Feeling a little afraid, Hanna said, “I don’t think they are here. Let’s head back. Maybe they are at the entrance now.”

“Oh, all right,” Lyra said with some disappointment in her voice.

When they turned around to find the hill they came from, both elves looked at each other fearful of what they saw.

“Which hill was it?” Hanna asked as the elves were looking back towards several hills that all looked the same.

“I think it was that one,” Lyra said pointing.

When they reached the top of the hill and looked in every direction, Hanna said, “I don’t see anything that looks like the village entrance tunnel.”

After walking to the top of several hills, they saw no entrance. Crying, Hanna said, “I knew this was a mistake! I should have never let you talk me into this. Now you have gotten us lost, and we will never find our way back home!”

*   *    *    *    *

I was sitting in my office talking with Birdie about getting more elves trained as Scout Elves, when there was a knock on the door. “Come on in Doheny. What can I do for you?” I said.

“I’m not really sure, but several hours ago my roommate, Lyra, came into our room, grabbed her coat and gloves and rushed out saying that she was going outside with Hanna. She has never been out there this long and I’m afraid something has happened.”

“Did you look around the village for them?”

“I’ve looked everywhere, and no one I talked to has seen either of them for hours.”

Pressing the intercom button, I said, “Telsa, this is Santa. I need you to find Bernard and tell him to meet me at the south tunnel right away. Tell him it’s an emergency and to bring his coat.”

“Right away Santa,” Telsa replied as she disconnected the call.

Grabbing my coat, gloves, and hat, I left to meet Bernard. We both approached the tunnel at the same time, and I relayed to Bernard what Doheny had told me.

“If Lyra and Hanna have been outside for hours, we need to go out to see where they are,” Bernard said.

When we were outside, both of us began calling, “Hanna! Lyra!” but heard nothing.

About 15 minutes later, we heard the crunching of snow coming from our left. Feeling hopeful, I called out, “Hanna, Lyra, is that you?”

No sooner than I said that, Polar Pete, the largest polar bear at the North Pole, appeared. “What’s going on? I could hear the two of you yelling half way to the north entrance.”

“We fear that the elves Hanna and Lyra are lost out here somewhere.”

“Would you like me to see if I can find them for you?” Pete asked.

“That would be great! No one knows the North Pole better than you,” I responded.

“And there is not a better tracker than you either,” Bernard chimed in.

“Let me get going. Wait here, close to the entrance, in case they come back before I find them.”

Polar Pete, looking at the ground, immediately saw footprints the elves had made and began following them.

After a while the footprints disappeared because the wind blew them away. He sniffed the ground so he would know what the elves smelled like. Once he had the scent be began sniffing the air and continued his search.

After about 30 minutes Pete noticed the scent getting stronger and stronger. As he came around a small hill, he saw them. They were huddled together against a large block of ice. “Lyra, Hanna?”

Looking up at Pete, Hanna exclaimed, “Pete! We are so happy to see you!”

“Well let’s get you both back where you belong. You look exhausted. Do you think you can walk back?”

“We are pretty tired. Would it be asking too much for us to ride on your back?” Lyra asked as she stood up.

“Not a problem. Hop on up,” Pete said as he laid on the ground so they could climb on.

As Pete stood up, Hanna asked, “I didn’t think you were this big! I feel like I’m sitting on a snow hill.”

“You won’t believe this, but when I was born, I only weighed about a pound.”

“You’re a bit more than that now,” Lyra chuckled.

“I’m one of the largest polar bears and weigh about 1,200 pounds,” Pete snickered.

As Pete lumbered over a hill, Lyra asked, “How did you find us? We didn’t think anyone would.”

“Polar bears have the best sense of smell. Why, we can smell a seal that’s twenty miles away.”

As Pete approached the tunnel with the elves on his back, Bernard and I looked at each other and smiled.  “Thank you so much Pete!” we exclaimed.

As he helped the elves off Pete, Bernard asked, “What were the two of you thinking? Why would you wander so far away?”

“Looking up, Hanna said, “We were looking for Wiggle and Waddle to play with them and just got lost.”

While looking down at the ground, Lyra added, “It was my idea to go look for them. I should have known better, but I did not think we could get so lost.”

“Lyra, I don’t know what to do with you. You are always trying to do what you think is right, but somehow it always seems to turn out badly, like the red fairy dust incident, and Rudolph’s nose.”

“Santa, I think we need to get them inside so they can warm up. You can have that talk with Lyra later when she is feeling better,” Bernard stated.

“You’re right. Now is not the time. I’m just glad we have friends like Polar Pete to help us when things like this happens.” As we all turned to head down the tunnel, I looked back at Pete and said, “I can’t thank you enough for helping. We owe you a big one for this Pete.”

“You don’t owe me anything Santa. That’s just what friends do. I only hope the elves learned that the North Pole is not a good place to go exploring, if you’re not prepared.”

Santa’s Notes:
To learn more about To learn more about Lyra please check out “Flying High’, which was posted on July 29, 2019 and How Rudolph Got His Red Nose‘, which was posted on September 2, 2019

I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

Illustration by FireMane Studio 

Continuing Education for the Elves

“It sure is quiet around here,” I said as I took a seat at the table in the conference room at Elf University.

Sitting at the table with a cup of hot cocoa, Bernard responded, “Many of the elves have gone on vacation while others have returned to their homeland in the Korvatunturi (kor‧va‧tun‧tu‧ri) Mountains in Finland to visit with their family and friends.”

“Enjoy it while you can,” Dean Chantilly, the elf in charge of continuing education, said as she entered the conference room with a stack of folders and papers. “They will return soon enough, and when they do, we will need to have the training classes ready for them.”

“Will the training be just on new technology?” Bernard asked.

“That is important,” Chantilly stated as she handed Bernard and me the papers she had prepared in advance. “There is still a need, however, for the basics like woodworking, stuffing animals, making trains, and creating dolls.”

“I’m fond of the basics,” I said as I poured myself a cup of cocoa. “I miss the old days, before all these electronic toys.”

“Santa, you would be bored if everything stayed the same forever.” Taking a cookie from the tray on the table, Bernard continued, “Besides learning about the technology helps you understand how the children of today think; not to mention it keeps you young.”

“You might be right, but I sometimes worry that the children put too much emphasis on the electronics, and not enough on getting outside and playing with each other.”

“I tend to agree with you Santa,” Chantilly added, “but with all the new developments in ‘artificial intelligence’ and electronic communications, children do play with each other, just in a different way.”

“Gaming with someone over a computer or phone is just not the same as sitting with them at a table or on the floor playing a game. Besides children need to go outside and enjoy the out-of-doors.”

“We have this same discussion with each generation,” Chantilly said as she stood by the white board with a marker in her hand. “What’s important is that we learn to adjust to each generation and maintain the Spirit of Christmas that has endured through all those changes.”

Bernard was quick to jump in saying, “That’s right! If we want the children to understand the meaning of Christmas, we need to relate to them on their terms . . .”

“And that means using the technologies that are meaningful and important to them,” I interrupted as I thoughtfully cupped my hands around my mug to warm them up.

“I think we all agree on that,” stated Chantilly. “Now let’s focus on getting the elves ready to make those toys.” Writing on the board she continued, “We need to train them on the following topics: robotics, computers, music streaming devices, electronic games, and these new AI, artificial intelligence, devices.”

“Is Fizzlepop, the elf in charge of electronics, working on those?” Bernard asked.

“Yes. He has been working with his elves since we ended production for this past Christmas. They have been fiddling and tinkering with the electronic toys, and after taking them all apart and putting them back together, they were able to organize the training sessions.”

“I ran into him the other day and he mentioned that there might need to be some cross training,” I stated looking at Chantilly. “What did he mean by that?”

“It seems the new technology is being combined with other toys now. For example, the FurReal Cubby is a stuffed animal, but works like a robot,” she responded. “It can blink its eyes, twitch its ears and snout, and has arms that can play peekaboo. This bear can even react to sounds and being touched. He will yawn and act sleepy when it’s time for the child to go to bed, helping put the child to sleep.”

“Being a Hot Wheels fan,” Bernard added, “I was surprised to hear that some of the cars now have a chip inside that keeps track of a car’s stats like completed challenges, how many tricks and laps it completes, and its speed. It then sends that information to a tablet or phone.”

“These are toys that will require the elves to take multiple classes,” Chantilly responded.

“I’m beginning to wonder if there is enough time for the elves to learn all of that before production can begin in time for us to make what we need for Christmas 2020.”

“That’s the last thing to worry about Santa. As you know elves do not need as much sleep as humans, and they have to keep busy with constant activity,” Bernard said reassuringly.

“The elves will be returning on April Fool’s Day, and we should have the training completed by the first of May,” Chantilly said as she put her marker on the table and began to straighten her papers. “That gives them a month to get the production lines ready for the start of the production season on June first.”

“As always it appears that you both have things well under control,” I stated as I stood to leave.

“You have nothing to worry about Santa. We have been doing this for a long time now and have the elves ever let you down?”

“Never!” I exclaimed. “I am just surprised at how eager and excited the elves are to learn new things. After hundreds of years you would think they might get tired of always learning things.”

“Oh Santa,” Chantilly said as she picked up her papers to leave. “You do the same thing. Did you ever think about all the new technologies you learn from the children? Besides let me remind you that when I took over this position at Elf University, you told me: ‘Anyone who stops learning is old. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.’ And that, I believe, is one of the secrets to how you and the elves have achieved such long lives.”

Note from Santa: I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .

Illustration by FireMane Studio