Steamed milk. Sugar. Chocolate – dark chocolate this time. A dash of cinnamon and, was that nutmeg? Whatever it was, the beverage was just the thing to warm tired bones after a long, frigid night.
Kringle took a long pull from the steaming mug of cocoa and eased back into the easy chair. He shivered a little, pulled the red and green plaid blanket a little tighter over his legs. A man his age shouldn’t go out on nights like this; especially when nights out for him lasted, well, an impossibly long time. They had to. How else to get all those toys delivered in one evening?
Kringle set the mug on top of an old book, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, on the table next to him. A bit of whipped cream slid down the side of the mug, which was a stout, blue ceramic item with flecks of gold and his initials filigreed on it, or at least the initials of the name he was most commonly called by – “SC”. Head elf Flifle had given it to him a century before and he’d enjoyed a cup of cocoa in it every Christmas night since.
Santa sat. Just sat. He hadn’t done that the entire pan-dimensionally long night. All over the world. Down the chimney. Up the chimney. Springing to the sleigh, springing out of the sleigh. Icy roofs, barking dogs, the odd sneaky kid trying to grab a peek. Occasionally getting singed by a fire that didn’t properly extinguish itself.
It was a young man’s game.
And Kringle was not a young man.
Every year, he thought about retiring. His predecessors had done the job until they dropped – faded into the other world or whatever. But he was tired. More so all the time. It was getting hard to press on. Even harder now.
Stop it, Kris. It’s Christmas! The most joyous time of year. He was the poster boy for holiday cheer – jolly ol’ St. Nick, Ho ho ho, and all that. But once in a while, when the presents were delivered, the workshop was shuttered until January 1 when production ramps up again, and the elves had gone home…well, these quiet holiday moments can be killers, can’t they? Worries that this year just wasn’t as merry as the last; regret over harsh words to the elves, frustration that little Sophie wasn’t going to get the exact doll she’d wanted. Concerns about the ratio of naughty to nice on his list.
In the past, he could count on Mrs. Claus to pull him out of a holiday funk with a joke or an encouraging word. One year, he’d quit being Santa all together and went to live in the Real World. Mrs. Claus, with the help of good ol’ Flifle and a couple of kind real worlders had pulled off a bit of Christmas magic worthy of, well, himself, he supposed. He chuckled awkwardly at the notion of his own legendary status. A status he never would have achieved without his beloved Mrs. Claus.
But things change. The seasons pass and so do those we hold dear.
Santa watches the children – sees them sleeping, knows when they’re awake, knows who is bad or good.
But what about himself, Mr. Kringle. Who will watch over Santa now?
Kringle shivered again. But it wasn’t from the cold this time. Santa drained the mug, but the warmth of the chocolate failed to penetrate the chill that stayed with him even when he delivered presents to the tropics. It was the chill of loss and mortality, not of climate.
There was a faint rapping at the chamber door. As it opened on ancient hinges, The light from the hallway spilled into the darkened room, Flifle’s jingle bells echoed in the silent night.
“Sir,” Flifle said. “I have the children’s letters If you’d like to read them now.”
“Oh,” Flifle said. “I thought you knew.”
“Mrs. Claus set it up before…well, before. She thought tonight of all nights you’d be wanting to read some of the millions of letters from the children who love you.” Seeing the somber look on his boss’s face, Flifle prepared his retreat. “I can take them back to the workshop if you like.”
Kringle looked at his old friend and helper. The warmth he’d been seeking finally pushed out the cold. “No, that’s all right, ” he said slowly, the twinkle in his eye not quite there, but definitely emerging. “I’ll take them.”
Flilfe left St. Nick alone with his letters. But he wasn’t really alone. No one who carries the spirit of Christmas in its many forms can ever really be.
Psst…want to read more about St. Nick, Mrs. Claus and Flifle? Let Rudolph’s nose lead you here. (Or whatever book purveyor you choose)…