A Cursed Christmas

12/21/22

Coming home in a festive fury of snow from a long night’s work, asleep in his sleigh, Santa is jostled awake by the sound of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-9 Max airplane, headed straight toward him. One hundred, thirty-eight feet of celestial navigation, weighing-in at over 91,000 lbs of mostly aluminum alloy, not including passenger and baggage weight, contending for the “friendly skies” against one sleep-deprived grizzly of a man at the helm of a 25 ft empty sleigh, tugged by eight cross reindeer.

If reindeer have a superpower, it’s their ability to see in the dark. Their eyes change color in the winter from gold to blue, allowing them to take in whatever light is available. And tonight, the most spectacular waves of bluish-green luminosity and glowing curtains of light—the polar lights, also known as “Aurora borealis”—illuminate their wintry way home.

Due to extreme turbulence, the pregnant bird had descended rapidly from 41,000 ft to 21,000 ft in less than one minute onto the reindeer’s field of vision, startling them but not stranding them helpless. The “deer in the headlights” expression does not apply to these reindeer. It should be made clear that these specialized deer are a mixed class of animal—part mammal, part avian with the head and front legs of a reindeer, wings of an eagle, and body, tail and back legs of a lion. Throughout the centuries they’ve lost their triune appeal and so people have gone with the colloquialism of reindeer; although, sacrificing the explanation for how they’re able to get Santa’s sleigh, loaded with goodies, and his fat butt off niveous ground.

As the reindeer slip under the plane to avoid a game of “chicken” with a much bigger and faster locomotive, Santa and his sleigh get sucked into its wake turbulence or “jet wash” as it’s commonly called. Spinning into a downward spiral, Saint Nicholas loses control of the reigns. Because of the even number of reindeer, there isn’t a designated leader to lead the way in case of an aeronautical emergency. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen prepare for a crash landing somewhere in Greenland about 450 miles from the North Pole. They cover their faces with their feathered arms as Papa Noël procures and dons a hockey helmet for protection from inside his bag of presents.

The landing goes better than expected as the reindeer’s padded crescent-shaped front hooves and strong back, feline legs cushion the impact. But the sleigh isn’t so lucky. The metal rivets connected to the animals’ leather harnesses breaks off. (Direct impact is as inevitable as spiked eggnog on Christmas.) Santa and his sled hit the ground hard. If it weren’t for the seven-feet of fresh-powdered snow, the fat man might not have survived such a harrowing landing.

Minutes slip into hours as Santa sleeps off his concussion. “Dunder” and “Blixem”—Dutch monikers for “Donner” and “Blitzen,” meaning “thunder” and “lightning,” respectively—are the first two reindeer to guard the helpless, exposed, frigid body thrown from the wreckage. The others use their hooves as shovels to dig down into the snow to extract lichen—a small fungi-plant covering tree trunks and rocks—for food. Thunder and Lightning lay on top of Santa like two reindeer etched on a Christmas sweater until he wakes up.

“Alright girls… I can manage from here.” He stands up in slow motion, legs quivering to hold up an unproportioned frame like two toothpicks holding up a cantaloupe, and then gently shakes his head. “What a headache… I need a drink… Where’s the nearest watering hole?” he says to his winged, four-legged friends before accessing his smartphone for navigational coordinates. “Alright, follow me,” he tells them. “I know a place.”

An hour’s walk in the cold does Santa some good. He plunges his hand into the hiemal earth and pulls out a snowball. With mansuetude he holds it flush against the right side of his swollen face with his left hand. His left arm, bandaged into an “L” shape sling, was also injured in the crash.

Green, white, and red Christmas lights outlining a bar-shack shine in the frosty distance. Pulsating lights spell out two words that would otherwise never be seen together—“Cartel Tamales.”

“Let’s go ladies… Cartel Tamales is calling my name.”

Reaching the isolated establishment, Kris waters his animals, pouring out a shot of rum for each of them into their trough. Attached to the door, silver sleigh bells ring as he re-enters. He looks in the direction of the bartender. “It’s my turn. Set ’em up. Eight for eight.” She lines up eight shots of Flor de Caña for the battle-worn Christmas icon. Each, in-turn, he takes down, leaving consecutive shot glass after shot glass upside down. “Now fix me up a dozen of your spicy pork nacatamales.” No sooner than they’re served, a hungry hand shovels steaming, delicious corn and potato masa into the ravenous ho-ho-hole in Santa’s face.

The saintly figure doesn’t pray before the meal or ask for utensils. All acts of decorum have lapsed “General Noel” as his elves call him. The truth is that he’s feeding more than his stomach. He’s feeding his dissuasion of Christmas.

Since the fourth century, during a prayer vigil, he’s been endowed with magical powers by the King of Christmas, himself—the Prince of Peace—to make miracles happen for children and to never know the sting of death as long as he continues to honor the medieval, chivalrous code of thinking of others before himself. But lately he’s been living inside his own snow-globe of despair.

“Some gift… More like a curse!” he mutters, looking at his dejected demeanor in the dirty mirror behind the bar. “I never die… I never take breaks… I have no wife… No children… I only have tiresomely cheerful elves to keep me company.” He waves over the bartender to serve him another drink. Looking at her face without noticing her exotic, Latin features, he says, half-slurring, as he points to himself: “I… Santa Claus… am the patron saint of chillren … child-ren … but who’s my patron saint? Who’s lookin’ out for my best interest?…” He wipes the counter clean with his oversized, free hand, knocking over glasses, plates and a bowl of freshly-roasted chestnuts. “I curse Christmas!”

As those last words escape his churlish mouth, his head, which feels like a bowling ball, bounces on the bar and lands on the left side of his face. He feels like he has slept for days but, in actuality, he had passed out for only a few moments.

Disgruntled Santa slowly opens his groggy eyes, his face festooned onto the lacquered counter. Blurred vision prevents him from making out the person holding the wet rag across his forehead.

His eyesight returns, noticing that the full-figured woman is nowhere to be found. A middle-aged man with a beard, wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, looks down on him and says, “You took a pretty bad beating from that crash landing. If I didn’t make it snow last night you would’ve died.”

Santa looks at the mystery man and scowls, not on purpose but as a reaction to hearing something truly out of the ordinary.

“Wait… What?”

“I said that the freshly fallen snow I provided you broke your fall.” Santa stares back at him not saying a word, noticing the name on his name tag—Rudy. “I know…” he says sympathetically wincing for a brief moment before continuing. “It’s been a while since we’ve talked. You seem to have forgotten about me and my provisions for you… Contrary to what you’re feeling, I’ve never left you. And I’ve never forgotten about you.”

Nick’s countenance changes. “This power… It’s a millstone wrapped around my neck. I’m being pulled under… I can’t breathe… I’m finished.” His eyes begin to water.

The God-man responds, “Trust me… I know how you feel… But I think you mean tetelestai!” Given his Greek upbringing, Nick knows exactly what is meant by the Greek term tetelestai, which translates to “It is finished.” (It’s his favorite phrase that Christ uttered on earth as he took his last breath and gave up his spirit.) A beam of hope flashes across his face. “Your life, which you’ve worked so hard at all these years, about something that started off so good, has taken you off course. Your work was never supposed to become your identity.”

“I thought it was what you wanted.”

“I never said to kill yourself over your work… When’s the last time you took a day off? It’s been a while… According to my calculations, since the 14th century, when William of Ockham morphed the moral landscape from happiness to obligation. And then, during the 18th century, you started making your elves work on Labor Day because of the moral influence of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative of disinterested duty. And if that weren’t a recipe for disaster, the commercial greed of the marketplace economy of the industrial revolution instigated your nervous breakdown.” He shakes his head. “You’re not experiencing a Christmas curse but a sabbath curse. What you’re feeling is what happens when you don’t take time to breathe me in, to be still and rest and know that I’m in control of every detail of your blessed life.”

Joy begins to seep back into Santa’s corrugated heart, watering all the dried-up, cracked crevices. “You’re not finished. You’re just getting started,” says Truth incarnated. “But ‘it is finished’—the way you’ve been going about Christmas, the way you’ve been feeling and living your life.”

The bartender pauses to stare in Nicholas’s eyes. “I’m sorry it had to happen this way. But I had to see you and remind you of centuries worth of blessings that have reached countless races and religions because of the greatest Gift ever given.”

He turns around to clean the mirror, pressing hard and rubbing in one particular spot. “That’s better… Now you can see yourself the way I see you… You see, you give gifts at Christmas to emulate the sacrificial Gift of love that took on human form as a defenseless babe in the womb only to be born and laid in a feeding trough for animals. You, Nicholas, are my ambassador to the world to glorify God by seeking first his kingdom and enjoying him forever.”

“Do you remember the day I deputized you?” Nick struggles to remember. “I chose you to be the harbinger of the good news of how to live abundantly and be truly human by freely giving of your time, talents, and treasures as long as you have breath in your lungs and faith in your heart?”

“Can you imagine if Santa Claus was put on the ‘naughty list’? That would undermine the whole concept of ‘naughty and nice’ or good and evil, for that matter.” Nick shakes his head in agreement and smiles, ironically.

“I never thought of it like that.”

“There’s something I want you to do for me,” says Santa’s Savior.

“Sure. Anything… What is it?”

He takes the “naughty and nice” book, which moments ago was tucked away securely in Santa’s workshop, and drops it on the bar with the thump of a bowling ball. “Burn it.”

“Burn it?” questions the fat man whose fascination with the “naughty and nice” book has inadvertently eclipsed the genesis of Christmas—the true story of God making a way where there was no way, to save the lost when the lost could never be found.

“I don’t understand…”

“The Gift of my Father’s love to the world was not based on merit. It never was and it never will be. Why then should we pretend that children have to be good all year to receive gifts? Let’s take Christmas back, back to the beginning. So like my Father’s Gift…” he smiles not saying anything but opening his arms to draw Kris back to Calvary’s cross “…let’s give all people gifts no matter their accomplishments or imperfections.”

Santa looks in the mirror and smiles. “Okay… Let’s take back Christmas!”

“Oh, and I have a gift just for you, Nicholas. It’s waiting for you outside. It’ll light your path and help you lead the way.”

He opens the door and steps down, crunching and crackling packed-snow under black, leather combat boots. White spruce trees frosted over like Saturday morning sugared-cornflakes decorate the majestic landscape. In the fore, Santa’s gift waits to be unwrapped—his sleigh refurbished with the words “Christmas Cartel” painted in gold on the rear, and eight jubilant reindeer in the front, sledding toward him.

Feeling jolly for the first time in years, the fat man smiles with a deep bass-baritone laugh and then looks back. However, the makeshift bar suddenly disappears. In its place, an enormous white spruce tree stands where he’d encountered the real Father Christmas. Santa notices a stray reindeer mining for lichen at the tree’s roots, which turns its nose a ruby-red color when ingested.

He pets the deer. “You remind me of someone… I think I’ll call you, ‘Rudy’.”

 

I want to thank my son, Nathanael, for helping me with the research for this short story.

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Kristen Jones
Kristen Jones
1 year ago

So good Chester! I enjoyed your Christmas tale immensely, a good reminder and it was perfect timing for me to digest.

Kristen

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