Santa Pause

By Jack Wallen

Writer’s Note: Near the end of this piece, I’ve embedded the song Santa hears. It’s Lulla, Lully, Lullah, by Philip Stopford. I highly recommend you click play as you finish the piece.

December 24

He stood at the apex of Noël Pass, looking down upon the snow-covered landscape he’d viewed for decades. The rolling hills and dipping valleys held centuries-old stories, ones he could recall in an instant. Moments in time that might have bled together to form a confusing jumble of memories, had it not been for the Elvin magic coursing through his veins.

“The eleventh day of Christmas.”

A sigh escaped his lips in a puff of crystalline mist. Something was off. This day, this instant, should have been one of celebration. The North Pole had always kicked off the season with a festival no mortal human had ever witnessed. The Feast of Saint Nick they called it. It was a joyous occasion where Santa’s official Christmas Tree—designed by a peculiar Elf named Dali—was lit at precisely Midnight, December 24th. The event was launched with a parade led by the team of reindeer charged with pulling Santa’s sleigh, which wound through Christmas Town to end at Holiday Square. There were feasts, music, dancing, pageants, and even gift exchanges where Elves unwrapped the most unique toys ever created. The Christmas Town festivities ended with Santa flying off to spread his special brand of cheer.

And yet…

Santa should have already reported to the reindeer paddock, to inspect the sleigh. The parade was set to begin in twenty minutes. Without Saint Nick, the Master of Ceremonies to beat them all, the festival would stall.

Another sigh.

“What is it, old man?” The question vanished before him. There was no answer to be had, not from without, not from within. 

“Darling?” The voice belonged to Kristine, Kris’ wife. Most only ever knew her as Mrs. Claus, but those under the employ of the Kringles knew better. Kristine was the glue that held the operation together. She was equal parts grandmother and task master. The Elves held her in the highest regard, and would do absolutely anything to ensure Christmas went off without a hitch.

Year, after year, after year. On and on, ad infinitum.

Kris turned to see Kristine trudging up to the plateau of Noël Pass, her cheeks bright red from the chill and her hair peppered with sparkling ice. “My love.”

Kris wrapped comforting arms around his wife.

“Why are you not at the paddock? The parade is minutes away. You know Rudolph doesn’t deal well with change.”

“Ho, ho, ho,” Santa unleashed his trademark laugh, only minus the usual belly bouncing heart.

“Okay, Kris, I can hear it in your voice. Something’s amiss.”

“No, no, no,” Santa attempted a half-hearted brushoff of Kristine’s concern. “I’m just…feeling a bit melancholy.”

Kristine pulled out of the embrace. “Now I know something’s wrong. This is your favorite time of year. It’s usually all I can do to keep you from bouncing off the walls with joy.”

Santa lifted his wife’s hand to his lips and kissed. “Let’s head to the paddock, before Rudolph’s nose dims with worry.”

“Not until you tell me what’s going on.” Kristine stood firm, a cloud of magical dust forming around her legs as a warning to her husband that she meant business.

Santa closed his eyes, his shoulders sinking with defeat. He’d tried to stave off the feeling, keep the nihilism at bay for a few more weeks. Just get through another season and hope he could find some magic in an old, forgotten silk hat. Unfortunately, the pull of the downward spiral was too strong.

Instead of explaining his ennui, he raised his arm in front of them and drew a circle with his index finger. A ring of sparkling energy formed and an image began to appear. Within the magical frame a crowd of people could be seen, faces blood-red from shouting, fists flying with a singular purpose.

“What is this?” Kristine leaned in toward the disturbing image.

“A gathering of family.” Santa’s voice was tinged with sorrow.

“How is that…”

Once again, Santa sighed. “Politics. A divided nation. A pandemic that pitted friends and family against one another and fueled entire populations with venomous rot.” The image shifted to reveal riots. “Love and peace have been replaced by hatred and violence.”

“I don’t understand, Kris. This has been going on for years. Why is it bothering you now?”

Santa tapped the portal before them to cycle through numerous images, each more vitriolic than the last. “I thought by now they would have come to some agreement, figured out how to get along with one another, realized the human race couldn’t soldier on without coming to some graceful resolution. And yet they continue to allow anger and violence to grow. Even now, when, of all times, they should be coming together as one, men and women across the globe have found newer and more efficient ways to loathe one another. They do not deserve Christmas.”

Kristine grabbed Kris’ arm and pulled it from the circle, cutting the cord of magic to end the upsetting imagery. “Don’t. Humankind has always been this way. I cannot remember a Christmas that wasn’t without its share of ugliness. Wars, hunger, disease, apathy…none of this is new.”

Santa faced his dear wife, tears streaming down his rosy cheeks. “You’re wrong. This isn’t the same hatred. Enmity that used to be set aside, even if only for a few days, has rocked the very foundation of society. Once upon a time, society would see its bitter reflection in the mirror and shrug off the rhetoric of discord in the name of the Season. Since this fire ignited, I’ve only witnessed it grow out of control. They can’t save themselves and, obviously, I can’t save them. I have failed.” Kris Kringle lowered his head. “The magic of Christmas is no more.”

Kristine turned Kris’ substantial body to face her. “Now listen here, Santa Claus, you have brought joy to the world during the bleakest periods. I’ve watched you put a smile on the face of a child during the Great Depression, seen families singing through profound loss and disaster, witnessed miracles of love and generosity. You’ve made countless people experience the truest joy, even while the mere act of existing seemed an impossibility. You, my love, are magic incarnate; there is nothing you cannot do.”

“I’m afraid you’re wrong this time. I’m up against an immovable object, an untenable situation. The dark side of human nature has won out…and I am profoundly exhausted.” Santa wiped away another round of tears. “My darling wife, you have stood by my side for so long. You’ve been my heart, my soul, and—much to Rudolph’s dismay—my guiding light. Year after year you’ve given me the strength and encouragement to carry on with a duty that should have taken me down decades ago. But this time, I’m afraid the spells you weave will have no effect on my resolve. I have no choice but to cancel Christmas.”

This time, a gasp escaped Kristine’s lips. She knew her husband well and had never experienced such a shift in his resolve.

A silence overcame Noel Pass, one that was rooted in countless memories of the joy that was Christmases past. A light snow began to fall. From a distance, a brilliant red dot of illumination could be seen. They knew the source…a heart of purest love and hope.

Kristine grabbed her husband’s hand and held tight, her heart beating heavy in her chest, knowing how broken Kris must feel.

And in that moment, a sound arose.

A melody.

A carol.

Lully, Lullah, Lullay.

Beautiful voices rose, in heart-melting harmony.

Lully lulla thou little tiny child

By by lully lullay

Thou little tiny child

By by lully lullay

Oh sisters two, how may we do

For to preserve this day

This poor youngling for whom we do sing

By by lully lullay

Kristine leaned her head on Kris’ shoulder. Together they listened, alone on Noel Pass.

Lully lulla thou little tiny child

By by lully lullay

Thou little tiny child

By by lully lullay

“Do you remember?” Santa spoke softly. “It was the first carol the elves sang as they packed the sleigh with presents for the world’s children.”

“How could I forget?”

Herod the king, in his raging

Charged he hath this day

His men of might in his own sight

All young children to slay

A lump formed in Santa’s throat. “On that day, I vowed to never turn my back on my faith in humanity.”

Lully lulla thou little tiny child

By by lully lullay

Thou little tiny child

By by lully lullay

Kristine pulled Kris in for a hug. “And you stood by that vow for so many years.”

That woe is me, poor child for thee

And ever mourn and sigh

For thy parting, neither say nor sing

By by lully lullay

“And yet, I’ve failed my calling.” Regret squeezed Santa’s heart to breaking.

Lully lulla thou little tiny child

By by lully lullay

Thou little tiny child

By by lully lullay

As the final notes of the carol faded, Santa stood a bit straighter and inhaled a lungful of magical, North Pole air. He reached his hand toward his wife and nodded. “Forgive me, my love. I’d forgotten that this night was about something far greater than mortal division in politics, religion, or society. Christmas is about bringing joy to children and the childlike at heart, giving hope to the hopeless, and heart to the heartless. What we do is of profound importance, and I will not allow the sullied soul of the masses to prevent me from spreading the true meaning of these holy days.”

A smile brightened the cheeks and eyes of Kristine Kringle. “And what is that, my dear?”

Kris pressed his lips against Kristine’s and closed his eyes before he whispered, “Love.”

Santa snapped his fingers. A whirlwind of snow and ice formed around them to lift the loving couple from the frozen ground and carry them, effortlessly, back to the workshop where Rudolph and the rest of the team awaited.

As Mr. and Mrs. Christmas arrived, the crowd jumped to their feet and repeated the carol they’d just sung, with even more heart and meaning. The whirlwind deposited the couple next to the massive sleigh and dissipated.

Bob, the head elf, approached, a clipboard in his hand. “Perfect timing, as usual. The sleigh is loaded, the reindeer have been fed a proper meal, and the Christmas countdown is about to reach 0.”

“Ho, ho, ho!” Santa unleashed his best holiday cheer, and the crowd went wild. With a hand from Kristine, Santa took his seat in the sleigh, grabbed the reins, and looked to his wife. “Thank you, my love.”

“Thank you, Santa Claus.”

Santa snapped the reins and called out, “Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!” The sleigh, piled high with a mountain of presents, began the slow trek down the runway. Just before reaching the end of the road, the reindeer took flight and lifted Santa and a cargo of joy into the night.

Kristine looked skyward, knowing that Christmas had been saved once again. Each year she could feel her husband’s resolve cracking earlier and more deeply. She was grateful a bit of good luck fell into her lap this year. Would that same miracle hold true in the years to come? Only time would tell. But for one more season, the Santa pause had been vanquished.

About Jack

Jack Wallen is what happens when a Gen Xer mind-melds with present-day snark. Jack is a seeker of truth and a writer of words with a quantum mechanical pencil and a disjointed beat of sound and soul. Although he resides in the unlikely city of Louisville, Kentucky, Jack likes to think of himself more as an interplanetary traveler, on the lookout for the Satellite of Love and a perpetual movie sign…or so he tells the reflection in the mirror (some times in 3rd person). Jack is the author of numerous tales of dark, twisty fiction including the I Zombie series, Defying Gravity, the Reapers and fEaR series (all published by Devil Dog Press), the Suicide series, the Klockwerk Movement, the Fringe Killer series, The Nameless Saga, and much more.

Check out Jack’s Amazon Author page to purchase one of his over 50 books.