Santa Claus’s Understudy

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Once upon a time, at the North Pole, Santa Claus realised he had a problem.
Santa Claus was very old and starting to get tired. His rheumatism and great plumpness even stopped him going down some chimneys, so he was worried about the Christmas that was fast approaching. He kept thinking about how hard it would be to get round all the houses. He was so worried that he worked far too hard and made himself ill, barely a month before the big night.
The distribution of the presents, and Christmas itself, were in great danger! A solution had to be found very urgently.
Then a group of elves came up with a crazy idea: they would find someone to play the part of Santa Claus just for one night, like an understudy in the theatre!
The joy and enthusiasm on their faces soon convinced Santa Claus and Mrs Claus that this was the best solution to help save Christmas.
The elves set to work.
The first task was to choose likely candidates from the list of good children who had grown up. As the records had never been properly organised, they were everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of lists of names in the biggest mess you could imagine. It looked like a huge job, but the elves were determined to do everything necessary to find the perfect person. They rolled up their sleeves and set about tackling the mountains of lists.
It took them two days to put everything in order and find the list of good children who might be suitable.
Finally, they drew up a shortlist. Each elf gave his opinion of each candidate.
“Theo Rascal, poor thing. His name really doesn’t suit him, he’s a lovely boy.”
“Lizzy Duncan! I remember her. Her present got broken in the sack. That was such a total disaster.”


Finally, after four days of rereading, eliminating and selecting, there were only a dozen candidates left. Santa Claus examined their details carefully and gave his agreement
Now they had to send a letter to the candidates. It was very short:

Stuntman required to assist Santa Claus with his rounds
Discretion essential. For more information, contact Santa Claus at the North Pole
or send an email to

Mrs Claus reread the message and gave her approval. The elves posted it in pretty red and green envelopes.
There was nothing left to do but hope that the young men would reply quickly.
There were only twenty-one days left till Christmas.
The first prospective candidate was called Steve and worked as a mechanic in a garage. He thought the strange letter was a joke by his work-mates and he threw it in the bin. In any case, he much preferred nice cars to a sleigh, even a magic one.
The second, a certain Louis, was the mayor of a little town and dreamed of becoming a great politician. Although being Santa Claus seemed to him an enviable and popular job, he couldn’t see himself living at the North Pole, surrounded by mischievous elves. So he politely declined the offer.
The third, Colin, the manager of a hotel, was a very busy man. He did not pay much attention to the elves’ letter and left it on the bedside table in one of the rooms of his hotel.
Realising that this method was not working very well, the elves decided to go themselves to visit the remaining candidates.
That is how Ernest, a talented violinist, came to be disturbed in the middle of a rehearsal, by some strange children dressed in a bizarre fashion. At least that’s what he thought when he slammed the door in the elves’ faces, without even giving them time to explain.
George, the fifth on the list, was a baker. He listened patiently to the elves without saying a word. When they had finished describing the various criteria used in their selection, he smiled kindly and gave them a little Christmas cake to thank them for this charming story, before shutting up his shop.
The elves had difficulty understanding why nobody seemed prepared to help them even though Christmas was coming and they still had nobody to deliver the presents.
They decided to dress up in shirts, jackets and ties in the hope of being taken more seriously. That had no effect whatsoever… as soon as they mentioned Santa Claus, doors shut in their faces.
Soon there was only one name left on their list.
This was Glenn, who lived on the coast and was a surf instructor. The elves approached him one evening when he was resting on the sand, watching the setting sun. The surf instructor could hardly help laughing out loud when he saw them coming onto the beach in their suits that were too big for them.
The elves tried hard to convince Glenn, insisting on the urgency of the situation. This time, the candidate seemed interested in their problem and took the time to think about it.
He seemed upset to hear that Christmas was in danger, but he already had some very personal plans for Christmas Eve. He was thinking of asking his girlfriend to marry him on the evening of the twenty-fourth of December. So, with many apologies, he declined the offer.
The elves returned to the North Pole in despair.
With no understudy to play Santa Claus, the delivery of presents could not take place.
And this time, they had run right out of ideas.
All they could do now was hope for a miracle.


While Santa Claus was having a rest, his telephone rang.
“Hello, my name’s Andy Christmas and I’m calling about the advertisement!”
The very next day, Andy arrived at the North Pole.
He had found the advert left on a bedside table in a hotel where he was staying and, thinking that he might be suitable, he had called. “Well,” he said to himself, “with a name like mine, I have to have a go.”
At last!
Christmas Eve was less than ten days away but Andy had great motivation. He immediately began his training with the elves, who were extremely excited by his miraculous arrival.
As he was passionately keen on geography, he had soon learned how to find every place in the whole world, from huge capital cities to the smallest village.
He also proved very gifted in managing lists of presents. Andy worked incredibly hard and revealed a quite exceptional skill for organising things. He really was the ideal candidate!
However, the trickiest thing was learning to go down chimneys. He had to manage to slide with a heavy sack of presents without hurting himself but also without getting dirty. The slightest sooty mark would have looked very bad on Santa Claus’s costume.
Two days before Christmas Eve, Andy was ready to go!
But something was still missing...
Then Mrs Claus invited him into her workshop. On a tailor’s dummy was a real Santa Claus outfit, made to measure just for him. Andy felt very moved as he tried it on. Mrs Claus took a golden jar of powder and added her own personal touch to complete the transformation. When he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror, the young man could hardly believe his eyes! Now he had a magnificent white beard and cotton-wool eyebrows.
The resemblance to Santa Claus was quite astonishing!
The next day, the elves filled Santa Claus’s sack, which was soon overflowing with presents.
Everything was ready for the big night.


Andy watched all this with a worried expression. He was feeling a bit apprehensive… If he failed in his mission, the festivities would be ruined for thousands of children. He hardly slept a wink all night, being both anxious and excited.
“It’s Christmas! Get up, it’s Christmas!”
The elves were jumping around all over the place, the reindeer were fidgeting impatiently, anxious to take off. Their joy was infectious. Andy and Santa Claus, who had insisted on going with him, took their places on board the sleigh.
With a crack of the whip they were flying up high. They reached the first house very quickly. Andy slid down the chimney as he had done in training, left the presents at the foot of the tree and crept quietly away. And this went on the whole night long.
The next morning, when the children woke up, they found mountains of presents waiting for them. In the end, Christmas had happened without any problems.
When they got back, Santa Claus invited Andy into his study.
He was old and tired and he had passed on everything he knew to the young man. And the young man had proved to be the ideal candidate and had truly come to the rescue of Christmas.
So he gave him his powers.
And that’s how Andy Christmas became the new Santa Claus.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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