Santa Claus’s Understudy

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Justine Roux

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Once upon a time in the North Pole, Santa Claus realized he had a problem. 
Santa Claus was getting up there in age, and he was starting to get tired. His rheumatism and impressive plumpness had even prevented him sliding down some chimneys last year. Now that another year had come and gone, Santa was starting to feel a little nervous about being able to get everything done.

It didn't take long for the elves to begin whispering about how the present distribution and even Christmas itself were in grave danger. For the sake of boys and girls around the world, a solution must be found! A clever group of elves hatched a brilliant idea: they would find Santa an understudy to help him carry the load! The optimism and joy that shown from their faces as they explained their idea was enough to convince Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.

The elves set to work. Santa's understudy had to be perfect. The first task was to choose likely candidates from the nice list from 15 years ago. Surprisingly, because elves are normally quite organized, the nice lists and naughty lists from fifteen years ago had not been properly stored. Hundreds of thousands of lists of names were mixed together in the biggest mess you can image. The head elf gave a lecture on the importance of record keeping, and all the office management elves hung their heads in shame. 

It took them two days to put everything in order and find the list of good children who hopefully had still retained those qualities that landed them on the nice list. They looked each child up and drew up a shortlist of names. A large meeting was held in the middle of the North Pole to decide which candidate would fit the role the best. After each name was called, two or three elves would come forward and state their opinions. “Theo Rascal, poor thing. His name really doesn’t suit him, he was a lovely boy!" “Lizzy Duncan! I remember her. Her present got broken in the sack. She just smiled and said she understood that it was all part of the business!”
 
***

Finally, after four days of eliminating and selecting, there were only a dozen candidates left. Santa Claus examined their names and details from their childhoods  and selected 5 as potential understudies.  

The letter was very short and to the point:

Seeking understudy to assist Santa Claus with his rounds. 
Discretion is essential. For more information, contact Santa Claus directly by phone (888-KRIS-KRINGLE) or by email at elvesoftheofficialsantaclaus@northpole.com

Mrs. Claus proof-read the message and gave her approval. The elves posted it in pretty red and green envelopes. Only twenty-one days were left until Christmas, and everyone was starting to get a little nervous. The first prospective candidate opened his letter was named Steve and worked as a mechanic in a garage. Steve thought the strange letter was a joke from his coworkers and he threw it away. Anyway, Steve much preferred nice cars to a sleigh, even a magic one.

The second candidate, Louis, was the mayor of a little town and dreamed of becoming a great politician. After opening the letter, he considered the position for a few moments. He did like the thought of being as popular and as well-esteemed as Santa Claus, but he didn't see himself living in the North Pole. He already had a child of his own and a wife. He emailed a very polite note declining the offer. 

The third candidate, 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. The elves were in dismay. They knew they had to change their approach if they were ever going to find the right understudy! 
They decided to visit the candidates in person and explain the job. 
This is how Ernest, the fourth candidate and a talented violinist, looked up to see four elves interrupting his practice. Ernest was angry that his rehearsal was interrupted and quickly ushered them out of his home before they had time to explain. 
George, the fifth on the list, was a baker. He listened patiently to the elves without saying a word. When they finished describing the job, George smiled kindly and gave them a little Christmas cake to thank them for this charming story before leading them out of his shop.
The elves were beside themselves with worry about Christmas now being only 10 days away. 
The elves decided to dress up in business suits so they would be taken more seriously. But time and time again, as soon as they mentioned Santa Claus, doors shut in their faces.
Soon there was only one name left on their list: Glenn, a surf instructor. The elves approached Glen as he was resting in the sand and watching the setting sun. He couldn’t help laughing out loud when he saw them coming onto the beach in their business suits. But when the elves began to explain their mission, Glen was engaged. He considered the proposition, but then explained he had some very important plans for Christmas Eve. Glen was going to propose to his girlfriend. The elves were disappointed, but obviously very understanding. 

The elves returned to the North Pole in despair. With no understudy to help share the load, Santa was never going to be able to deliver presents to every house in the world. The elves felt helpless -- they were completely out of ideas. All they could hope for was a little Christmas magic. 

***

Later that day, the phone rang, waking the elf in the administrative office. The voice on the other end of line said, “Hello, my name’s Andy Christmas and I’m calling about the advertisement!” The elf learned that he had found the advertisement on a bedside table in the hotel where he was staying. After seeing the ad, he couldn't stop thinking about it. He explained to the elf, "With a name like Andy Christmas, I just knew I had to call!" 
Joyously, the elf gave Andy all the information he needed for how to get to the North Pole. 

At last, Santa would have an understudy! Christmas Eve was less than ten days away but Andy arrived ready to learn. He immediately began his training with the elves. Andy soon learned how to find every city in the world, from the largest capitols to the smallest Siberian villages. He was also a very talented present distributor! He worked revealed an exceptional skill for organizing things. From bonding with the reindeer to managing inter-elf relationships, Andy was proving himself to be the perfect Santa understudy.
In fact, really the only hangup Andy had was learning to go down chimneys. It took a lot of practice, but finally he could slide in with a large sack of presents without hurting himself or even getting dirty. The slightest sooty mark would have looked very bad on his Santa Claus costume.
Two days before Christmas Eve, Andy was ready to go!
But something was still missing...
Mrs. Claus invited him into her workshop, and there, hanging on a gold rack, was a real Santa Claus outfit, made to measure, just for him. She 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 the elves load all the presents into the sack with and felt some anxiety. There were so many people counting on him.. If he failed, millions of children would be disappointed. 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. Andy and Santa Claus 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 his training, left the presents at the foot of the tree and crept quietly away. The motion was repeated thousands and thousands of times. 

The next morning, millions of children woke up around the world and found mountains of presents waiting for them! In the reporting room, elves were shouting with joy and excitement! It had been a record breaking Christmas! 5 million happy children!
When Santa and Andy got back, Santa invited Andy into his study.  
He explained to Andy that while he loved being Santa, this was his last Christmas giving gifts. Santa asked Andy Christmas to step in and accept the responsibility of Santa Claus. Andy was overjoyed, and of course accepted.
And that’s how Andy Christmas became the new Santa Claus.

Translated by Wendy Cross

71

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