By Katherine R. Dougan
My breath fogs the front storm door glass as I press my head and face against it. I’m watching the night skies and listening for sleigh bells. It’s not Christmas quite yet, but I do see something silhouetted against the full moon.
The bells are louder, dogs are barking, and something is hovering above our house in the Morrison Heights subdivision. From out of a cloud of sparkling snow crystals, a gold rope ladder unfurls from above and descends to the lawn, and I scurry outside. It’s my ride! I climb the ladder, and I’m whisked up into the biggest, fanciest sleigh I’ve seen in my life. I hear reindeer grunting, making low sounds like a creaky door being slowly opened. They impatiently stamp their hooves, ready for action. Their leader, the one in the front with a red nose, makes a sound that is almost a whistle, “Whoosh! Whoosh!” and the other reindeer prick their ears and wag their short tails. Then we’re up, up and away! Won’t you join me for a sleigh ride together with Santa?
- A brief aside here. In my many years as a writer, this is the coolest interview for a story. Ever. Because, after years of whining on the phone to Santa, begging for an in-person interview, and listening to his lame excuses, “I’ve got a LOT of toys to deliver,” “I’m really tired,” “The reindeer union will strike,” blah, blah, blah, Santa has finally agreed to meet with me face-to-face. Or as young people say in texts: IRL. And get this: My interview is happening while I ride in the sleigh with Santa. Score!
After a breath-taking ascent above the clouds and into the skies, I realize something. Santa is quiet, and has a frown on his face. His bushy white brows are furrowed together, and he’s mumbling something to himself.
Oh. Great. Of all things, Santa is in a stinky mood. He’s grumpy. Really grumpy. After less than ten minutes into the ride, I’m regretting this idea. Nobody is having any fun. The reindeer keep their heads pointed forward, frozen stiff and looking straight ahead. They are not about to look around. They’ve picked up on Santa’s mood, too, and they want no part of it.
I wonder to myself: Is Santa allowed to be grumpy? What does he have to complain about? Nonetheless, he is clearly in a funk. So, since I was raised to be polite, and since I’m trapped in a sleigh with a huge grouch in a red suit, I ask him why he is in such a bad mood.
“It’s cookies! He shouts. “There are just too many cookies!” I gasp in surprise. Santa is yelling.
That’s just not right. The deer all flinch and cringe, and Rudolph is whistling madly in an effort to keep everybody focused at their jobs. “Whoosh! Whoosh!”
I give Santa a sidelong, incredulous look. Really? Too many cookies are his problem? Too many cookies are not a problem. Ever.
Eight of the reindeer dare to swivel their heads around, glimpsing back at the decidedly un-jolly elf. They look back and forth, between me and The Grumpy One, like they are watching a tennis match. “Whoosh! Whoosh!” Rudolph frantically whistles.
Thankfully, he still has his head in the game, driving the big rig with focused concentration. The other deer have completely abandoned their jobs. They excitedly twitch their little brown ears, in anticipation of what will happen next. By the way, if you haven’t realized it by now, reindeer are really, really nosy. They shamelessly continue to eavesdrop.
Santa takes a deep breath and lets loose a loud, exasperated sigh. He explains the problem with cookies. We all love him and know him, so we can acknowledge that Santa is, well, a jolly size.
Less kind people (aka stupid people), who will no doubt get coal in their stockings, might call Santa plump or fat. I would never do that, but I’m just saying. Santa is definitely not a small guy.
And whether you call them cookies, biscuits, crackers, pizzelle, springerle, tuile or something else, the best part of cookies is the sweet deliciousness of them. That’s Santa’s problem. After too many years of way too many cookies, Santa’s blood sugar is high. His bad cholesterol is on the rise, and he is out of shape.
It’s no wonder, if you think about it. He rides in a sleigh, parked on his rump for a really long ride once a year. He sits in a chair around Christmastime to hear what kids want for Christmas. He’s the guest at breakfasts and all other sorts of events, where cookies and sweet goodies are served. Mrs. Claus is always baking cookies. And Santa loves cookies. More than anything. Everybody knows that.
So, the problem with cookies truly is a crisis. Santa has a reason to be upset, as children all over the world expect him to eat a gazillion cookies, all in one night.
Now, because of his high blood sugar and weight gain, he isn’t supposed to eat cookies.
What to do? I suggest we ask children to leave out stuff that Santa and his reindeer can eat, perhaps fruits and vegetables? The nosy reindeer all – except Rudolph, of course – swivel their heads around in unison. They’ve heard several words that pique their collective interest: reindeer, fruits and vegetables. They all bark and make squawky sounds, indicating they think this is a great idea. Fruits and vegetables aren’t a reindeer’s favorite snack, as their favorite is moss, but they are cool with fruits and vegetables since nobody has moss stored in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer.
I have another idea: I suggest that kids could leave Santa a note, complimenting him on his weight loss and exercise plan, because he has lost some weight. It is hard to tell because of his bulky suit coat, but walking on a treadmill while checking his list twice has trimmed him down a bit. My second suggestion gets a thoughtful nod from Santa, but the reindeer snort derisively. Of course they don’t like this idea; it’s not about them.
Santa agrees that both ideas are pretty good; however, he is a bit worried about changing things. You see, he knows that everybody leaves him milk and cookies to ensure they get lots of presents. It’s kind of a long-standing deal. Santa is concerned that a child who leaves him an apple or banana might think they will get a less-cool gift on Christmas morning.
I assure Santa that some kids – and parents – might like to try something different, especially if we let everybody know Santa is OK with it.
He thoughtfully massages his silky, white beard. Santa is warming to the idea, I can tell. He tells me it would be refreshing to find a bottle of water or a diet drink instead of milk, and that he and the reindeer do like fruits and vegetables. Or perhaps even raw broccoli. “This could work,” he says. Then he smiles and I hear what I’ve been waiting to hear: “Ho, ho, ho!”
I settle back in my comfy sleigh seat. The view in the skies is spectacular: a glorious blur of multi-colored lights, like looking at the Christmas tree without wearing my glasses. We pass over the Milky Way, and the night is brighter than day. Then we drop down below the clouds, and we’re back in Clinton again, hovering above the house. I hear dogs barking, with our dogs the loudest, of course. I descend from the ladder, drop to the front yard, and walk to the front door. As I enter the door, I hear: “Merry Christmas, to all, and to all a good night.”