"Hurry up, or we'll miss the train!" Donovan yanked off Boog's blankets.

            "Yipes!  What time is it?"

            "What does your watch say?"

            Boog looked at his wrist watch. "NOW!"  He jumped off his bunk, catching the britches Donovan tossed him.  He quickly finished dressing and grabbed his coat.

            "Got your ticket?" Donovan asked.

            Boog jammed his hand in his pocket.  "Yeppers.  Right here. Race ya," and he took off.

            "Wait up," Donovan shouted, and ran after his pal.

***

            At half past, the Frosty Corners Express stopped in front of the Workshop. Mrs. Claus greeted the helpers warmly as they got off the train.  Once everyone was inside, Santa served beverages, and the helpers mingled in the parlor and surrounding areas.

            Mrs. Claus dimmed the Christmas lights and the room got very quiet.  “Everyone find a seat, and we will tell the Story.” 

            The helpers quickly made themselves comfortable.

            “I’ll start,” Yort said. “Once upon a time, there was a revelation on Earth  . . .”

            “And it was Divine,” Rissy added. 

            “And the people felt this Spirit.” Clancy said

            “And called it Highest Power . . .” said Ria, with a nod.

            The helpers took turns, telling the stories of all the gods and goddesses, great prophets and gurus, and finally, THAT (THAT which is greater than wuffle dust), until the entire story of the Universe, as they understood it, was told.

             “. . . And that, my friends, is why we have the Yuletide,” Duck finished the narrative.

            “And that,” Santa said, “is why we are here, celebrating.”

            Everyone clapped their hands and cheered.

            “Such a touching story,” Mrs. Claus dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief.

            Santa a clasped his hands together. “So, is anyone hungry?"

            The helpers cheered again.

            “Dinner is ready,” Mrs. Claus announced. She led the helpers to the formal dining room.  It seated 120 folks – just enough room to accommodate all the helpers of the North Pole. The chandeliers sparkled and the tables were covered with red and gold linen cloths. Santa lighted the tapers in the centerpieces. “Please sit anywhere you like.”

            Donovan tugged on Boog’s sleeve. “Let’s sit with Holly.”

            “Where is she?”

            “Two tables over,” Donovan said.

            Boog nodded and they joined Holly at the table.

            The other helpers found seats, and Santa and Mrs. Claus served them. Everyone enjoyed being waited upon by the most prominent couple at the North Pole, and the Clauses loved it too.

            Conversation filled the dining room as the helpers feasted on Santa’s delicious cuisine.

            Doc patted his tummy. "I could eat sleighbell salad all day."   

            "That stuffing might just be the best ever," proclaimed North Pole Phil.

            Everyone agreed, even though Phil made that same comment every year. Holly and Boog made plans for a future meeting. Donovan was delighted with his role as matchmaker.

After dinner, the North Pole Philharmonica Band, led by Phil, played music while some of the guests danced.  The others mingled throughout the Workshop’s common areas.

            “Where’s Coy?” Santa boomed.

            “Here I am.”

            “How about leading us in some Christmas songs?” Santa asked. “Mama will play the piano.”

            Mrs. Claus arched her eyebrow at Santa, then smiled broadly.  “What shall I play, Coy?”

            “Well, how about ‘Up on a House Top’?” Coy suggested.

            Mrs. Claus played the introduction, and Coy began to sing, “Up on a house top reindeer pause . . .” 

            The others joined in.  They sang song after song.  They sang so for long that no one could think of another holiday song to sing.

            At last Mrs. Claus stood up and smiled. “I think it’s time for the gift exchange, Papa.”

            Everyone clapped their hands and cheered.  While they looked forward to the dinner and dancing and singing, the gift exchange was their favorite part of the party.  Every helper received a present, especially chosen by another helper, and it was his or her gift from the North Pole Community.

            They followed Santa and Mrs. Claus into the grand parlor and gathered around the tree.  It was Santa’s job to hand out the presents, of course, and he didn't waste any time. 

            “To Donovan, from Boog,” Santa called, and Donovan eagerly accepted his present. He ripped the wrap from his new ice board, and clapped his hands.  “I love it,” he said.  Then he whispered to Boog, “I love it so much I got you the same thing!”  Boog grinned.

            Santa took the next present from under the tree.  “To Boog from Donovan,” he shouted. 

            Donovan winked at Boog as he opened his ice board.

            Mrs. Claus clicked her tongue.  “No boarding at the skating pond.  You can use your boards at Glacier Lake.” 

            The two elves nodded.

            "For Kat, from Elfman."

            "Whoa, Dude, dat's so cool."  Pole Kat ran his hair pick through his mohawk. 

            "'Cause you're one cool Kat," Elfman said, laughing.

            "Pfffffftt!"  Pole Kat licked his front paw, and stuck his hair pick in his ‘do.’

            “Here’s one to Ria,” Santa said.

            Ria, who loved to draw, unwrapped a new box of coloring pencils. “Twenty-four colors,” she gasped. “This is the nicest box of pencils I’ve ever had.” She immediately began to sketch the scene around her.

            "I'd like that sketch for the 'Herald'."

            "Okay, Zann," Ria said enthusiastically.  "I'll make it pretty."

            Zann smiled.  "I know."

            “To Coy from Ria,” Santa boomed. He dragged the large flat package from beneath the tree. “I wonder what this is.”

            Coy grabbed the end and tugged. He tore open the bundle and found a drawing of Santa and the reindeer team. “Thanks everyone,” he said, “and thank you Ria.”

            “You’re welcome. It will look nice behind your counter. I know you like to collect things. Right, Coy? Do you like to collect things?”

            Coy grinned and hugged Ria.  “I do.  It’s perfect.  I’ve been meaning to dump those old shelves. Thanks again.”

            “To North Pole Phil from Clancy.” 

            The huge bear ripped the paper from a brand new pair of snow shoes.  ”Thank you, everyone, and especially you, Clancy.”

            “Well, I know how hard it is to carry the mail all the way out to the Cabin,” Clancy said, smiling.

            "For Holly," Santa said.

            "It's wonderful," Holly said.  "I really needed a new ice bucket."

            Zann gave Doc a mug, and Duck received a large bag of gumdrops from Tessie.  Violet was pleased to receive a new pail for wuffle dust. Santa continued to pass out presents until only one was left. The bundle moved slightly as he handed it to Mrs. Claus.

            She carefully pulled back the wrapping. “Oh my!  It’s a kitten!” she exclaimed.      “How sweet." She hugged both Santa and the kitty.

            “What shall we call her?” Santa asked.

            "Her coloring reminds me of ginger cookies.  How about Ginger?" Mrs. Claus stroked the purring cat. “This is a wonderful present.  Thank you Papa.” Mrs. Claus hugged her husband again.

            “You’re welcome, my dear,” Santa said.  Then seeing no more gifts under the tree, he said, “That’s it for this year.”

            “Not quite.” Mrs. Claus handed Santa a wrapped present. “We can’t forget you.”

Santa eagerly unwrapped his gift.  “A flag!  Why this fellow looks just like me," he chuckled, admiring the portly figure on the banner.

            “I stitched it myself.”  Mrs. Claus peered at him, wondering if he really liked it.

            “North Pole,” Santa read. “Oh, Mama, I love it.  Thank you. Thank you all.  Where shall we fly it?” he asked the helpers.

            “Over the Workshop,” Bernard shouted.

            “The Stables,” Ria begged.

            “Let me see . . . I think the Weather Station would be the best place,” Santa said.

            The weather guessers cheered, but many of the others were disappointed.

            “What about the Stables?”  Ria whined.

            “I may have another idea,” Mrs. Claus said.  “Papa, can I see you in the study?” 

Santa and Mrs. Claus left the room and the helpers all began to talk at once.

            “See what you did, Ria!”

            “Now there will be a fuss!”

            “The Weather Station was best.”

            “Was not!” Ria stomped her foot.

            “Now we’ve spoiled the Yuletide party.”

            “No one has spoiled anything.” Mrs. Claus took command as she re-entered the room.        “Tell them what you’ve decided, Papa.”

            “The flag will fly over the Weather Station,” Santa's eyes twinkled. “For one month.  Then we will play 'Capture the Flag.' Whoever wins gets it for the next month. It will move every month, until everyone has the opportunity to fly it.”

            "What if I catch it two months?" Ria asked.

            "Hmm," Santa scratched his head.

            "You can't," Mrs. Claus chimed in. "Once you've had your turn, you have to join another team, and help."

            "Settled," Santa said.

            The helpers chorused their approval. They finished the celebration by toasting the new year with Hollyberry brandy and offering wishes for a prosperous and productive year. 

            Finally, Willie, the Frosty Corners Express engineer, called out, “All aboard.”  It was time to depart.

            “See you on Begin Again Day,” the helpers shouted as they exchanged their goodbyes with the Clauses.

            At last, Santa and Mrs. Claus were alone.  They picked up the mugs and platters and took them to the kitchen.  Santa poured two glasses of Hollyberry brandy and offered one to his wife. “Come Mama,” he said. 

            He led her to the parlor where they sipped their brandy. “It was a fine party, Papa,” Mrs. Claus said, smiling.

            “The best ever.” He smiled back and took her hand. Together they whirled about the room, dancing cheek to cheek until they were dizzy. Santa spun her around.  “Look, Mama,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.  He pointed to the mistletoe directly overhead.

            “Oh, Papa.” She blushed and tried to suppress a girlish giggle.


 


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