The week between Christmas and the first day of the New Year passed quietly, with most of the helpers catching up on their rest. 

            A few days after Christmas Santa emerged from his deep sleep."Season's Greetings, Mama."

            “You slept a little late this year, dear, so I started without you,” Mrs. Claus said.

            “Why didn’t you wake me?”

            "I didn’t want to disturb you." She retrieved his apron from the hook, knowing that he would ask for it soon.

            “Have the boys been by?”

            “They were here yesterday, but they’re coming back today,” she said.

            “Where’s my apron, Mama?” Santa stretched his arms high above his head.

            “It’s here, Papa.” She slipped the red and white checkered apron over Santa’s head and tied it behind him. “I think you’ll find everything you need, but here’s the wuffle dust, just in case.”

            “I don’t need that stuff!”

            “Of course not,” Mrs. Claus sighed, but she placed the jug on the counter, just in case.

            Santa was quite a cook and prided himself on his flavorful cuisine.  He gathered the pots he would need and then washed his hands. Whistling, he poured the ingredients for his special stuffing into the big mixing bowl. Tart apples were his secret addition.  He buried his hands in the bowl and began to mix his stuffing.

***

             With Santa occupied, Mrs. Claus was free to finish her plans for the Little Christmas Party.  She and Santa hosted the event every year on the sixth of January.  It was their gift to the helpers – their special way of saying ‘thanks for everything.' She went to the study and sat at the huge desk. She had just begun to work when Bernard, the Workshop supervisor, knocked on the door.

            “Jimbo and North Pole Phil are downstairs,” Bernard said.

            Mrs. Claus nodded.  "Send them to the mail room." She dismissed Bernard with a wave.  "Papa,” she called, “the boys are back.”

            “I’ll meet them in the mail room.”  Santa wiped his hands on his apron and shuffled down the hall.

***

            Jimbo eyed Santa’s apron. “Getting’ ready for the party?” His mouth watered as he patted his ample belly.

            Santa looked down at the soiled apron. “Just stirring up some stuffing.”

            North Pole Phil licked his chops. “Stuffing? Your stuffing makes me drool.”

            Santa beamed. Then, nodding toward the boxes that contained his ‘naughty and nice’ checklist, he said, “It’s ready to go.”

            “This is our last job, Jimbo,” North Pole Phil growled.  He adjusted his postal uniform vest.

            “Yes, this wraps up the season, as far as the Christmas mail goes,” Santa said.  “So, Jimbo, did you enjoy working with Phil this year?”

            “It was fun. I’ll be glad to get back to my shop, though.”

            North Pole Phil grinned. “You can go after we take the list to Strubby.” Then he looked at the boxes. “Yippers, Santa! The list gets longer every year.”

            “Dust it.” Santa waved, and left Jimbo and Phil with the list.

            North Pole Phil located his pouch of wuffle dust and doused the boxes that contained the list.

            POOF! They all but disappeared.  Phil and Jimbo picked them up and dropped them in their pockets.

            “Where to?” Jimbo asked.

            “The Archives,” Phil said, heading toward the cart.

***

The Christmas Archives, on Second Street, is an imposing structure.  Long ago it stood alone, but the surrounding area changed over the years.  Now the building is on the fringes of North Pole Proper, and behind it, in the distance and at the top of the hill, is the Workshop and Santa’s residence.

            Jimbo and North Pole Phil climbed into their cart. “Giddy-yup, Jingles.”  Phil snapped the reins lightly and the little deer pulled the cart down the hill toward town. “I hope Strubby will have time to finish before the party. We’re late this year.”

            Strubby, the record keeper, carefully maintained all of the records and was practically faster than the speed of dusted reindeer when he researched something.  Awhile back, Santa had given him a fancy computer, and he loved to play with it.  He had computerized all the information stored at the Archives; but even though he had never noted a discrepancy, he continued to check the accuracy with wuffle dust.  He just didn’t trust that new-fangled machine.

            He wore a gold key around his neck, which he used to secure the building when he left.  No key was really necessary, but Strubby locked the building, just the same.

            On this particular morning, Strubby was still cataloging the letters to Santa. He was busy when Jimbo and North Pole Phil arrived.

            “Good morning,” Jimbo said, pushing through the door.

            “G’mornin.'  Please take a number,” Strubby grunted, staying focused on his work.

            “Yippers! There’s no one else here,” Jimbo groaned.

            “Take a number, please.”

            “Here!” North Pole Phil handed Jimbo a number.

            “Now serving Number One,” Strubby shouted and he ambled to the counter.

            Jimbo slapped the number on the counter and Strubby took it and examined it closely.

            “May I help you,” he said at last, stroking his long salt and pepper beard.

            “We brought the list,” North Pole Phil sighed.

            “Very well. You fellows are late.”

            “Santa overslept, but we’re here now,” Jimbo said.

            “Put it over there,” Strubby gestured to a corner next to the counter.

            Jimbo and Phil removed the boxes from their pockets and put them where Strubby had indicated.  They stepped back and blew on the boxes. POOF! They returned to their original sizes. Strubby returned to his desk and continued to work diligently, not paying any attention to Jimbo and Phil.

            “Ahem, ‘scuse me,” North Pole Phil interrupted him.

            “Your number?” Strubby asked, peering over his glasses and arching his bushy eyebrows.

            Annoyed, Jimbo grabbed a number and slammed it on the counter. Strubby approached the counter. “Now serving Number Two,” he shouted, to no one in particular.  He picked up the number and studied it carefully. “Can I help you?”

            “Santa wants to know when the list will be cross-referenced,” Jimbo said.

            “By the sixth.  Everything will be finished by the sixth.”

            “Thank you,” Phil said.

            Strubby turned back to his work.

            “Oh, one more thing,” Jimbo blurted.

            “Number?”

            “Yippers! Just forget it!” Jimbo snapped. He and North Pole Phil left the Christmas Archives.

            “What’s wrong with him?” Jimbo grumbled, as they climbed back into their cart.

            “Nothing. He just takes his job seriously,” North Pole Phil said.

            “He’s a lot friendlier when he’s not working.”

            “Yes, but he’s very business-like when he’s at the Archives – a true professional.  We’re lucky to have him,” Phil added thoughtfully. “He has a very complicated job.”

            “Yes, he does.”

            “You see a lot of stuff when you work at the Post Office,” said North Pole Phil, grinning. “Like the helpers doing their jobs.”

            “Yup, I’m glad Santa picked me to be your holiday helper, but I’ll be glad to get back to the Box n' Ale (the short name for Tinderbox and Gingerale). I miss the tastes, the aromas, and especially the warmth.”

            North Pole Phil chuckled. His long fur protected him from the weather.  He snapped the reins lightly, and Jingles took off. “Shall I drop you at your shop?”

“Thanks, that would be great,” Jimbo said, as Jingles turned onto North Pole Boulevard. “I haven’t seen the inside of my shop since Winter Wonderland.”

***

            Meanwhile, back at the Claus’, Santa was engrossed in his cooking once again.  Mrs. Claus returned to her study to resume the party plans.

            She closed the heavy doors and sat at the huge desk. Humming, she reviewed her notes. “Music,” she read from her list of things to do. The North Pole Philharmonica Band, led by North Pole Phil, was to provide the music for dancing, so she crossed ‘Music’ off of the list. "Food,” she read. Already taken care of. Although Santa did all of the cooking, she planned the menu, keeping in mind Santa’s specialties, and the helpers' favorites. Mrs. Claus crossed through ‘Food.’

            She continued down the list. She had already tidied the Workshop. It was still trimmed nicely, and Holly was making a special snowflake mobile to hang from the corner of the parlor. Carefully, she drew lines through ‘Dusting’ and ‘Decorations.’ At last she was at the bottom of the list. She still had to wrap Santa’s present, but everything else was done.

 


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