The Stolen Christmas (Excerpt) - June Winton
All was not well in Father Christmas Land. There were only eight weeks to go until Christmas, and so far only a handful of children’s letters had been received. And these had been addressed most strangely, such as “to The Furry Fat Man”, and “to The Self-Employed Gift Giver”. The Council of Elders called a meeting. This council consisted mostly of retired Father Christmases, and the current holder of the title was not very popular with some of the older members due to his “trendy” ideas. Nicholas, who was Father Christmas number 76, could trace his lineage right back to the very first one. But he was not quite fat enough, his beard not long enough, and he preferred his electric snowmobile to a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
This council meeting was a very sombre affair. All the elders wore their full Santa regalia, and the council chairman even wore his official helmet complete with reindeer antlers on each side.
“You and your new fangled ways!” shouted the oldest ex-Father Christmas. “Look at this tiny pile of letters. Why, the children don’t even believe in us any more!”
“Perhaps we should be on the Internet,” Father Christmas replied.
At this there was the sound of shocked gasps.
“All right, I was joking,” he laughed nervously. There was a stony silence.
Father Christmas reached into his one of his deep pockets and pulled out Christopher’s letter, written neatly on Father Christmas Company headed notepaper.
“Actually, I wanted to read you this.” He cleared his throat. “URGENT. Dear Father Christmas, please help us! My father has stolen Christmas. We need your help to get it back. Love,” (and here he paused for effect) “Christopher CHRISTMAS”.
At first there was a great intake of breath, then suddenly everyone began talking at once.
“I knew it!” shouted Father Christmas no. 73. “Another family is trying to take us over.”
Finally the chairman spoke.
“This is very serious, everyone. We have been so busy arguing amongst ourselves that we never noticed anything was wrong until it was too late. The only thing we can do is send one of us,” here they all turned and looked at no. 76, “to go to England and find out what is really happening.”
“I agree,” Father Christmas replied, “and that duty must be mine. All I ask for is back-up if required, and for the reindeer and sleigh to be ready in case they are needed at a moment’s notice. Oh, and of course, I’d like to take Polar with me.”
Polar was his large, fluffy, white dog who had a great sense of direction.
“Agreed!” All the ex Father Christmases stood up and held their ancient chimney brushes in the air.
The very next day, Father Christmas began his journey across the frozen wastes of Iceland and the North Sea, heading south. The driver was his brother Erik, Santa no. 75, and beside him sat a large white dog wearing a sleigh-bell collar. By the time they had flown over the Scottish mountains and followed the Pennines south it was late afternoon.
“We don’t want to attract too much attention at this time of day,” said Nick. “It’s a good thing I’m not wearing my Christmas clothes. Drop me off in a field by that railway station and I’ll travel by train the rest of the way.”
The sleigh came down to earth in a place near Boxhill in Surrey, from where only half a dozen reports of unidentified flying objects had been made to New Scotland Yard.
At 6.30 p.m. a train pulled into Waterloo Station, where Father Christmas and Polar got out. There seemed to be hundreds of people rushing back and forth, and in London the sight of an unshaven old man carrying a sack and being followed by a dog barely raised a glance. Once outside the station, Santa paused.
“To the West End, Polar,” he ordered.
Polar sniffed the air carefully and then barked, pulling on his lead. He was a very special dog who had an inbuilt sense of direction. An icy wind began to blow as they headed towards the subway underneath Waterloo Bridge. As they reached the middle of the subway Nicholas stopped and looked in astonishment. Under the pillars supporting the bridge were rows of blankets and cardboard boxes. In the centre space there was quite a large fire burning on a stack of old wooden pallets, and huddled round were a group of people trying to keep warm.
Polar barked in excitement, and several people turned their heads and stared. One man moved towards them.
“Can I help you, old man?” he asked. The question was not unfriendly.
“Well, I was looking for a place to stay tonight,” Santa replied. “Would you mind if we joined you?”
“Welcome to Cardboard City,” the younger man joked. “Don’t cause any trouble and you’ll be welcome here.”
Polar wagged his tail and then pulled Santa towards an old woman sitting in the corner.
“Would your lovely dog like one of my sausages?” she asked.
Polar barked again and shook his sleigh bells, his tail wagging.
Santa laughed. “I think that means yes!” he replied.
“I’ve got some spare blankets if you are staying the night,” the lady continued. “Would you like them?”
“How kind,” he answered. “My name is Nick, may I ask yours?”
“Mary,” she smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Nick.”
“And this is Polar,” Santa continued. The dog licked Mary’s hand and she laughed.
“Pleased to meet you, too, Polar.”
So Father Christmas and Polar spent their first night sleeping rough in London, but the fire helped to keep them all warm.
The next day, they got up early and decided to continue on to the West End. This was one of the main shopping areas, and crowds of people loved to visit it at Christmas time. When Mary heard of Santa’s plans, she said:
“You’re a stranger here, aren’t you? Why don’t I come along and show you around - I’ve been living on these streets for 50 years.”
Father Christmas looked shocked.
“Dear me, that’s not good,” he shook his head. “Well, Mary, I’d be delighted to have some company.”
After a hot breakfast, Father Christmas, Mary and Polar set off. At first they explored the big department stores along Oxford Street. Father Christmas could not believe what he saw - no lights to decorate the streets and no glittering Christmas displays in the windows. Instead, each shop displayed a similar message:
“Sorry, no Santa’s grotto this year”; and “Father Christmases need not apply”.
He tutted out loud, and asked Mary if she knew what was wrong.
“I don’t really know,” she answered. “I’ve never seen London like this at Christmas before.”
“No, neither have I,” Father Christmas replied.
“Oh - I thought this was your first visit,” said Mary. “So why are you over here, anyway?”
Santa coughed. “Just sight-seeing, you could say,” he replied. “I’ve always wanted to see Trafalgar Square; I don’t suppose we could go there next?”
Before very long they were standing by Nelson’s Column.
“What’s this!” Father Christmas roared. “The London landmark has gone!”
Mary looked puzzled. “But this is Nelson’s column.”
“I mean the Christmas tree!”
Where the tree once stood was a sign that read, “Confiscated by The Father Christmas Company until further notice”.
Santa looked very worried. “Oh dear! How am I supposed to know where I am without that to guide me?”
He was so shocked that he sat down on the edge of a water fountain. Mary joined him.
“I’ve never cared much for Christmas anyway,” she sniffed. “It’s not my cup of tea.”
“Why not?” Father Christmas asked. “Don’t you have any family?”
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