Dad’s Father Christmas

By Brent King On December 1, 2014 Under Short Stories

“The gospel has not abrogated legends.
It has hallowed them.” – JRR Tolkien

Bowing-SantaIt happened one Christmas when I was a boy. That year I spent most of December sick. I passed the hours at home reading books and, of all of them, my favorite was The Polar Express. I remember how my heart would swell when I came to the end, and I’d whisper, “I do believe.”

That Christmas my dad spent hours in his workshop. When I would ask him about it, he would grin and say, “Something special.” Then one evening, a week before Christmas, he entered the house carrying something draped in a sheet. Mom, sister, and I gathered around him as he set it down next to the tree and uncovered it.

He chuckled. “Merry Christmas.”

For a moment we stood there, gazing at it. Mom’s eyes met dad’s with a half smile. “I don’t know,” she said.

Supper called her to the kitchen. Dad arranged the duo by the tree. I sat on my haunches and stared at them.

Dad’s eyes twinkled, and he grinned at me. “I made them for all of us, but mostly for you.”

He followed mom to the kitchen, leaving my sister and I alone with the sculptures.

“It looks like Father Christmas,” she said.

I squinted at the saint. “Or Santa Claus.”

“How did daddy do it?” she asked. “He looks so real.”

“I don’t know.” I ran my fingers over the smooth wood. “But daddies can do things that other’s can’t.”

She smiled a moment, contemplating my answer. Then, as if it was enough for her, she turned toward the fireplace and continued with her dolls. But I couldn’t stop inspecting dad’s sculptures.

“They’re amazing!” I whispered the words to myself.

I crawled around them. Father Christmas knelt by a manger. He held a red cap in his hand and bowed his head before a perfect baby lying there. A light glowed in the baby’s face as he gazed up toward Santa with a painted smile.

“I like it a lot dad,” I said when I went to bed that night.

In the days that followed, I spent hours by the fire in the living room, reading and savoring the tree. Father Christmas and the manger were my daily companions. The colorful stack of packages under the tree grew day by day.

Christmas Eve came all too fast. Sister jumped up and down, and my heart fluttered as it always does. That night mom made all of our favorite treats, and dad recited the Christmas story from Luke. He read The Night Before Christmas and then The Polar Express. We knelt around the tree, Father Christmas, and the manger and said our nighttime prayers. Just before we climbed the stairs to bed, we hung our stockings on the mantle.

I lay in my bed for a long time that night, contemplating the magic of the hour. I drifted off toward dreamland, but a thump and a jingle reigned me back to consciousness. Rising on an elbow, I listened carefully. Sure enough, a chorus of muffled thuds swept across the roof.

With my heart in my throat, I threw back my covers and crept downstairs. A glow filled the living room as I peered over the railing toward the tree. Santa—yes, it was Santa—knelt before the tree with his back to me. No, wait. That was dad’s Santa. I drew as close as I dared. The manger radiated light.

“Come here my boy.” The eyes of Father Christmas met mine.

My heart pounded in my throat. “S, Santa?” I drew back.

“I’ve been watching you, son,” he said. “You said you believed. We have something in common, you and I.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. He put his arm on my shoulder and we took a few steps toward the manger.

“I do believe,” I said in a small voice. “I really do.”

Soon Father Christmas and I were kneeling before baby Jesus.

But the baby was not alone.

His mother reached down and drew him to her. Joseph smiled at us, and an anthem of a thousand angels filled the room. My eyes pooled. I tried to sing along.

As the chorus faded, something tugged my nightshirt. “Father Christmas?” The young voice spoke so softly that I scarcely heard it.

I glanced behind me. My sister stared at me—her mouth half open and her eyes wide.

“No,” I said. “Santa’s right…”—my voice dropped off—”here.” My last word hung in the air, for Father Christmas was gone.

“I thought you were him,” my sister said. “You were singing and kneeling by the manger.”

I looked again, but only a manger stood there, with dad’s baby Jesus lying in it and I kneeling before it with Santa’s cap in my hand.

“Where’s dad’s…?” I didn’t finish my question. I fingered Santa’s cap as I gave my sister a hug and helped her back to dreamland.

The next morning it was true. Father Christmas was gone. We searched high and low, but he was not to be found. Through the years, the baby and the manger have stood by our tree each Christmas. To this day, my family speculates about what happened to Father Christmas that night.

But I know and, from the twinkle in his eye, I think dad knows too.

Through the ages, the whole world has looked on as the pageant of the manger King has been re-enacted in myth, story and song. Yet only those who believe are transformed. Santa’s cap hangs by my door every day of every year, for I believe. Dad’s Father Christmas is me.

Add a comment