It was a cold wintry evening when he lost his laughter.
There was a fire burning cheerfully in the fireplace when the old man walked into the room with his laptop in one hand and a steaming cup in the other. He collapsed into his armchair and took a sip of his hot chocolate.
“Mmm,” he mumbled and stretched his feet out towards the fire. He had a kind face, clothed in a long white beard. His eyes were ringed with tiny wrinkles now and the cheeks had grown fuller over the years, but his eyes still sparkled as though he knew a wonderful secret. And perhaps he did.
A sharp noise from the window made the man turn his head and his face lit up at what he saw. A tiny snow robin was perched on the windowsill tapping its beak on the window pane.
“Well bless my boots, what are you doing here on this cold evening my little friend?” The man reached for the window and opened it wide enough to fit his hand. He stroked the bird gently as he spoke. “Have a little bit of supper with me.” Reaching into his deep red pocket he pulled out a gingerbread man, broke it in two and gave half to the bird. “Mrs Claus just finished baking them.” The bird eagerly grabbed the treat in its beak and with a nod of its head it flew away.
Santa chuckled and closed the window. He walked back to his armchair, placed a pair of glasses on his face, popped the other half of the gingerbread in his mouth and opened his computer.
There was one unread message titled Christmas Cheer. When he opened the message a festive song burst from the computer’s speakers and an image appeared showing two elves dancing. Santa leaned closer, frowning. “Well what do we have here?” he murmured and then let out a laugh as he noticed that the face on one of the elves was actually his while the other belonged to Mrs Claus. Santa grabbed his belly, took a great big breath and then let out a deep, rumbling laugh. It was the type of laugh that seemed to have a life of its own, it filled the room with warmth. “Ho, ho, ho,” he boomed.
Mrs Claus came into the room with Belle, Santa’s chief elf. “What’s so funny dear?” asked Mrs Claus. Santa turned the screen so that his wife could see and she started her own chiming laughter.
Belle jumped up and down. “Do you like it Santa? It’s a new app I found.”
“It’s wonderful,” he replied, still chuckling. Belle smiled and left to check on the rest of the elves.
Once the song had finished, Santa opened Kids At A Glance, a computer program that helped him keep an eye on the children of the world. Santa’s laughter faded as he focused on the images on his screen. He saw children arguing, a small girl not allowed to join a game because she looked different, a boy in a wheelchair left alone in the playground … Santa sucked in a sharp breath, leant back in his chair and closed his eyes.
“What is it dear?” Mrs Claus asked anxiously.
“The children,” Santa whispered in a cracked voice, “they’ve lost their kindness.” Santa opened his eyes and Mrs Claus gasped. Santa’s eyes had lost their sparkle. They were two dull grey discs staring out from within his face.
Mrs Claus took the computer off Santa’s lap and draped a knitted blanket over his legs. “Just close your eyes dear and rest a little before tonight’s Jingle Bell Ball.” Backing out of the room Mrs Claus felt a cold chill of worry crawl up her spine.
Later that evening all of the inhabitants of the North Pole gathered in the Mistletoe Lodge ready for the Jingle Bell Ball. The room glimmered with twinkling fairy lights and a magnificent Christmas tree stood at one end, its branches weighed down with ornaments of silver, red and gold. The air was filled with the joyful sounds of Christmas – music, bells, singing, and laughter. The elves were in happy spirits, their hard work complete for another year. The shelves of Santa’s workshop were full of shiny toys, bikes, games and all sorts of technology ready to be delivered to the children of the world.
A tiny drum roll rang out and the room quietened as all heads turned to the door. Each year Santa greeted his elves as he burst through the door and filled the air with his familiar laugh. But this year the doorway stood empty and a quiet whispering started up around the room. Where was Santa?
As the voices grew louder and more worried Mrs Claus entered slowly, wringing her hands. “I’m sorry my dears but I’m afraid Santa won’t be joining you this evening.” She hesitated as a series of gasps rang out across the room. “It seems that Santa has lost his laugh.” Mrs Claus wiped a tear from her cheek.
Belle leapt out of her seat and called out to the elves who were now in a state of panic and distress. “Elves, eyes to me.” Her bell-like voice rang out across the room. Every elfin head swivelled towards Belle, their bright eyes full of trust. Belle took a deep breath and then spoke.
“Our Santa needs us now my dears
From curly toes to pointed ears
He’s lost his laugh, his ho, ho, ho
He thinks the kids are full of woe
Their kindness, it has gone astray
Out of control, they’ve lost their way
We need to help him hope again
Convince him all is not in vain.”
The room fell silent after Belle finished. Then all of the elves started calling out ideas and suggestions. Belle gestured for Scribbly Elf to start taking notes. With a flourish of his hand Scribbly made a candy cane striped pen and a large easel appear. His hand flew across the page capturing their ideas.
“Thank you all,” Belle called once the plan was complete. “Hopefully this will work and Santa will find his laugh again. Posty can you please come with me. The rest of you, I hope we will see you later to enjoy the Ball together.”
Santa sat inside in his armchair, his once sparkling eyes staring bleakly at the floor. The sound of footsteps stirred him and he raised his head slowly to see Belle and Posty Elf standing in front of him.
“Santa,” Belle began, “we understand why you are upset by what you saw earlier but we have something to show you.” Belle clicked her fingers and an image appeared on the tablet in her hands. It was a scene of a boy sitting alone and crying. Two other boys approached and bent over to comfort him. The scene vanished and was replaced by one of a girl helping her younger brother do homework. Another scene showed a group of children running. One of the children wore leg braces and another linked arms with her so they could run together slowly. Scene after scene showed children of different colour playing together. Santa wiped a glistening tear from his eye.
Posty Elf stepped forward with a pile of papers. “These are some of the letters we received after last Christmas,” he said as he opened one and started to read. “Thank you Santa for your wonderful gifts. My sister is too little to write a note but she really loved her doll.” Reaching for another he read, “After a difficult year it was wonderful to enjoy Christmas Day with my children. Thank you for bringing us a little bit of magic.” And another, “My friend doesn’t celebrate Christmas but I shared my treats with him anyway. He would like to say thanks.” Posty Elf stopped reading when he felt Belle bump his arm. He looked at Santa and saw that the sparkle had returned to his eyes.
Santa smiled fondly at his elves and cleared his throat. “Thank you my little ones for reminding me to look for the good in the children of the world. I had forgotten that for a moment. I had also forgotten that we don’t only deliver presents but hope and joy too.”
Santa nodded thoughtfully and then clapped his hands together. “Mama,” he called.
“Yes dear?” His wife appeared from behind the wall where she had been listening.
“We have a ball to attend,” Santa announced.
Mrs Claus smiled and nodded. “Whatever you say dear.”
Santa stood and embraced each of his elves as they headed back to the Jingle Bell Ball.
“Well,” said Belle as she skipped along beside Santa happily. “This seems like Claus for celebration.” Posty groaned and Mrs Claus shook her head.
Santa stopped and grabbed his belly, taking a deep breath he laughed his rich, warm laugh and its joyous sound filled the air. “Ho, ho, ho.”