|The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus|
|by Amelia C. Houghton|
|Draw close to the fire, all you who believe in the spirit of Christmas, whether you call it Santa Claus, or simply good will to men; and listen to the story of Nicholas the Wandering Orphan who became Nicholas the Wood-carver, a lover of little children. Follow him through his first years as a lonely little boy, who had the knack of carving playthings for children; then as a young man, busy over the little toys; then as a prosperous, fat, rosy old man, who overcomes all sorts of difficulties in order to attain his ambition, a toy for every child in the village. Learn how he started to drive a beautiful sleigh drawn by prancing reindeer; why he first came down a chimney; how he filled the first stocking; where the first Christmas tree was decorated; and finally how he came to be known as Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus. Ages 6-10 |
HE Christmas days that followed were
happy, not only for Nicholas, but for
all the children he met in his travels
from house to house. At the rope-maker's cottage, most of the winter
evenings were spent by the children learning
to wind and untangle masses of twine,
and to do most of the simple net-mending.
Nicholas discovered that by loosening
strands of flaxen-colored hemp he could
make the most realistic hair for the little wooden dolls he
still found time to carve. When he left at the end of the
year on Christmas Day, the rope-maker's five little children
found five little toys waiting for them on the mantel of
their fireplace, and Nicholas did not forget his promise to
the three Bavrans, but made a special trip to their house
Christmas morning with their gifts.
And so it happened, as the years went on, and Nicholas
 grew more and more skillful with his father's jack-knife,
that the children of each household came to expect one
of Nicholas' toys on Christmas Day. Not one child was
ever disappointed, for the young wood-carver had a faculty
for remembering exactly what each child liked. Fishermen's
sons received toy boats built just as carefully as the
larger boats their fathers owned; little girls were delighted
with dolls that had "real hair," and with little chairs and
tables where they could have real tea-parties.
All this time, Nicholas had been busy with many other
things besides toy-making. As he grew into a tall, strong
boy, there were many tasks in which he had his share, and
which he did willingly and well. In the spring, he learned
to dig and plant the hard northern soil with the vegetables
the family lived on during the winter; all summer he
helped with the boats, mended nets, took care of chickens,
cows, horses, and in one well-to-do household, even reindeer.
He was an especial favorite with the mothers, because
the babies and younger children would flock to Nicholas,
who would play with them and care for them, thus
giving the tired mothers a chance to attend to the housework.
During the winter months, Nicholas attended school
with the other boys and girls of the village, learning his
 A B C's in exchange for carrying in the wood for the
So on one particular winter's day we find Nicholas on his
way to school, trudging along a snowy country road, dragging
behind him a sled loaded with logs of wood. He is now
fourteen years old, a tall, thin boy, dressed in the long, heavy
tunic coat of the village, home-knit woolen leggings, and a
close-fitting black cap pulled down over his yellow hair. His
eyes are blue and twinkling, and his cheeks rosy from the
keen winter air. He whistles happily, because, although in
a week it will be Christmas-time once more, and he will have
to make his final change, he remembers the chest full of finished
toys—one for every child in the village. It is the
first year he has been able to do this, and the thought of his
trips on Christmas morning, when he will personally deliver
to every child one of his famous toys, makes him almost
skip along, burdened though he is with the heavy sled
Finally he reached the yard of the schoolmaster's cottage,
and was immediately attracted by the group of schoolboys,
who, instead of running about playing their usual
games and romping in the snow, were gathered together
in one big group, excitedly discussing something. As
 Nicholas entered the yard, they rushed over to him and
began talking all at once, their faces aglow with the
wonderful news they had to tell.
"Oh, Nicholas, there's going to be a race . . . "
". . . on sleds—Christmas morning—and the Squire
is going . . ."
". . . He's going to give a prize to the one who . . . "
"No, let me tell him. Nicholas, listen. It's going to
start . . ."
Nicholas turned a bewildered look from one eager speaker
"What are you all trying to say? One at a time, there.
Let Otto talk. Otto, what's all this about a prize, and races,
and the Squire?"
Otto drew a long, important breath, and began to talk
fast so no one would interrupt him.
"There's going to be a big sled race on Christmas morning.
All the boys are to start with their sleds at the Squire's
gate at the top of the hill, and the first one who gets back
to the big pine behind the Squire's vegetable garden on the
other side of the house wins the prize—and—what is the
prize? A big new sled . . ."
"With steel runners!" all the boys chorused delightedly.
 "With steel runners!" echoed Nicholas in an awed whisper.
"Go on, Otto. How are you supposed to go up a hill
on a sled? And where else does the race go?"
Otto frowned at the others for silence, and continued.
"Well, you coast down the long hill, and that will carry you
across the frozen creek at the bottom. Then there's that
patch of trees near the wood-cutter's cottage. Well, here's
where the fun comes in. Every place you can't coast, you
have to pull or carry your sled. There are about three
fences to go over—the Groziks', the Bavrans', and the
Pavlicks'; then you have to go through the Black Wood,
where you know there are some clear, hilly stretches, and
other places where you can't coast because of the trees.
After you go through the wood, there's a long slide down
to the village pasture; then you go back across the creek at
the rapids, where it isn't frozen, then up the long hill behind
the Squire's to the big pine. There, how's that for a
Otto paused for breath triumphantly, and the others all
started in again.
"Nicholas, you'll enter, won't you? That's not a bad
sled you have, even if you did . . ."
"Hush, Jan," whispered another. "It isn't nice to
 remind Nicholas that he made his own sled, just because
our fathers had ours made for us."
But Nicholas was not listening to the conversation. He
was thinking swiftly. Finally he turned to the others and
asked, "What time does the race begin?"
"Nine o'clock sharp on Christmas morning," was the
Nicholas shook his head doubtfully.
"I don't know whether I can be there," he said slowly.
He was thinking of the chest full of toys he had planned to
deliver to almost every house in the village. He had so
many chores to do when he got up in the morning, that he
didn't see how he could possibly finish his work, make his
rounds with the gifts, and still be in time for the start of the
race at nine o'clock.
The other boys looked at him, suddenly silenced by the
thought that came to every mind. They knew what Nicholas
was thinking of when he said he wasn't sure that he'd
be there, and although every child had come to expect a toy
from Nicholas on Christmas morning, these boys were too
embarrassed to put into words the fact that because Nicholas
was so good to them, and especially to their smaller
brothers and sisters, he might not be able to enter this race,
 which was so exciting to every boy's heart. And for all his
gentleness, Nicholas was a real boy, and felt the desire to
enter this race and win the big sled with steel runners, just
as much as any boy present.
"By getting up very early, and hurrying, I could get
there," he was thinking. "If it only weren't for the doll
I have to bring to Elsa, away outside the village . . . Oh,
I have it! " his eyes gleamed with excitement. He suddenly
remembered that Elsa's father was the wood-cutter, and
that their cottage was right in the path of the race. The
doll could easily be dropped off in a few seconds, and he
"I'll be there! I'll be there! At nine o'clock sharp,
and then you'd better watch out for the prize," he shouted
gleefully. "My old home-made sled may be heavy for the
pulls and the places we have to carry, but that will make it
all the faster on the coasts. I'll go by you just like this!"
And he made a lunge past little Josef Ornoff, which
tumbled the astonished little fellow into a deep snowbank.
All the other boys laughingly piled Nicholas in with Josef,
and the whole meeting broke up in a fast and furious snow
 When the children of the village arose on Christmas
morning, they found a bright sun streaming in through the
cottage windows and gleaming on the hard crusted snow
on the roads. But they also found that Nicholas had been
there, and probably even before the sun, because every
doorway in the village was heaped with the little toys—the
result of a whole year's work. After the excitement over
the gifts, all the boys made an anxious last-minute inspection
of their sleds, made a trial run or two, and then the whole
village started in a body for the starting-point of the race.
Nicholas, meanwhile, was back in his little shed,
desperately working on a broken runner. It had collapsed at
the last house under the strain of the extra-heavy burden
of wooden toys, and even as Nicholas was feverishly lashing
heavy bits of rope and twisted cord around the bottom
of his sled, he could hear the faint echo of the horn from the
Squire's house at the top of the hill, announcing the start
of the race. He could have sobbed with disappointment,
because he knew that he never could get there in time
to start with the others, but he also realized he had to get
to the wood-cutter's house anyway, so he turned the mended
sled upright, and made a mad dash for the hilltop, where he
found the villagers already looking excitedly after a group
 of black specks speeding down the hill, and shouting words of
encouragement at the racers. As Nicholas panted his way
through the crowd, they all made way for him, with loud
expressions of sympathy that he hadn't arrived there in time.
"Come on, Nicholas lad," shouted Jan Bavran. "I
vow I'd rather see you win than my own Otto. Here, men,
let's give him a good push. One—two—three—off he
And down the hill sped Nicholas, his face and eyes stinging
in the swift rush of wind, his hands cleverly steering the
heavy sled which gained more and more speed so that the
wooden runners seemed hardly to touch the packed snow.
On and on he went, swifter and swifter; and now his eyes
glowed with excitement as he saw that the boys' figures
ahead of him were black specks no longer, and that he must
have gained a good bit of ground.
Then, as the hill sloped more gently and the pace slackened,
he noticed something ahead which puzzled him. The
boys had all stopped on the other side of the frozen creek!
Instead of going on through the patch of woods on the other
side, they had, one and all, calmly alighted from their sleds,
and were now standing stock-still, watching Nicholas approach.
As his sled slowed down, and finally stopped, he
 looked bewilderedly from one to another, and started
"What in the world . . . "
"Come on, Nicholas," spoke up little Josef; "we
would have waited for you at the top, but the Squire got
impatient and made us start when the horn blew. But
of course you knew we'd wait for you."
"Yes," shouted Otto, "go throw that doll in Elsa's
doorway, and then let's go! And from now on, see how long
we'll wait for you! First come, first served with the sled
with the steel runners!"
Nicholas put his hand on the nearest boy's shoulder.
His eyes glistened with moisture, but it must have been
from the sharp wind on the coast. He didn't say anything,
but he was so happy at this boyish way of showing friendship
that his heart was full.
Twenty boys delivered a doll to astonished little Elsa,
and then, with a wild shout, they were off again, dragging
their sleds after them, knocking against tree-trunks, getting
their ropes tangled in low scrubby bushes, stumbling over
rocks, climbing over fences, jumping on now and then for a
stretch of coasting, bumping each other—laughing, excited,
eager, happy boys!
And Nicholas was the happiest of all, even though his
 sled was heavy to pull and clumsy to lift over fences.
(His friends had waited for him!) Up would go the strong
young arms and the sled was over the fence into the next
field. (They did like him, even though he was an orphan
and had no house of his own, but had to be passed around!)
Over a steep grade he would drag the sled and then fling himself
down for a wild rush. (And he had finished his morning's
work too; every child in the village was playing with
a toy Nicholas had made!) The long slide down to the village
pasture with only one boy ahead of him! (I'll show
them; I'll never let a Christmas pass without visiting every
child in the village!) Now carrying the heavy sled on his
shoulders while he felt slowly for a foothold on the flat stones
of the part of the creek that was not frozen; he was the first
boy to cross! (Up at the top of the hill, there's a beautiful
sled with steel runners. It's big! It will hold twice as many
toys as this old thing.) Up the hill, panting, hot, yellow
locks flying in the wind, digging his toes in the hard snow,
pulling for dear life at "the old thing," turning around
excitedly once or twice to see how close the next boy was; then
—suddenly, he heard the shouts of the villagers and he was
at the top! He leaned against the big pine; he was home
—he had won the race!
 The big sled with steel runners was beautiful, but it was
more beautiful still to see the defeated boys pulling Nicholas
home on his prize, while the littler children hopped on
behind and climbed lovingly all over the victor, and each
mother and father smiled proudly as though it had been their
own son who had won the race.
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