|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 |
AURENS and Friedrik were two little
newcomers in the village. Their mother
and father were even poorer than most
of the other families, which made them
poor indeed, because nobody in the village had a great deal of money. Ever
since the day of their arrival, they had
been met by misfortune. Their father
was a fisherman and used to be able
to keep his family supplied with enough
food to eat and enough fuel to keep them warm; but one
day his boat had been caught in a storm, and the heavy
mast had fallen on him, paralyzing him so that he had
been forced to stay in bed and watch his little family
grow thinner and thinner from lack of enough food to eat.
Their neighbors gave them as much of their meager supplies
as they themselves could spare, and the mother worked
occasionally in the household of the Squire or some of
 the more well-to-do families of the village, but there were
still many meals in the little cottage which consisted solely
of a piece of dried bread or fish, or a dish of thin gruel.
Laurens was now the man of the family, although he
was only eight years old. He built fires, shoveled the heavy
snow from the cottage door, kept the house neat and clean
while his mother was out working, and took care of his little
brother Friedrik. One of his principal duties was going into
the forest and helping the wood-cutter, receiving in return
for this service enough wood to keep his family supplied with
fuel. He rather enjoyed this task, for he met many of the
other boys while he was out. Although he worked while
they played, he enjoyed being with children his own age
after long hours spent in the house with his sick father and
One cold winter afternoon, as he was returning from the
forest with his sled piled with the wood he had helped cut,
he met a merry group of boys who were building a snow fort
a few hundred yards away from the cottage of Nicholas, the
One of the boys noticed the little figure dragging the
heavy sled and called out, "Ho there, Laurens! Want
to be on our side?"
 Laurens paused and looked wistfully at the boys playing
in the snow. "I guess not," he answered. "I ought to
get this wood home before nightfall."
"Oh, you have plenty of time," one of them replied.
"There's a good hour yet before the sun goes down, and
we'll help you drag your wood if you'll stay."
Laurens hesitated, then dropped the rope of his sled and
joined the group. After all, his mother was home that
afternoon, so his father and Friedrik would be taken care
of, and there was enough fuel in the house to keep the fire
going until evening. And it was a long time since he had
played in the snow. So for a merry, carefree hour he forgot
the troubles and duties of his house, and was only an
eight-year-old boy having a good time. When it was his
turn to storm the fort, he joined his side, and with breathless,
gay courage, braved the storm of snowballs, climbed
the icy walls of the fort, and took noisy possession. Then
it was his turn to help his comrades hold the fort, so he
warily kept out of sight, watching his chance to rise now
and then above the white edge of the stronghold and hurl
snowy missiles at the oncoming foe, and pausing every
once in a while to make himself a new supply of ammunition.
It was during one of these moments, while he was busy
 collecting snow and packing it into firm round balls, that he
heard a glad shout from both sides, from his comrades inside
the fort and his enemies outside,—"Nicholas! Hey,
fellows, here's Nicholas!"—and looked up to see the tall
figure of the wood-carver approaching the group. As he
came nearer, he lifted his mittened hand to wave to the
boys; his rosy, kindly face beaming a welcome, his blue eyes
twinkling at the sight of the good time everybody seemed
to be having.
"Well, well, a snow-fight! " he said in his deep voice.
"It's a long time since I've had one of them; and when I
was a boy, we knew how to take a fort. Now, I'd go about
it like this."
"WELL, WELL, A SNOW-FIGHT!"
He stooped swiftly and gathered up a handful of snow,
and quickly packing and shaping it in his hands, took the
finished snowball, and threw it with sure, accurate aim at
the tallest boy behind the fort. It knocked the surprised
fellow's hat clean off, and the other side, delighted with this
new ally, rushed forward, Nicholas in their midst, and took
the fort amid loud shouts and hurrahs.
Laurens looked at the tall man shyly. Of course he
knew who Nicholas was; he had heard of him ever since his
family had moved into the village last summer. He knew
 that he was the man who kept the children supplied with
toys and gifts on Christmas Day, but of course he also supposed
that Nicholas only remembered the children he really
The snow-party started to break up then, as most of
the boys had to be home before nightfall, and the sun was
already sinking in the west. They started towards home
then, accompanying Nicholas as far as his cottage. At the
gate, the wood-carver paused a moment, looking over the
group with keen eyes that seemed to see everything.
"Is this a new boy in the village?" he asked, laying a
hand on Laurens' shoulder, and looking down kindly into
the shy brown eyes.
"Yes, his name is Laurens, and he has a little brother
Friedrik . . ."
"And his father is paralyzed, and doesn't work, and his
mother . . . "
One of the boys dug his elbow sharply into the side of
the last speaker.
"Now you've done it," he said angrily. "Why can't
you hold your tongue? You've hurt his feelings by talking
about his family right out like that. Here, I'm going
after him. Come on, fellows."
 And they ran after Laurens, leaving Nicholas alone at
the gate, with a wise smile on his lips and a knowing shake
of his head.
The group finally caught up with Laurens, who furtively
wiped his eyes and mumbled something about having to be
home anyway. The boys tried to distract his attention
from the thoughtless remarks by talking about the man they
had just left.
"That's Nicholas, the wood-carver, he's wonderful,"
volunteered one boy. "Every Christmas now, at least ever
since I can remember, he's been leaving gifts at the doors in
"Not every door," said another. "He only leaves
them at the houses where he sees an embroidered bag. My
mother told me that since the village has grown, Nicholas
doesn't know every child the way he used to, so how does
he know which house has children and which hasn't unless
there's a bag there?"
"Yes," chimed in another, "and how would he even
know how many gifts to leave unless there was a bag for each
So they went on and on about the wonderful things
Nicholas gave them, quite forgetting little Laurens, trudging
 along with his heavy sled, and his heart growing just as
heavy with each step.
When he reached home, his mind was still occupied
with the information he had heard that afternoon. It
would be wonderful for little Friedrik to have a gift from
that kind man. Of course, it did not matter so much about
him; he was eight years old and didn't mind—at least, not
very much—if he didn't get a toy; because when in the
world would he have time to play with toys? But the
problem that began to spin round and round in his head
was,—how could he fix it so that Nicholas would know
there was a little boy in their house?
That night he tried to get his mother interested.
"Mother," he began somewhat doubtfully, for he well
knew how tired she must be, and probably unwilling to listen
to nonsense about Christmas toys when her mind was
occupied with the problem of where the next meal was coming
from. "Mother, do you suppose we have a bag in the
"A bag! What kind of bag, child?" she asked, astonished.
"Well, it should be an embroidered bag, really, but I
suppose any kind of bag would do. You hang it outside
 the door Christmas Eve, and then when Friedrik wakes up
the next morning, there's a fine toy for him. It's Nicholas,
the wood-carver, who does it, and I thought that if there
was only some kind of a bag around here . . ."
The mother sighed. "Things like potatoes and flour
come in bags, child, and those are things we haven't seen
for many days. And goodness knows, with all my worries,
I have no time to make you one. Forget about this Nicholas
person anyway," she finished bitterly. "I don't suppose
he'd come to poor children like you, anyway."
So Laurens was forced to abandon the idea of a bag to
hang outside the door for Friedrik's Christmas gift, but he
couldn't forget about Nicholas. Why, out there in the for
est, he looked like such a kind, jolly man; he wouldn't pass
by a child's house just because he was poor. He thought
and thought, until finally Christmas Eve arrived. He was
sitting by the fire helping his little brother to undress. He
sat staring into the fire while Friedrik capered around in
his little night-shirt, taking advantage of his big brother's
thoughtful moment to play just one more minute before
going to bed. Laurens absent-mindedly began to make a
neat pile of the little fellow's clothing so it would be ready
for him in the morning. As he picked up a little stocking,
 long and warm and woolly, he held it up, and said jokingly,
"Now, that would hold some kind of gift, just as well as any
embroidered bag . . ."
He stopped short, and stared intently at the stocking.
"Why not?" he murmured, half to himself. "Why
Little Friedrik looked frightened. "Laurens, Laurens,
what are you looking at my stocking for? What are you
going to do with it?"
Laurens gave a joyful shout. "Do with it? I'm going
to hang it outside the door!" and with one leap, he flung
open the cottage door.
Christmas Eve in the village—a bright winter moon
shining in the star-filled sky—glistening, white snow
banked everywhere—on the roads, on the rooftops, on the
fences, and in the doorways; houses darkened and inmates
all sleeping soundly; not a soul stirring in the streets but
one figure, which stole silently from door to door, leaving
bulging bags filled with gifts. At Laurens' doorway the
figure paused. In the bright moonlight, there was a funny
object to be seen dangling outside the door—a child's
woolen stocking! Nicholas laughed silently, a kind, tender
 laugh, then reached down into his pack and filled the lonely
little stocking to the top. And with a snap of his whip and
a jingling of sleighbells, he was off to the next house.
THERE WAS A FUNNY OBJECT SEEN DANGLING OUTSIDE THE DOOR.
The next morning, little Friedrik was presented with
not one, nor two, but five tiny little toys—boats and horses
and sleighs; and in the bottom of the stocking, way down
in the toe, were five large pieces of gold, enough to keep a
whole family through the winter. Little Friedrik shouted
with joy, the father almost sat up in bed in his excitement,
the mother's eyes were bright with happy tears, and Laurens
hugged close to his heart the first Christmas stocking.
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