The Year Without a Santa Claus
By Phyllis McGinley
In 1975, Nancy and I were celebrating our second Christmas together. Our first had come only three weeks after we were married and had been filled with the excitement of being newlyweds, finishing the fall quarter at school and a delayed honeymoon. So 1975, though it was our second holiday season, was, in many ways, our first. Our first Christmas really on our own. Our apartment could barely hold the three-foot tree we bought, and a single strand of lights was almost too much for its tiny limbs to hold. Nancy found some unpainted ceramic decorations and went spent many hours together painting our first Christmas tree ornaments. As we painted, we watched TV on our little black and white set. One night we came across an animated special called The Year Without a Santa Claus. Some years later, Nancy found this on video. It has become a staple of our Christmas Eve tradition. Here is the story.
Have you been told? Did you ever hear?
Of the curious, furious, fidgety year
When Santa Claus unhitched his sleigh
And vowed he was taking a holiday?
How did it happen?
This way –
It was long ago, before you were living,
Not yet Christmas, but past Thanksgiving,
Though I can’t give you the very date
Santa got up that morning, late;
Pulled on one boot, and then its twin,
Ruffled the whiskers on his chin
And sat back down on the sid of the bed.
“Great North Star, but I’m tired” he said.
“Painting wagons red and bright
Sharpening ice-skates half the night,
Wrapping presents in ribbons and gauze,
Has worn me weary,” said Santa Claus.
“Crick in my back, cold in my nose,
Aches in my fingers and all ten toes,
And a sort of a kind of a kink inside
Whenever I think of that Christmas ride.”
Into his workroom limped the Saint
He sniffed the varnish, he smelled the paint.
And a reeling feeling came over him stealing
The see things crammed from floor to ceiling;
Rocking horses with shaggy manes,
Balls, dolls and electric trains,
Gloves, mitts, doctor’s kits,
Rubber boots, cowboy suits,
Kites for flying in the parks,
Bicycles and Noah’s Arks.
And he started to shake and he started to shiver
At the thought of the load he must soon deliver.
And he sighed, “Oh dear!” as he buttoned his vest,
“I wish ONE YEAR I could take a rest.”
When the words were out, he stood stockstill
And then he whispered, “I think I will!
I will!” he cried with his eyes a-blaze
“Everyone else gets holidays!
“Sailors and tailors and cooks do
Policemen and writers of books do;
Tamers of lions and leopards,
Preachers and teachers and shepherds;
Watchmen, Scotchmen, Spaniards, Turks;
Butchers and bakers and grocery clerks –
They all take time off as Christmas nears.
All except me, so it appears.
Saint or not, it’s time I got,
My first vacation in a thousand years.”
Out in the stable, nuzzling hay,
The reindeer dreamed of Christmas day.
But Santa phoned to the reindeer groom,
“Hang up the harness, in the big storeroom.”
He called to the elves, he told each gnome,
“Cover up the shelves, we’re staying home.”
“What! Cover the shelves?”
Cried the gnomes and elves.
“Cover the dolls and electric trains
And the rocking horses with shaggy manes
And the rubber boots for splashing in parks
And the cowboy suits and the Noah’s Arks?
For they couldn’t believe
He wouldn’t go riding on Christmas Eve.
“Put ‘em away,” roared Santa, vexed.
“This year’s presents will do for next.
Warn the people, tell the papers
I’m much too old for Christmas capers.
Crick in my back, a cold that lingers,
Aches in my toes and all ten fingers,
Bit of lumbago, touch of gout,
Climbing down chimneys is simply out.
I may be the saint of the children’s nation,
But this is the year of my first vacation.”
Well, you can imagine, more or less
What happened when that news hit the press.
Headlines screamed, wires went humming,
“SANTA SAYS ‘TOO TIRED,’ NOT COMING!”
And as the word flashed far and wide
You should have heard how the children cried!
So violently they sobbed their griefs
The shops ran out of handerchiefs.
Their tears filled up the kitchen sinks
And cellars and empty skating rinks.
They wept in school, at play they wept
They dampened their pillows while they slept.
Before those darlings’ eyes got drier
The rivers rose three feet higher.
And I don’t know what would have happened, quite,
Except for Ignatius Thistlewhite.
Ignatius Thistlewhite was a boy
In Texas (or what it Illinois?)
Six years old, but brave for his years,
He sobbed no sobs, he wept no tears,
But stood up tall in his class to say,
“Santa deserves a holiday!”
“No, no, no!” came the children’s plaint
What is Christmas without our saint?
“Shucks, now fellows! Gosh, goodness gracious!
Christmas is Christmas!” cried Ignatius
“And everyone tells me, whom I’ve met,
It’s a day to give as well as get.
Since all these years in the children’s cause
Santa’s been giving without one pause,
Let’s pull together in the Christmas weather
And give this year to Santa Claus!”
“Hooray,” his classmates said, “he’s right!
Three cheers for Ignatius Thistlewhite!”
Fast as a hurricane, children hurled
That happy message around the world,
Over each continent, isle and isthmus,
“Let’s give Santa a Merry Christmas!”
With snow the earth was already whit’ning
But they rolled up their sleeves and worked light lightning.
They opened their piggy banks, racked their brains,
They chartered buses and special trains
And ships and sledges and hydroplanes,
To reach the Pole by the 24th
Was all their goal. East, south, west, north
Came gifts and gifts and gifts to spare
From clever children everywhere:
Slippers with zippers to zip on;
Soap for his bath, or to slip on;
Geraniums pink in a pot;
One guppy, a puppy named Spot;
Balsam pillows, strawberry jam
Dressing gowns with his monogram.
Ten harmonicas for him to play on,
Handpainted pictures done in crayon.
Mufflers, pipes, an easy chair,
And lots of winter underwear.
In New York State, a boy called Pudge
Cooked him a plate of home-made fudge.
And little Girl Guides of Britain
Each made him a scarlet mitten,
While a boy in Siam sent a Siamese kitten.
They sent him lemon-drops by the carton;
Ashtrays modeled in kindergarten;
Jack-knives, pen-wipers, cakes and crullers,
And magic pencils that wrote three colors.
Tots who hadn’t a penny to send
Wrote him letters signed, “A FRIEND”
And they had more fun that strange December
(They said) than any they could remember.
Up at the Pole, in the fragrant hay,
The idle reindeer dreamed at play.
Comet nickered for oats and corn,
Dancer brandished his velvet horn,
While sadly, sorrily, lounged at home
Each idle elf and gnome.
Santa sat poking the fire, and blinking,
But nobody knew what he was thinking.
Then suddenly from the sky
There came the sound of planes
He heard the hoot and cry
Of ships and special trains.
“Noel!” tootled the sledges
“Honk!” the buses said
And out of his study window
Santa put his head.
He looked to the left, he stared to the right.
He didn’t trust his own eye-sight,
So many, so merry, so more and more
Packages were rolling to his front door.
Smack at his doorstep they thundered.
A million! A thousand! A hund’erd!
Flat ones and fat ones and lean ones;
Crimson and silver and green ones,
Plain and romantic ones,
Little and big and GIGANTIC ones;
Parcels from London, Rome, Atlanta
And each addressed alike: “TO SANTA.”
Atop them all a banner glinted
Where Ignatius Thistelwhite had printed
These words: “Good luck and holiday mirth
From all the children upon the earth.”
With toots and hoots
And honks light-hearted
The buses turned and trains departed,
Leaving the Saint surrounded by
Parcels piled to the Polar sky.
Santa was silent for a minute.
His eye looked bright but a tear stood in it.
Then he blew his nose like a trumpet blast.
“God bless my soul,” he said at last.
“By the Big Borealis! By my maps and charts!
I didn’t know children had such kind hearts.
How could a man feel gladder, prouder?”
He turned to his staff and his voice got louder
“Gnomes! Elves! Every mother’s son!
Don’t stand staring; there’s work to be done.
Bring in the barrels, fetch in the boxes,
Carry in those packages
And don’t break one!”
Where to put them?
There wasn’t space
In parlor or study or any place
They overflowed bureau, couch and table
Filled the house, the sheds the stable;
Slid from mantels, jammed the casement,
Bulged from the attic and burst from the basement.
“There’s nothing to do,” exclaimed the elves,
“Except to empty some workshop shelves.”
Off those shelves, then, Santa’s forces
Whisked the painted rocking horses.
When the presents wouldn’t fit
Down came kite and doctor’s kit.
Still there wasn’t room for all
So away went basketball
Cowboy suit, rubber boot,
Bicycle and talking doll.
Till by the time that twilight reigned
Not a single toy on the shelves remained,
All were sacked and packed away
In the one place left –
The Christmas sleigh.
Then Santa gazed from floor to rafter
And gave his mightiest shout of laughter;
Laughed loud ho-ho’s, laughed vast ha-ha’s
“What a joke,” he chortled, “on Santa Claus.
“You might as well phone the reindeer groom
To take down the harness in the big store room.
Get me my gloves, the robe for my lap.
And my coat and my warmest stocking cap.
There sits the sleigh with the toys inside.
So what can I do tonight, but ride?”
“What about your gout?”
The gnomes cried out.
“What about your aches and the crick in your spine?”
“Pooh!” laughed Santa, “My back feels fine!
Never felt younger, never felt stronger.
Haven’t got a symptom any longer.
And before the midnight bells go chiming
I’d like to do some chimney climbing.
So harness up the reindeer, let ‘em rip!
It’s time to begin my favorite trip.”
With flurry and scurry and chatter and hurry
They brought him his cap and his laprobe furry.
They roused up Cupid, they rubbed down Vixen
They polished the bells on Donner and Blitzen.
There were cheers from the gnomes, from the elves applause
Then off through the night flew Santa Claus.
And I’ve heard old people often say
There NEVER was such a Christmas Day.
Never such joy after Santa’d swirled
From rooftop to rooftop around the world.
While at the home of a sleepy boy
In Texas (or was it Illinois?)
A special letter left that night
Addressed to IGNATIUS THISTLEWHITE.
It was clipped to the hndlebars (like a medal)
Of the best two-wheeler a boy could pedal.
“Dear Sir,” was written in Santa’s hand,
“Please tell the children in every land.
Tell them I’ll take good care, I hope,
Of the guppy, the puppy
And the slippery soap.
I like my pipes, I love my chair,
I do appreciate the underwear.
And I pledge this promise on my sled and pack:
Year after year, I’ll be coming back.
Vacations I guess weren’t meant for me
I’ll never want another one.
And that’s one reason, you may believe,
Why children are merry on Christmas Eve.
You know, yourself, as you hang your stocking
It doesn’t matter if the winds are knocking.
Though the storm falls heavy,
Though the great gale roars,
Though no one else would budge outdoors,
Snug in your bed while the tempest drums
You can count your blessings on fingers and thumbs,
For yearly, newly, faithfully, truly,
Somehow Santa Claus ALWAYS COMES.