One day this past October, just when the air was turning crisp and the leaves on the trees were changing into bright shades of yellow and red and gold, Jovy the Elf walked into Santa's office.
"Boss," Jovy said. "I am tired."
"Well," said Santa, "take a couple of hours and get some rest. Take a nap. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow and --"
Just then, Santa looked up and saw Jovy shaking his head and wiping away a tear from right in the very corner of his eye.
Santa Claus knew then that Jovy meant he wasn't tired just because he hadn't slept well the night before. Santa knew that Jovy was getting old. He had told Santa once before that he would soon like to start spending more time at home with his wife Rebecca.
"It will make me sad when you leave your job," Santa told Jovy. "You have always been my hardest-working elf. You have always been an elf that I am proud to have my other workers look up to. Nobody has been with me on as many Christmas Eve sleigh rides. I will miss you, Jovy, but you deserve happiness all the days of your life, and if it is staying at home with your Rebecca that makes you happy, then so be it."
"I will miss you, too," Jovy told Santa. "But I love my Rebecca very much. We are getting old and we would like to be able to spend more time with one another."
"I understand," Santa said.
"But what will you do, Santa? How will you be able to find someone to take my place in time for Christmas?"
Santa told Jovy he would be fine. "Don't you worry, Jovy. I will go to the newspaper tomorrow and ask them for some help finding another elf."
Secretly, Santa was worried. But he didn't want Jovy to know. It wasn't long until Christmas and Santa wasn't sure if he would be able to find another elf, especially one as hard-working as Jovy, a very special elf who also knew the real meaning of the season.
The next day, an advertisement appeared in the North Pole Gazette. It read:
"Help wanted at famous North Pole toy factory. Hard-working elf needed to help Santa Claus make toys for good little boys and girls. Any elf who would like to have this job needs to be a good, trustworthy helper who is willing to work long hours so that children around the world can have a Merry Christmas."
That afternoon, there was a knock at Santa's front door.
Santa went to the door an opened it. Standing there was a tiny elf holding a copy of that day's North Pole Gazette.
"Hello," Santa said. "Can I help you?"
"Yes sir. My name is Lucky. I am an elf who would like very much to have the job that you have available. I am trustworthy and hard-working and, well, I love toys, too!"
Santa told Lucky all about Jovy and how hard he had worked for him in all the years he was at the North Pole. Lucky had heard all about Jovy and knew he had a big job ahead of him.
"Gosh, Santa. Those are some mighty big slippers to have to fill."
"Yes they are, Lucky. But I will give you a chance if you think you can do the job."
"Oh yes, Santa. I know I can do the job. Just point me to the toy factory and show me where I can start. And, thanks, Santa."
Santa was glad someone wanted the job so quickly. It seemed like Lucky was going to be a good worker who would also enjoy his job.
There was going to be only one problem as Santa would later find out.
Santa led Lucky to the factory where all the toys were made.
As Lucky walked into the gigantic room, his mouth dropped open and his eyes sparkled with magic.
Never, ever, ever had Lucky seen so many toys. There were bikes and dolls and animals and games, trikes and sandboxes and puppets and trains.
There were toys everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except for one corner of the room where The Happiest Elf there sat a big stack of neatly-folded clothes. There were big shirts and little shirts, long pants and short pants. There were dresses and p-j's and overcoats, too. And at the very tip top of this humongous stack of clothes, there was one great big sock, red and blue with yellow stripes, too.
Lucky looked at the stack of clothes and scratched the top of his head.
"Hey Santa ... why all the clothes? Why are they here in your famous toy factory?"
"Well, I expect you'll learn about that soon enough."
Lucky shrugged his shoulders and again stared at all the toys. "So, where do I get started?"
Santa put Lucky to work hammering nails into toy boxes. Santa noticed that Lucky was a good worker and that he finished his tasks quickly. But Santa also knew that he was going to have to teach Lucky a little bit more about what Christmas really meant.
Santa returned to his office to begin the long, but mostly enjoyable task, of reading the letters that children from all over the world had sent.
Santa always chuckled when he read letters from children who wanted bright new bikes or beautiful new baby dolls. What made Santa even happier was when he could take a big bag of those toys right down a great big chimney on Christmas Eve.
When Santa was able to visit the houses where all the children were happy, he always left with a smile on his face thinking about how surprised and thankful they would be the next morning.
But when Santa opened letters from children who needed things much more than toys, it would always cause him to become very sad.
Letters from children who needed clothes or food or warm blankets would often begin, "Dear Santa, I usually ask you for toys, but this year mom and dad said they don't have much money this Christmas."
Santa hoped that a Christmas would come some year very soon when he would no longer have to open letters like those, but he also knew there would always be kids who would need so much more than just toys.
Santa folded up a letter and remembered how Jovy had always packed the bags filled with clothes and shoes and blankets with special care and love. But before closing those bags, Jovy would always put a few sprinkles of candy, and some Christmas cookies baked from the heart by Mrs. Claus.
It was 2 o'clock in the morning when Santa looked up at the clock. He was very tired from spending the whole day reading letters from boys and girls.
"Maybe just one more," Santa said to himself as he rubbed his eyes.
Just then, there was a knock at Santa's door.
"Come in," Santa said.
It was Lucky.
"My goodness, Lucky, what on earth are you still doing up?"
"I have been working all day putting toys together," Lucky told Santa. "I think everything is almost finished and we will be able to leave on time." Christmas was just one short month away.
Santa chuckled softly. He knew Lucky meant well. But Santa and his elves still had quite a lot of work to do before Rudolph could be told to start the Christmas Eve journey.
"What about the clothes in the corner?" Santa asked Lucky.
"What about them?"
"Before we go anywhere, we must get the clothes ready to go," Santa said.
"But where will we be able to fit them on the sleigh, Santa? And why must we take clothes?"
"Here," Santa said. "Read this."
Lucky began reading to himself.
"Dear Santa," the letter said. "My name is Jennifer. It's been a hard year for us. We lost our farm because we had a lot of rain and it washed away all the corn daddy was growing. Now, daddy says we might lose our house, too. Santa, I usually ask for toys, but this year my mom needs some new shoes, and my daddy really could use a new work hat and some work gloves. I suppose I need a new dress, but only if you have enough room in your sleigh. Thank you Santa. Love, Jennifer."
Lucky looked sad. He never knew that children had to ask for clothes at Christmas. He had always thought that Christmas was a time to spread joy with toys and other happy presents.
Lucky never knew until this very moment that some children need clothes and shoes and jackets even more than toys. Lucky suddenly realized this was all the happiness some kids would ever know -- or ever want.
Lucky put down the letter and turned to walk away.
"Are you OK?" Santa asked.
Lucky had a sad look on his face. But it was a look that told Santa that Lucky was beginning to understand about the real Christmas spirit..
A week passed by. Then two weeks. And finally three.
Lucky worked hard in the toy factory. Santa noticed that instead of nailing together toy boxes and building bicycles, Lucky was extra busy putting clothes in bright, shiny bags for children who were in need.
Santa realized that teaching Lucky the real meaning of Christmas may not be as hard as he first thought. He could see that Lucky was a fast learner.
Although Lucky hadn't yet learned to put a special surprise inside each bag full of clothes, he was happy Lucky had learned how important it was to get the clothes ready for Christmas Eve.
Santa's long journey was only one night away, and for the first time since seeing Lucky standing outside his front door, it felt like he would be able to leave on time and make it to all the children's houses before the sun rose on Christmas morning.
The hardest work was now behind Santa and his helpers. All that was left now was loading the sleigh and making sure the reindeer were in working order.
Vixen needed a few extra oats.
Donner always had to have his hooves sharpened.
Blitzen and Dancer always wanted a couple of extra glasses of Grade A reindeer milk before the trip, while Comet and Cupid usually insisted that their antlers glisten brightly.
Dasher had to have a few extra hours of sleep while Prancer set his alarm 20 minutes early so he could get an extra lap around the reindeer track just to strengthen his leg muscles.
And Rudolph, of course, always had to have his nose checked out just to make sure it was as bright and shiny as it had been on all the journeys of Christmas Eves past.
With all the reindeer taken care of and all the presents snuggly tucked into Santa's overflowing sleigh, the only thing left to do was for Santa to get a few hours rest himself.
He was about to lock up his office when there came another knock at the door.
It was Lucky again.
"Santa?" Lucky took a deep breath. "I know you don't normally allow this, but I was hoping you could change the rules just once and let me come along with you on your Christmas Eve journey. I was hoping to personally give some of the children bags of clothing that I packed for them this year. It would mean a lot to me."
Santa removed his glasses and scratched the long white whiskers that hung from his chin. He was proud of Lucky.
"You have come a long way since you first knocked on my door, Lucky. I will take you with me. I could use a little extra help. It's not as easy getting down chimneys as it used to be."
"I'll be there for you, Santa."
"I know I can count on you, Lucky."
"There's one other thing I was hoping for, Santa. Jennifer, the little girl who lives on the farm ... can we stop by her house early in the night? I'd like to meet her."
"We'll see," Santa said. "We'll see."
A bitter, winter wind howled and curled around Santa's North Pole toy factory. It had always been cold on Christmas Eve, but Santa couldn't remember it ever being quite this cold. He was glad Lucky had asked to go on the journey with him. He would need the help.
With the cold wind whirring down his neck, Santa made sure all the reindeer were safely strapped to the sleigh, a sleigh joyfully brimming with toys, goodies, and, of course, clothes for Jennifer and all the other kids who needed them.
Lucky had made sure the bags full of clothes were strapped in tighter than all the other packages.
With a gentle snap from Santa's wrists and a merry "Ho, Ho, Ho," Rudolph and his team of eight reindeer leaped into the air and magically began to fly. Their journey had begun. It was officially Christmas Eve!
Lucky was buckled in next to Santa and the two kept warm by singing Christmas carols as they quickly made their way to North America.
A few minutes later, Santa looked down and saw the farm where Jennifer had said she lived. Lucky was excited to learn that Jennifer's house would be their first stop of the night!
Rudolph set the sleigh down gently on her roof top.
"Here you go, Lucky," Santa said. "I'll let you take care of this house."
Lucky grabbed Jennifer's bag full of clothes and started toward the chimney. He swallowed hard and felt just a little nervous. He had never been given quite so much responsibility.
Lucky noticed there was a light on in the house. He was hoping to find Jennifer awake when he slid down the chimney.
Lucky landed with a soft thud at the bottom of Jennifer's chimney. He brushed the ashes and soot from his suit and looked all around the darkened room.
There, in one corner of the room, was a chair. Beside it was a small lamp with a dimly lit light bulb. And sitting there, next to the chair and underneath the lamp, was Jennifer.
Tightly clutching a raggedy, old teddy bear in one hand and a blanket in the other, Jennifer had fallen asleep on the floor, waiting for Santa Claus.
Lucky tip-toed over to where Jennifer was sleeping.
"Jennifer?" Lucky said softly, hoping to gently wake, but not startle, the little girl.
Jennifer slowly opened her eyes and looked up at the elf. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and stretched a little, looking at Lucky with sudden wonder.
"Hi!" Jennifer said. "You must be one of Santa's elves."
"Yes, I am. My name is Lucky and I have a few gifts for you."
Lucky then reached down and pulled out a brand new pair of dark blue shoes that looked to Jennifer like they would fit her mom perfectly. In his right hand, Lucky held a work hat and a pair of work gloves that Jennifer just knew were for her dad.
"Wow!" Jennifer said. "Thank you, Lucky."
Lucky next reached in his bag and pulled out a pretty red and green dress with lots of ribbons and bows.
"Is this for me?" Jennifer asked.
"Yes, it is."
"Thank you so much, Lucky. It's what I've been dreaming of. And please tell Santa Claus thank you, too. I felt a little selfish asking for something for myself and I almost started to write you back again and -- "
Just then, Lucky reached down into his bag once more and pulled out a beautiful hair bow. It was pink with speckles of silver and gold, and soft streaks of red and green. It would make Jennifer's blonde hair look extra pretty on this Christmas Day.
A few tears came into Jennifer's eyes as she stared at the simple beauty of the new hair bow.
"I ... I ... I thought you might need a little something to go along with your new dress, Jennifer," Lucky said. "You didn't ask for many things, yet you need so much. And you deserve to be happy. Next year, maybe I can bring you a bag full of bright, shiny toys and dolls and games."
"Next year," Jennifer said as she sniffled gently, "if you just came by and said 'Merry Christmas' to me, that would make me the happiest girl alive. Just like I feel tonight."
"And it would make me the Happiest Elf," Lucky said. "Like I feel tonight, too.
Lucky turned and walked toward the fireplace. Now that he had met Jennifer, he would be able to finish the night with a warm feeling in his heart.
"Merry Christmas, Jennifer."
"And may you have all the happiness in the world, Lucky. Merry Christmas."
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