Attics can be very mysterious places. Scary, too, and that’s why you’d never find Ruxin in one at night. Given the gray daylight, though, he didn’t much mind his mom sending him up on a mission to find sweaters in theirs, even if it might take all day.
Ruxin knew that when his mom said she was sure they were up here somewhere, that it was very likely there were no sweaters up here at all, but he had nothing better to do and he enjoyed watching the snow fall from the tiny octagon attic window at the highest point of their house.
Everything was covered in white for as far as his eyes could see and it just kept coming, a relentless sheet of snow burying them deep this winter. The heater struggled to actually keep the house warm, leaving the attic even colder than usual.
In his search Ruxin found all manner of blankets and scarves, but still no sweaters. He’d wrapped two mismatched scarves around his neck and draped a wool blanket over his shoulders like a cape to keep warm. It made him feel like some sort of winter superhero.
Hidden behind a tower of withered boxes, Ruxin discovered a tiny door, only large enough to crawl through. After prying it open, he found an old wood trunk inside. It had filigree carved edges and a winter scene similar to the one outside his house etched into the lid; tall pine trees, an old farm house, and smooth snow covering it all. In the yard there stood a man with a deer by his side. Ruxin ran his palm over the design in admiration, brushing aside the film of dust before tugging the trunk out of the cubby hole and unlatching the lock to lift the lid.
A musty burst of air escaped the trunk and he coughed for a second to clear his lungs. Dust motes trickled down around him like glitter floating to the floor as Ruxin reached into the trunk. His hand closed around the first item it touched and pulled out a long, white velvet cap with silver snowflakes embroidered into the fabric, and an edge lined with fur. It was a long sort of cap, the kind that’d hang down past your shoulders, and at the very tip, a matching fur ball dangled from its end.
Ruxin couldn’t resist the urge to slide it on his head, but it fell down over his eyes, far too large for a child. When he pulled it off, he noticed embroidery just inside the fur edge so he turned it inside out to find the name Nicholas Claus sewn in red cursive. The name intrigued him; it was unfamiliar and that told him this trunk didn’t belong to his family.
Holding the hat in his lap, he reached into the trunk again and pulled free a photograph set in a crystal frame that looked like ice. In it, a woman with cherry red hair kissed the nose of a man wearing the cap Ruxin held in his lap. Their cheeks were pink with the winter chill. Ruxin didn’t quite understand it, but there was something peaceful about the couple, something warm and inviting – an aura of happiness strong enough to emanate from a photograph. He also couldn’t help but notice his house in the background and the same pine trees that lined his yard’s borders.
He’d popped the back out of the frame before he’d thought better about potentially damaging the photo, but he’d seen old pictures in his mother’s photo albums and knew it was common practice to write facts about the snapshot on the back. Sure enough, written on the back in the same cursive as the cap, it read: Nicholas & Noel, Christmas 2013.
Ruxin thought, Christmas? What’s that? And it was 2050; 2013 was so long ago now. He was amazed at how little his house had changed in all that time. Carefully, he placed the picture back in the frame and laid it aside to dig further into the trunk. This time he emerged with a square tin container decorated in muted reds and greens and a jolly looking man with a fluffy white beard. It took a few tugs for Ruxin to get the lid off, but eventually it popped free along with all of its contents.
While papers fluttered in front of him he pulled out the only thing left in the box: a round silver bell attached to a brown leather cord. He shook the bell and found himself soothed by its soft jingle so he pocketed the bell to play with later and moved on to the loose papers on the floor around him.
The first one he picked up was a recipe for Noel’s Snickerdoodle Cookies, written in the same cursive script as all the other handwriting he’d seen. There were several other recipes, but it seemed obvious that this piece of paper had been handled more than all the others. Ruxin imagined it being their favorite.
In addition to recipes, there was sheet music with the song titles, “Carol of the Bells,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “The Christmas Song.” He wondered if the bell in his pocket was used to play the tunes.
“Ruxin, any luck?” his mother’s voice startled him. He quickly abandoned the trunk and crawled toward the attic entry to stop her from coming up and catching sight of his discovery.
“Still looking!” he hollered down, but that didn’t seem to satisfy her.
She’d made it a few steps up and took in his scarves and blanket cape and her eyebrows scrunched with worry. “It’s so cold up here. Maybe you should come back down for a bit and try again tomorrow.”
“It’s okay, Mom. I’m not cold,” he lied. “I was just pretending.” And that was a perfectly reasonable response for a ten year old to give. She smiled at him and gave him a pat on the cheek before heading back down the ladder to leave him to his sweater search.
Just in case she popped back up to check on him again, he built a wall of boxes around himself and the trunk, and then he collected the loose papers and placed them neatly back in their tin box.
The contents of the trunk felt endless. He’d pulled out strings of tiny white lights that twinkled when he plugged them in, a large box full of colorfully painted blown glass figures dangling from silver hooks (what for, he didn’t know, but they sure were pretty), and a snow globe with a man on a sleigh being pulled by deer inside. He shook it and watched the snow fall, much like the snow outside his house, and marveled at the magical feeling taking root in his heart.
Ruxin couldn’t understand what it was about these items that felt so powerful, but he felt like he was uncovering the world’s biggest secret.
Along with a red and gold crocheted throw blanket, he actually did uncover a sweater, though he suspected it wasn’t the one his mom sent him up here for. It was definitely not meant for a kid his size, but he put it on anyway, rolling the sleeves up until his hands were free. It was a rich green color, with snowflakes around the collar and the words Merry Christmas! sewn across the chest.
That word again, Christmas. He needed to know what it meant.
He’d just about decided to give up his attic hunt and do some research on the internet when he realized the bottom of the trunk had a hidden panel. Beneath it laid two books; one full of photos, the other a journal full of handwritten text. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sneak them both down to his bedroom so he took the journal, hoping it might have more answers than the photo album, and closed up the trunk with all its goodies to root through another day. He felt horrible hiding such a beautiful trunk again, but he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone else to know what he’d found yet. Not until he understand what he’d found, at least.
“Sorry, Mom, no sweaters! I’ll look again tomorrow,” Ruxin shouted as he bypassed the kitchen where his mother prepared dinner and headed for his bedroom. When he sat down at his computer, searching the word Christmas gave him a blank page. It seemed impossible that the internet wouldn’t know something about this word, the internet knows everything. He tried searching for Nicholas Claus as well, but was met with the same “no results found” message.
Ruxin abandoned his computer then and curled up in his bed with the journal. Nicholas Claus’s journal he realized after the first entry. It was a story, reliving the moment he’d met Noel, the same winter he’d lost his mother. He’d been younger than Ruxin then, only seven.
The great clash of misery and happiness brought a tear to Ruxin’s eye. He didn’t want to imagine losing his mother, but he was happy for Nicholas to have found happiness with Noel in his mother’s absence. Nicholas had referred to her as the “The Christmas Princess.” Were they royalty? he wondered.
There wasn’t time to make it any farther into the book before his mother was announcing dinner, so he tucked the journal under his pillow and headed for the table like he had no secrets at all. But once conversation took off, Ruxin couldn’t resist the urge to question his parent’s knowledge on the word Christmas.
“Have you guys ever heard of a thing called Christmas?” he asked casually around a mouth full of food.
The room fell into a panicked sort of silence, his mom’s hand holding a fork frozen in the air.
Ruxin, afraid he’d done something wrong, swallowed quickly and said, “What?”
“Don’t ever say that word again, Ruxin,” his father commanded. “You hear me? Never.”
His father’s tone terrified him. If Christmas was associated with all the magical things he’d found in the trunk, how could his father have such a cruel attitude toward it? Ruxin kept his head down for the remainder of dinner, but he noticed his parents saying things to each other with their eyes – troubled eyes like he’d said the one worst thing he could ever say.
That night, long after his parents had put him to bed and went to sleep themselves, Ruxin hid under his blanket with a flash light and finally pulled the journal back out. Nicholas’s words captivated him. This thing called Christmas sounded like the best day of the year. It involved family, decorated trees, presents, yummy food, and joyful songs. And it was all made possible by the belief of a man named Santa Claus, which Nicholas hadn’t out-right said, but Ruxin knew was him. Nicholas made Christmas happen for kids all over the world.
Ruxin’s father’s reaction to the word Christmas made less and less sense the more he read. How could anyone ever have such a cold feeling toward such a wonderful day?
He’d drifted to sleep before he’d reached the end of the journal and dreamt of things from Nicholas’s world. And when he woke up, he felt even more determined to uncover exactly why Christmas was such a forbidden word.
Ruxin took one too many snowballs to the face before surrendering in a snowball fight with his friends. Spent from such a vigorous battle, the boys collapsed in the snow and stared at the sky. Finally brave enough to bring it up, Ruxin asked, “You guys know what Christmas is?”
To his right, Landon piped up first, “Nope, never heard of it.” And that was followed by a chorus of agreement from the rest of his friends. Landon added, “Well, what is it?”
Ruxin sat up and channeled Nicholas to reveal all the details about Christmas to his friends. Slowly, one by one, the boys started to sit up, too, enthralled by the story.
“So, wait a minute,” Landon said skeptically, “you’re telling me some man gave out presents to kids all over the world in one night? That doesn’t even seem possible.”
Ruxin understood. It didn’t seem possible, and yet he believed Nicholas’s words when he said it was true.
Another friend, Boyd, added, “And how do you know this anyway?”
“Because I think he lived in my house.”
The boys wanted to know all about the stuff Ruxin had found in his attic. For some, just hearing about it was all it took to believe, but Landon and Boyd wanted to see it for themselves. They couldn’t fathom these “magical” remnants of a thing called Christmas. And so Ruxin offered to show them.
With his parents at work, it was easy to sneak his friends up to the attic and despite their reluctance to believe Ruxin’s story, they pulled the items out of the trunk for inspection with the same awe he had felt when he’d found them.
Together the three of them paged through the photo album Ruxin had left behind the day before, full of pictures of those glass figurines and twinkling lights hung around pine trees, of cookies sitting beside a glass of milk on the mantel, of wrapped boxes under the tree, of Nicholas and Noel in white fur dress coats to match the cap in the trunk, and of Ruxin’s house decorated in red and green.
“We should do this,” Boyd said suddenly.
Ruxin asked, “Do what?”
He pointed at the photo album and said, “All of this, the things in this book. We’ve got all the supplies to recreate it right in front of us.”
Landon smiled hopefully, waiting for Ruxin’s okay, and he wanted so badly to give it, but he remembered his parent’s reaction to him asking about Christmas and was too scared to agree.
“I don’t know, guys. I get the impression we’re not supposed to know about this for some reason. I asked my parents and they said to never speak the word again. And when I searched for it online, literally nothing came up.”
They both looked as shocked as he felt and their excitement over all they’d found deflated just like that.
“What if we kept it a secret?” Boyd suggested.
“How do you keep a thing like this a secret, though?” Landon wondered aloud.
And that was tricky because where could they set up such a festive scene without others seeing it? Eventually they decided right here in Ruxin’s attic was the place to do it. They’d sneak up here during the day, while their parents were at work, and celebrate Christmas in secret.
They made plans to start tomorrow by cutting down a tiny pine tree to decorate. It wouldn’t be as glorious as the one in Nicholas’s photos, but they’d do their best. The day after that, they’d bake the cookies from Noel’s recipes.
Before they closed up the trunk for the day, Boyd admitted he played the piano and could read the sheet music that they’d found in the trunk. Ruxin was afraid to let them leave his house, though, so they’d agreed to help Boyd bring his keyboard here to figure out the Christmas songs.
When Ruxin’s parents came home, the boys parted ways grinning over their secret. Ruxin retired to his room to read more of Nicholas’s journal before dinner in hopes of understanding why Christmas had to be a secret at all and he found the reason in the journal’s last entry, dated December 2020.
Today the governments of the world agreed upon the ban. A ban to end the celebration of all holidays connected to religious beliefs. A ban to put an end to any sort of belief and practice that could cause controversy with those who don’t feel the same.
This means the end of me.
If people aren’t allowed to believe in Noel and I, we’ll cease to exist. I never thought I’d only live to thirty-five. My father-in-law served as Santa well into his nineties. I thought I’d grow old like him, filled with Christmas joy until the end of my days. Now I’ll disappear with nothing but sadness in my heart.
I hope it doesn’t work.
I hope the people of the world rise up and fight this ban on their beliefs.
I hope they refuse to stop believing in me.
Please don’t forget me, World.
The remaining pages of the book were empty and as Ruxin flipped the pages hoping for something else in Nicholas’s script, anything else, his heart grew heavy with what their nakedness signified. The ban had worked and Nicholas had been forgotten.
Silent tears slid down his cheeks over the injustice. He didn’t understand how anyone could have agreed on such a ban. Why anyone would ever want to destroy such a beautiful tradition. His sadness turned to fury and he stormed out of his bedroom to the kitchen to demand an answer.
“I want to know why I’m not allowed to say Christmas!” he cried. And his parents stopped their preparation of dinner with sullen faces.
“Oh, honey…” his mother cooed as she scooped him up in her arms. “Where did you even hear the word?”
Ruxin pulled himself together and admitted, “I didn’t hear it, I read about it. In the attic.”
His parents shared confused expressions. “Where in the attic?” his father asked.
Ruxin worried about telling them too much, for fear they’d get rid of it all, but they’d find it if they looked hard enough anyway so he finally said, “I found a trunk, from the previous owner. It’s full of Christmas things.”
He couldn’t quite tell if the disappointment in his parents faces was in him or what he’d found. They stared at each other for a long moment, as if deciding just how much of the truth they’d share with their son. In the end, they wanted to see what he’d found and so Ruxin took them up to the attic and opened the tiny door hiding the Christmas trunk.
His parents sifted through the trunk’s contents with a fondness that was different than his; they had memories associated with these items. Their lips curved into smiles and his mother’s eyes grew glossy with unshed tears. This reaction was so drastically different from the mere mention of the word Christmas that Ruxin was finally able to relax about revealing his secret to them.
Once they’d examined everything the trunk had to offer and shared a few tiny “Remember this?” stories with each other, stories that were out of context for Ruxin because he’d never heard his parents talk about Christmas at all before, his father sat back with a sigh to explain it all to him.
“Christmas used to be my favorite time of the year. My mom would decorate the whole house and bake the most delicious cookies and we’d write letters to Santa with a list of all the presents we hoped to receive that year.”
His mother added, “My house was the same. We’d go Christmas caroling and send out cards to our distant friends and family. My parents would make a huge Christmas feast on Christmas Eve and I’d try so hard to stay up and catch Santa coming down the chimney, but I was always so full it was impossible to stay awake.” She laughed then, recalling her childhood.
“I was just ten like you when the government put an end to Christmas,” his father said with regret. “And it wasn’t the only special day that was banned – every holiday we practiced was made illegal. Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween… we used to even celebrate our birthday, but the governments of the world decided that allowing people to celebrate something that not everyone believed in was the cause of the world’s wars. And if we just put an end to their existence, we’d have world peace.”
Ruxin’s mom rolled her eyes at that last bit and he knew why. Because someone, somewhere, was always at war. Clearly this ban hadn’t given them world peace at all. If anything, it sounded like it sucked what little joy there was out of a lot of people, his parents included.
They sat in the attic for a long time, reminiscing about Christmases past, until they were too cold and hungry for dinner, and then they moved the conversation to the kitchen. Ruxin had never seen such youthful, cheery expressions on his parents face as they shared stories of their childhood with him.
When their stories seemed to run dry Ruxin admitted, “I told my friends. Most of them just believed me without proof, but Landon and Boyd wanted to see more. And now they want to recreate Christmas. We were going to hide it in the attic.”
He could see their eyes shift with fear so he added, “They promised to keep it a secret.” And they seemed to consider that for a second.
Finally his father nodded and said, “You don’t need to hide it in the attic. How about we set up a tree right in the living room? It is December after all.”
His mother gasped at the idea, the rebellious act seemed to exhilarate her. “I’ll bake the cookies,” she said, giggling in delight.
Ruxin could barely contain his excitement. His parents were going to resurrect Christmas with him. Despite it being illegal. He officially believed his parents to be the coolest parents alive.
The next day when his friends arrived, they were astonished to see a six foot tree standing proudly in Ruxin’s living room and a batch of Snickerdoodle cookies waiting to be devoured. He told them how he’d prodded his parents further and filled them in everything he knew about the banned holiday. They agreed that Ruxin’s parents gained some extra cool points for deciding to help them celebrate Christmas, despite it being forbidden. They doubted their own parents would be so audacious.
Ruxin’s dad had brought Nicholas’s Christmas trunk down from the attic and left instructions on how to decorate the tree before leaving for work. The boys set out to recreate the image of the tree they’d seen in Nicholas’s photo album, strung with lights and ornaments, and a star Ruxin’s mother made out of gold pipe cleaner on top. It took them nearly all day, taking breaks only to eat some cookies and watch Boyd try to figure out the Christmas songs on his keyboard, but when it was finished they stood back and stared at it with pride swelling in their chests.
It was beautiful.
Maybe not quite as beautiful as the one in the picture, but beautiful all the same. The tiny white lights danced around the tree, reflecting off the colored figurines on each branch. The tree was like a beacon, demanding anyone who entered the living room’s attention. Ruxin thought he could stare at it for hours.
When his parents came home, they found Ruxin and Landon lying under the tree with cookie crumbs dusting their lips, listening to Boyd finally master, “The Christmas Song.” Ruxin only noticed their arrival when his mother started singing the words from memory. At the end of the song she nudged Boyd over on his keyboard bench and showed him another Christmas song. Ruxin couldn’t believe she still remembered it. His father joined the boys on the floor and they listened to his mother sing and play, her talent as much of a secret and surprise as Christmas itself.
The happiness in the room was a tangible thing. Ruxin never wanted it to end.
His friends stayed for dinner that night and begged Ruxin’s parents to tell their childhood Christmas stories all over again. Ruxin didn’t mind hearing them twice. The boys hinged on his dad’s story about writing Santa wish list letters, but before they could get too excited over the idea of Christmas actually being what it once was completely, Ruxin broke the bad news about Nicholas’s journal to everyone.
“I don’t think Santa will come, guys.”
Disappointment raked Landon’s face. “What? Why not?”
“Because Nicholas was Santa, and he’s obviously not here anymore.”
Ruxin’s dad didn’t seem to believe it. “What makes you think Nicholas was Santa?”
“Besides the fact that his last name was Claus, I found his journal in that trunk, too.” As he excused himself to his room to retrieve it, he was ashamed of himself for keeping the journal a secret until now.
Ruxin laid the book on the table and turned to the last journal entry. It grew quiet while everyone took turns reading it, soaking in the truth of what the Christmas ban had done. Boyd’s lip quivered like he might cry and Ruxin understood how he felt. He’d cried over it, too.
His mother was the first to break the silence, saying to no one in particular, “I always knew there was something special about this house. I remember passing it on my way to school feeling drawn to it, wondering about the person who lived here. It’s part of the reason I was adamant about buying it when we did. I had no idea I was drawn to it because Santa himself lived here.”
Landon, refusing to give up on the existence of Santa, said, “Well we still believe in him, right? That’s what it takes, doesn’t it?” He looked around at us, waiting for us to agree and snatched up the journal pointing at the page like his words were law. “He didn’t want people to stop believing in him, to forget him. It says it right here. Well the world may have forgotten him, but we know about him now and we believe in him. That has to bring him back, right?”
Ruxin’s dad nodded his head, slowly at first, but then with sureness. “That’s right! We believe in him. And maybe that’s enough. There’s no reason you boys shouldn’t write him letters. Maybe that’s just what he needs to make a comeback!”
But Ruxin still wasn’t convinced. How much power could five people believing in someone have when the whole world used to believe in him? He didn’t think their tiny belief would matter. He went along with the tradition anyway, though, because he loved the idea of Christmas. And while the others were asking for new toys, Ruxin asked for just one thing:
I want Nicholas Claus to exist again.
In the days leading up to Christmas, Ruxin’s friends spent as much time as they could there in his Christmassy house. His mother kept an endless supply of Christmas cookies on hand and showed the boys how to make an assortment of handmade decorations to place around the rest of the house since they couldn’t go to the store to buy any. They learned more Christmas songs and listened to stories about the Christmas movies Ruxin’s parents had seen in their day. And most nights Ruxin fell asleep just staring at the tree dreaming of meeting Nicholas.
He’d started to wear the bell he’d pocketed when he first found the trunk as a bracelet. According to Nicholas’s journal, Noel had given it to him when they were kids. Somehow it made him feel connected to them, like some long lost relative just waiting for them to come home.
On Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the door and Ruxin answered it expecting Landon and Boyd like usual, but when he opened the door he was greeted by a few other friends; the Hall brothers: Ian, Marshall, and Paul, all a year apart in age, in that order, with Ian being the oldest.
“Hey, Ruxin!” Ian said, letting himself in. His brother’s followed in his wake. They stopped short at the sight of the Christmas tree in the living room, though, and wide smiles spread into their cheeks.
Marshall slapped Paul across the back and said, “Will you look at that!”
Ruxin started to panic. He’d sort of forgotten telling the lot of his friends about Christmas. He’d spent so much time celebrating it with just Landon and Boyd he hadn’t considered who else might be thinking about the holiday, too. But the Hall brothers walked in like they expected to see the tree and that made him nervous. Had their rebellious act been revealed to others?
Ian walked straight to the tree and gaped at it. “This is really something, Ruxin. You do this all by yourself?”
Coyly, Ruxin drifted into the living room and stammered, “Yes, well no. Landon and Boyd helped. My parents, too.”
Ian said, “You know, after you told us about Christmas we tried to look it up, but can you believe there isn’t a bit of information about it online?” Ruxin just nodded. “Anyway, we asked our parents after that. They were pretty reluctant to let us in, but they confirmed your story.”
“They told us about trees like this,” Marshall added, then shrugged. “But they were too afraid to let us put one up. You know, because of the ban and all.”
“We’ve been doing other Christmassy things, though,” Paul said cheerfully. He pulled a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with red ribbon out of his coat and handed it to Ruxin. “Merry Christmas, friend! Mom said even though Santa brings us presents, people gave their friends and family presents, too.”
Ruxin couldn’t believe it. Other people were celebrating Christmas again, too. And remembering Santa. Maybe there was hope for Nicholas’s return, after all. He didn’t even care what the present was, he was so elated by his friend’s behavior that he flung his arms around Paul and squeezed him tightly. “Thank you,” he said. “I wish I had a gift for you.”
Ian patted Ruxin on the head and said, “Christmas was your gift, Ruxin. Without you telling us about it, we would have never even known.”
That night the Hall family joined Landon, Boyd, and Ruxin’s family in celebrating Christmas Eve over a huge feast like the ones his mother’s mother had made for her as a kid. A feast of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, and potatoes. They’d never had such a gathering of people in their home before or a dinner so fulfilling.
When everyone left for the night, Ruxin set out some cookies and a glass of milk on the end table by the tree. Even though he still wasn’t sure their belief in Santa was enough to bring him back, he wanted to practice the tradition exactly as his dad had just in case. And despite his efforts to stay awake, he met sleep quicker than ever.
In the morning, sunlight shown into his bedroom just like every day, gleaming off the white snow and blinding his sleepy eyes. But unlike every other morning, the phone was already ringing off the hook.
Ruxin scrambled to answer it, afraid it’d wake his parents so early. “Hello?”
“He came! Santa came! Ruxin, he’s alive!” Landon shouted into the phone.
His heart fluttered. “What do you mean? How do you know?”
“When I woke up, I found a red stocking hanging from the fireplace, filled with toys from my letter to Santa. I never told anyone what was on that list. No one!” He laughed then and added, “My mom is flipping out. She thinks someone broke into the house.”
Ruxin laughed, too. Landon’s parents had buried their memories of Christmas deep, apparently.
No sooner had Ruxin hung up the phone, Boyd called to report the same thing. And Ruxin didn’t need to hear from the Hall brothers to believe they were experiencing Christmas the way it was supposed to be at their house, too.
He darted into the living room to find his parents unwrapping gifts that hadn’t been under the tree the night before with surprised expressions. They had written letters to Santa, too, and had asked for toys from their childhood, toys that couldn’t have possibly been bought in a store anymore because they no longer existed. A happy tear rolled down his mother’s cheek.
Ruxin joined them and searched under the tree for something with his name on it, but the only gifts for him were things from his parents and while they were nice, disappointment hit him hard. Why had Santa left so much for everyone else, but nothing for him? Ruxin scolded himself for the question because all he’d wanted was for Santa to exist again and clearly he did. His present hadn’t been a physical one, but had been gifted all the same.
When they were finished opening presents, Ruxin helped clean up the wrapping paper mess and then waited by the tree until his mother’s Christmas breakfast was ready. He was listening to his mother sing Christmas tunes, jingling the bell on his wrist to the song, when suddenly he heard the sound of another bell jingling outside.
Ruxin jumped up from his seat and pressed his nose against the cold window pane, peering into the snow to find the source of the sound. He could just barely see it, but right below his front porch stood a deer. A reindeer to be exact, something he’d never even heard of before he’d learned what Christmas was.
He bolted for the front door and in just pajamas, he launched himself off the front porch into the snow, nearly colliding with the reindeer. As Ruxin admired its thick pelt and jingle bell lined reins, it nuzzled its snout against his cheek, making him giggle.
A jovial voice interrupted his fascinated inspection of the reindeer, “His name is Blitzen. I know you shouldn’t choose favorites, but he’s always been mine because he was the first reindeer I ever met.”
Startled, Ruxin spun around and gaped at the man on his porch. He hadn’t aged a bit since the picture he’d found in the trunk and he sat there in his white velvet dress coat, with red fur mittens, and boots with bells just like the one Ruxin wore around his wrist running up the side so they’d jingle when he walked. All he was missing was the cap from his trunk.
“Nicholas,” Ruxin whispered, finding himself equally as surprised at the feel of his name on his tongue as he was by his presence.
Nicholas Claus, in the flesh. Right here on his front porch. The Santa Claus.
Ruxin’s heart leapt in his chest as he stumbled over his bare feet to greet him. Nicholas reached out a broad hand to catch him and eased Ruxin down onto the porch swing beside him with a gentle smile.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Ruxin said in awe, and Nicholas let out a hearty laugh, the kind that comes from the belly.
He bopped Ruxin on the nose and said, “I have you to thank for that.”
Ruxin shrugged, incapable of taking credit for Nicholas’s return. “Where’s Noel?” he asked, glancing around for the stark contrast of her cherry red hair against the bright white snow.
“You want to meet her?”
Ruxin nodded his head eagerly so Nicholas whistled a quick cheerful tune and the snow started to stir beside Blitzen, swirling up off the ground and shimmering like glitter until in its place stood a girl in a familiar white velvet coat, with silver snowflakes embroidered into the hem and white fur around the collar. She shared the same beaming smile as Nicholas as she joined them on the porch.
Ruxin was taken aback by her beauty. How vibrant her red hair seemed against the cold winter world. How he could feel the magic in her. And when she greeted him with a warm hug, he relished in the way she smelled like fresh baked cookies. Ruxin was only ten, but he understood how Nicholas had been drawn to her.
Noel sat beside Ruxin and said, “For so many years we’ve prayed someone like you would find Nicholas’s trunk and believe in us again. Thank you for bringing Christmas back to life.”
Ruxin still didn’t feel like the credit lied on his shoulders alone, but it was hard to argue with their gratitude.
They talked for a while, Ruxin bombarding them with questions about where they’d been and about the things he didn’t know about their life just from reading Nicholas’s journal. Nicholas and Noel seemed happy to entertain his endless curiosity. When Ruxin started to shiver, realizing just how cold it was to be outside in only his pajamas, he jumped up off the swing and started for the door suggesting, “Come inside, let’s have some hot chocolate. I want you to meet my parents!”
But the Clauses did not follow. “We should really be going, Ruxin. Our time here is limited,” Nicholas said, regrettably.
Ruxin’s face sagged with disappointment.
“But we’ll be back. If you keep believing,” Noel promised, leaving the swing to wrap Ruxin up in her warm embrace. Nicholas added to the warmth with his arms around them both.
Tears threatened Ruxin’s eyes. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye to his Christmas present yet, but he knew it was wrong to be greedy. He hardly deserved the time they’d already gifted him.
When they released him, Noel kissed Ruxin on the cheek before hopping off the porch and mounting Blitzen. Ruxin reached for Nicholas’s hand and pouted, “I wish you could stay.”
Nicholas squatted down to eye level with Ruxin, resting his hands on his shoulders, and said, “I wish I could, too, but my magic’s not strong enough yet. You could change that, though. Tell the world about Christmas, Ruxin. Make them believe again.”
“I will,” Ruxin promised. And he meant it. He could never forget Christmas now, ban or no ban.
Nicholas hugged him one last time before joining Noel on Blitzen, and Ruxin watched as they rose up off the ground and flew away into the falling snow, leaving a sparkling cloud in their wake. Ruxin stood there transfixed by the magic, and just before they vanished out of sight he heard Nicholas bellow, “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas, Santa,” Ruxin whispered to the sky.
The first of many Christmases to come.
Author Note: This story is a standalone sequel to 2010’s “The Christmas Princess” and part of a planned Christmas Collection.
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