Christmas will soon be here. Joy and cheer fill the air. Excited children await the magical night when Santa will fly in his enchanted sleigh. Then it's Christmas day...The most wonderful day of the year...
Now imagine an alternative Christmas. What if Santa Claus was deaf-blind? What would Christmas be like then?
First you may be wondering -- How could a deaf-blind elf become Santa Claus? Of course, this isn't the type of work an elf can apply for. It's more like royalty. Santa's eldest son was born as Randy Claus. Every elf knew it was his destiny to follow in his father's foot-steps. One day in the far future, he would become Santa Claus.
When Randy was only a tiny elf, Santa and his wife discovered that he couldn't hear. They were saddened, indeed. But Santa believed in his young son and encouraged him to grow up just like any other elf.
Young Randy Claus learned sign language, as did his parents and many other elf families. He found acceptance in a community that was willing to learn his language. He never felt that he was different from the other elf children. Randy couldn't hear, but he could do everything his friends did.
It's important to remember that the North Pole is a land in which differences are celebrated. After all, Rudolph was born with an unusual nose. Yet, he became the most famous reindeer of all.
Santa also encouraged Randy to learn to speak and read lips. He wanted to be sure that Randy could one day say "Ho, Ho, Ho" and "Merry Christmas!"
Young Randy did quite well with his speech lessons. It helped that he was still permitted to sign. He was not being denied one language in favor of another. Instead, Randy would grow up as a bilingual elf.
But he did complain to his father, "How am I supposed to read your lips when they are completely covered by your long beard and mustache?"
Santa chuckled and gave his son a hug. "I will always sign to you, Randy. You won't miss a word I say."
A horrible tragedy happened when Randy Claus was only 20 years old. His father was attempting to train a spirited young reindeer to serve as an alternate on his team.
Rudolph and Dasher were excused from practice, while Starburst flew with the other reindeer. Santa called orders to Starburst, but the new reindeer wouldn't listen. He crossed Dancer's path and pulled the team off course. With a tremendous "BOOM," they crashed into Toy House B.
When the Rescue Elves arrived on the scene, they set their eyes upon the most horrible sight. The sleigh was twisted and wedged against a toy shelf. Santa was trapped underneath. Ruined toys were thrown all about. Starburst, three other reindeer and six elves were injured. The Rescue Elves did everything they could.
They managed to save the reindeer team, but Santa was gravely wounded.
Randy dashed to his father's side. With tears streaming down his face, poor Randy screamed into the silent night, "Please don't die, Daddy! Please don't leave me!"
Santa smiled at his son. He lifted his arms and signed his last words, "I believe in you Randy. You can do it!"
Santa began to glow. The golden light grew brighter. The nearby elves could barely see what was happening.
Randy was aware, however. He stood calmly as the light surrounded his body. It seemed to pass through his skin. He felt a warm sensation in his heart, and realized he now possessed the spirit of Christmas. When the light faded completely into Randy's body, Santa Claus was gone.
After a heartbreaking Memorial, Randy was crowned as Santa Claus. He would now take on his father's name, and that of his grandfather and many elves before him. This new Santa Claus had much work to do. First, he needed to see to the repairs of Toy House B. New elves were assigned to replace the injured. They worked overtime to rebuild all the damaged toys.
Santa oversaw the recovery of his reindeer. He made sure they attended their physical therapy sessions. Reindeer games were cancelled until all were well again.
Most importantly, he needed to work on himself. Randy Claus was a young elf, tall and thin, with spiky white hair. Now he needed to become Santa. He ate and ate, until his belly bulged. And still he ate some more.
The Barber Elf applied daily doses of magic hair growth formula. Soon enough, Santa was plump and fat, a right jolly old elf. He practiced his "Ho, Ho, Ho" and "Merry Christmas!" His two favorite elf girls were assigned as his interpreters. If Santa couldn't understand a child's Christmas wish, Olive and Shan were there to sign to him.
Finally, it was Santa's first Christmas. His reindeer team was ready. Olive and Shan rode with him in the sleigh. Santa gave a sharp whistle, and his team took off into the night. Against all odds, Christmas was perfect.
Sadly, Santa would face more challenges. He was in his 30's when he began tripping over bundles of toys. Once, he plowed over a Messenger Elf. He found it hard to guide his sleigh at night.
"What is going on?" the elves asked. "What is wrong with Santa Claus?"
Olive and Shan decided to confront him. "Santa," said Olive, "I see you squint when you read my signs."
Shan added, "You grab my arm when it's dark outside."
Santa didn't like where this conversation was headed. He could not admit to what he knew was true.
"I love you, Santa," Olive said, "And so do all the other elves."
"Plus all the human children in the world," said Shan.
"And most of the adults," Olive persisted. "You are Santa Claus. You are Christmas. You must deal with this!"
With his new wife, Mrs. Claus, and Olive and Shan trailing behind, Santa Claus finally went to see the Vision Elf. The diagnosis was not good. "I'm sorry, dear Santa Claus," said the sweet Vision Elf. "You have a disease the humans call Usher Syndrome. You will gradually lose your peripheral vision and suffer from night blindness."
Santa began to weep. "I'm deaf!" he cried. "I can't be blind, too. I just can't!"
For many months, Santa secluded himself in his bedroom. Mrs. Claus was the only elf allowed in. She tried to get him to eat, but he refused. As his depression deepened, the Christmas magic of the North Pole began to weaken. Rumors of doom were passed along by elf to elf to reindeer. "Christmas will be canceled," they whispered.
Other elves speculated that Santa's younger brother would have to take over. Never before had Santa Claus stepped down. But obviously, this Santa was no longer fit for the job.
One day, Olive and Shan took a risky ride on Dasher's back. It was only June. They weren't allowed into the human world during the off season, but they had to find a way to help Santa Claus.
They rode through the night, using their diminishing magic detected a special child. At last, they found who they were looking for in America. The little girl was thrilled to be visited by two elves and a reindeer. Although they were breaking even more rules, the elves invited her to the North Pole.
Little Amy Nicholas was only six years old. Like every young girl, she loved baby dolls, pretty clothes and helping her mother in the kitchen. Yet, she didn't speak in words. Her eyes were cloudy white. She put her two small hands in front of her and trudged out and about. Amy Nicholas was special because she was deaf-blind.
Although Santa muttered and protested, he allowed Mrs. Claus to pull him out to his favorite chair in front of the living room fire. He didn't look much like Santa now. He was thin and gaunt, with tangled hair and a wild beard. He insisted on dressing in black fur. He was moody and snapped at any elf that came near him. He certainly was no longer a jolly old elf.
Olive and Shan gently guided little Amy into the room. "What do you want?," Santa bellowed.
Amy didn't react. She was grinning ear to ear in anticipation of meeting Santa Claus."
Olive stood close to Santa, where the light was best. She began to sign, "Santa Claus, we brought you a visitor."
Santa squinted and looked around. He could barely make out the form of a small person standing beside Shan. He sniffed the air and growled with fury. "A human?" he snarled. "You dare to bring a human to the North Pole!"
Shan protectively placed her arms around Amy, while Olive continued signing to Santa.
"She is a special human child, Santa. It's important that you meet her."
Santa was still angry. "I will not meet a stinking human child! Now go away!" he roared.
Amy began to tremble. Although she couldn't hear what Santa was saying, she somehow sensed the tension in the room. Mrs. Claus tried to calm Santa. She kneeled in front of him and signed,
"Please, my love, I do not ask much of you, but please meet this little girl."
Even in his depressed state, Santa Claus could not deny her plea.
"Fine," he grumbled, "Bring her here. Just keep her off my lap."
Shan got a chair and placed it very close to Santa. She added a large pillow and placed Amy onto the chair. Amy imitatively reached out with her hands, as if to grab Santa.
"What is this?" Santa cried out. He pulled his arms away from Amy.
"Let her touch you," Mrs. Claus said. "Look at her face, my dear."
Santa slowly lowered his arms and let Amy take his hands. He closely examined her face. The light was good, and he could see her milky white eyes. He also noticed her huge smile and cute dimples.
Amy began moving her small hands under his big hands. Suddenly, he exclaimed in shock.
"Ho!" he yelled. "I felt her speak with my hands!"
She certainly was talking, although she never spoke aloud. "My name is Amy," she signed, "I love you, Santa Claus. Will you be my friend?"
Santa was bewildered. He had no clue what to do.
"Sign into her hands, just like she did to you," Olive prompted.
Santa felt awkward, but he did as she said. "Hello, Amy. Have you been a good little girl?"
Amy giggled, and Santa could see the glee on her face. "It's only June," she signed, "I don't have to be good."
In spite of himself, Santa laughed. He began to understand that Amy was deaf and blind. But somehow she seemed so normal and happy.
"You are different from other children, yet you feel joy and love, as they do. How can that be?" Santa asked her.
"I am just me," Amy signed. "I'm happy because I want to be."
As Olive, Shan and Mrs. Claus watched, they saw Santa's eyes fill with wonder. His cheeks regained their healthy pink glow. Best of all, he was smiling and laughing.
"I know it's not Christmas yet," Amy said with her hands, "But I do have a special wish."
Santa lifted her into his lap and gave her a hug. "It might not be Christmas yet," he signed to her, "But I can tell you've been a very nice girl. What is your wish?"
He thought he knew what she would say. Of course this little girl wanted to be able to hear and see, just like he did. His heart felt heavy. This was not a gift he could provide.
"I want to meet Rudolph. I want to soar through the sky on his back," Amy said.
Once more, Santa was surprised. He shook his head in confusion, and then spoke to Amy again. "It would be my pleasure for you to ride on Rudolph's back. And when Christmas time arrives, we will visit your house in America..."
"With a sleigh full of toys!" Amy interrupted."
"That's right," he said, and gave her a kiss on the top of her head.
Amy reached up with her tiny hands to feel Santa's face. "Oh, Santa," she said, "You are too skinny and your hair is crazy. Eat, eat, eat!"
Santa let out a jolly laugh. His eyes sparkled with life. "I will, little Amy Nicholas. Good bye, my friend. Happy June!"
Santa assigned two elves to take Amy home on Rudolph's back. He would have gone with her, but there was far too much to be done.
"Olive! Shan!" he called. "Summon all the elves and reindeer to
Christmas Square. I will be there soon."
He looked at Mrs. Claus and said, "My dear, I can't go out looking like this."
Mrs. Claus was ready. After all, it had long been her duty to keep Santa in fit form.
After he bathed, Mrs. Claus used her magic scissors and comb to cut his wild hair and trim his bear. He was too thin for his traditional red suit, but she managed to find something in green with a matching cap.
"Santa," she said, "It is bright out in the snow. The glare will bother your eyes. Here, wear these."
She handed him a pair of dark sunglasses. The sides were decorated with white and red gems. "So you always shine," she added.
He was all ready for business. Shan took his right arm and guided him out to Christmas Square. Depending on someone else to find his way around made him nervous. Yet he walked with a steady stride and kept his head held high. Christmas was his. He would make it happen no matter what.
Shan led him up the steps on to the platform that over looked
Christmas Square. It was from here that Santa always directed his elves and reindeer on preparations for Christmas.
When the elves saw Santa, they began to cheer and wave their arms. Of course, Santa couldn't see them, so Olive described the scene and told Santa what was going on.
"Thank you, my loyal elves," he bellowed. "We must prepare for Christmas. We are already two months behind schedule."
He began assigning tasks. The Toy Makers were to start work immediately. The reindeer needed to get back in shape and practice sleigh maneuvers. The Watch Elves would secretly check-in on the human children and begin taking notes. He would need to know who was naughty and who was nice.
As he spoke, he waved his hands swiftly above the crowd. Wisps of green, red and white began to circle overhead. Sparkles of gold and silver fell to the ground below. All around, elves and reindeer felt the return of Christmas magic. This was a gift that only Santa Claus could bestow. They now knew for sure that Santa was back.
The next morning, Santa was enjoying his breakfast of scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon and six reindeer shaped cookies with gum drops for noses. (He saved the red one for last.) There was a knock at the door. Mrs. Claus announced the arrival of Olive, Shan and another elf who she did not know.
The strange elf was heavy-set, with bright blue hair that fell to his shoulders. He wore a blue and yellow Hawaiian shirt and yellow boots. He certainly did not look like a regular elf.
The newcomer plodded over to Santa and signed close to his face. "I'm Knisely," he said. "They call me the Rehab Elf. I'll be teaching you how to adjust and overcome the challenges you now face."
Santa gulped. He was nervous and wasn't sure he trusted this odd looking elf.
Knisely took his arm and began to pull. "We are going outside. Don't forget your sunglasses.
Once they were out in the snow, Knisely handed Santa what looked like a giant candy cane. It was painted with blue and yellow stripes.
"This is your guide cane, Santa. It will help you "see" what your eyes miss," Knisely signed.
"Why is it blue and yellow?" Santa asked.
The Rehab Elf chuckled. "I've lived in the North Pole my entire life. One gets tired of all that red and green. Now let's begin!"
Knisely instructed Santa on how to hold and move the cane. "Remember," he said, "nice and gentle."
Santa gave it a try. He walked fast and swung the cane wildly about. Suddenly, he felt the cane hit something big. Knisely gasped in horror. Santa had struck an old elf in the behind and sent her sprawling head first into a snow drift. Luckily, the elf was not injured, although she clearly wasn't happy. Knisely quickly guided Santa away.
"What's on your schedule for today?" Knisely asked.
"I must check on my reindeer team," he replied.
Santa continued to practice walking with the blue and yellow cane. Knisely stopped him often, reminding him to slow down and swing the cane gently."
When they reached the training field, Santa was once again thrashing the cane in the air. The reindeer all fled, while the coach angrily stormed toward Santa. Knisely thought fast. "Let's try a different task," he said, glancing at the furious look on the coach's face.
They began to trudge the other way. "Keep the cane on the ground," Knisely told Santa. "You are going to miss things -- like that big pile of..."
It was too late. Santa grunted as he felt his boot sink into a load of reindeer droppings.
As the months passed, Santa Claus continued to work with Knisely to improve his independent living and mobility skills. He became a whiz at tactile sign language and encouraged other elves to communicate directly to him using this method. He learned how to find the right colored fur suit, and how to identify toys by touch. Santa even baked a batch of cookies, because Knisely insisted he needed to know how to cook. Santa complained the entire time, but he did it, and the blue and yellow iced sugar cookies tasted great.
Despite hours and hours of hard work, Santa was no better at using his guide cane. Elves ran the other way when they saw him coming. Toy Maker Elves closely guarded their creations when
Santa inspected the Toy Houses. Knisely, who now wore blue shin pads, just shook his head and told Santa to keep practicing.
One day in mid-December, Santa went outside to find a trio of Science Elves waiting for him. They seemed out of place wearing white lab coats and thick glasses.
A tall, wiry elf stepped forward. "Sir," he said in his squeaky voice, "My name is Snaz. I desperately need to talk to you."
When Santa nodded, Snaz continued his speech, "We Science Elves couldn't help but notice the difficulty you are having with that cane. I have been tinkering in the lab... Some experimenting with DNA... A hybrid, you might say..."
His voice droned on as Olive interpreted. Even she was having trouble keeping up. No one ever seems to understand what Snaz was talking about.
Santa clapped his hands. "What are you saying, Snaz? Do you have a cure for me?"
Snaz bowed his head in genuine sorrow. "I wish, my Christmas King," he said. "But even Science is lacking that answer. I do have something that might help."
Snaz snapped his fingers, and his fellow Science Elves came forward. They were leading something over to Santa. He squinted in confusion. It was an animal of some sort. Olive tried to describe it, but she was clueless, too.
Snaz noticed their bewilderment. "Err... Perhaps I need to explain. I got the idea from the humans, actually. A mere dog would not be suited for you, Santa. A specially trained reindeer would be too big. So I created a mix."
"A mix of what? For what?" Santa asked.
Snaz tried again. "You are much too busy to be struggling with that cane. I created you the greatest guide. He's part Labrador and part reindeer, with a bit of magic thrown in. He'll lead you anywhere."
Santa stepped closer to look at the creature. It was white with red stripes and had little buds of reindeer horns. It was furiously wagging a long, bushy tail at Santa. The animal had big brown eyes and floppy ears. Santa didn't know what this thing was, but it sure was cute.
"He's the perfect height for you," Snaz continued. "Just take the harness and tell him where you want to go."
Santa picked up the harness. It did feel good in his hand. He reached down to stroke the creature, and then jumped back. It was glowing. All of the white fur from head to tail was brightly aglow.
Snaz beamed with pride. "I added that just in case you need some extra light. Stroke him again and the shimmering will fade."
"Snaz, what is this marvelous creature?" Santa asked.
"We call him Peppermint. Go on; tell him where you want to go."
"Peppermint," Santa called, "Take me to Toy House C."
With no hesitation at all, Peppermint began leading Santa toward the specified location. Santa felt strong and secure as he walked with Peppermint. From that day on, Santa was never seen without Peppermint at his side.
Christmas Eve had arrived at last. Elves were busy loading the last bundles of toys onto Santa's sleigh. The team of reindeer was in place and ready to go. Peppermint led Santa to the sleigh.
Santa was once again his round and jolly old self. He jumped into the sleigh with great confidence. He stroked Peppermints' head, and his fur began to glow. Santa used this light to oversee every last detail of the journey ahead.
Finally, Santa shouted, "Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen! To Rudolph with your guiding light! Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!"
The sleigh took off at once. Elves cheered and waved their arms.
Christmas would be a complete success. The sleigh continued to rise, Santa let out a mighty "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
What would Christmas be like if Santa Claus was deaf-blind?
Exactly the same.
As he drove out of sight, Santa Claus exclaimed, "Happy Christmas to All... And to all a good night!" In the gleam of Peppermint's light, Santa could be seen flashing the "I love you" hand sign. Then in a twinkle, he was gone.
Angela C. Orlando
Revised December, 2012