The Santa Flower
By Brian Martin
Illustrated by Ciara, aged 8.
Deep within Eastern Europe there is a village called Flottsheim that has a small park right in its centre and in the very middle of the park there is a raised flower bed.
Every year, at the start of December, the famous Santa flower grows and blooms there. People from all around the village gather round at midnight on the 30th of November to watch the Santa flower appear. It’s quite magical to see it. One minute there is just a bare flower bed. Then, at midnight, a tiny bud upon a small stem appears from the ground. Slowly it starts to grow higher over the next few minutes. When it reaches its full height of about two feet high, the bud opens and a flower in the shape of Santa’s face blooms. It’s a jolly looking face, white beard, red cap, rosy cheeks and a huge Santa smile.
Now Flottsheim is a small village, so small that you would struggle to find it on any map. Yet this wonderful event had been happening there for as long as anyone could remember, going back hundreds of years. It was the one night all the children were allowed stay up late, as it was such a special occasion in Flottsheim. Once the Santa flower had bloomed, all the children would go home and write their Christmas list, safe in the knowledge that all was well for Santa’s upcoming journey around the world. It was so taken for granted in Flottsheim, that nobody even wondered how come the flower never appeared anywhere else.
Now one year, a little girl called Annika was getting ready to go the Flottsheim Blooming Festival, as it was called. Every year on the 30th of November, the party started in the early evening, with food and dancing and amusements until the main event at midnight.
Annika was only seven, but was known around the village as a sweet and kind girl. She lived with her blind grandmother and took very good care of her as best she could. When she wasn’t at school, she could be seen scurrying around the town carrying what little shopping they could afford.
“I wish you could have a bicycle,” her grandmother would say, “you wouldn’t have to walk so much, to school, or to the shops to get our groceries.”
“Not at all,” she would reply. “It’s no bother and walking is fine for me.”
Secretly she really did wish she could have a bicycle so that she could be faster getting back from school and getting the shopping, but they were too poor and of course she never complained. She always had a smile and a kind word for people as she passed them in the street. Anyway, she was excited as everyone else was for the blooming of the Santa flower.
She held her grandmother’s arm as she led her towards the festivities and when they got there, they had a wonderful evening of food, dancing, music and story-telling. Finally it was time to gather round the flower-bed, which had been illuminated with special lighting by the villagers specially for the occasion.
“Five, four, three, two, one, MIDNIGHT!” announced the mayor.
Everyone waited with baited breath for the bud to appear. A few seconds passed, but no bud appeared. The mayor looked puzzled and tapped on his watch to see if it was correct. The people all waited. Finally, someone shouted “It’s coming, look!”
Sure enough, the bud had appeared. But it looked different than usual. Smaller, not as green or as vibrant as normal. People watched as the little bud grew, much slower than they were used to. After several minutes it was only six inches high and not growing any more.
“Still, it’s here anyway,” smiled the major bravely. “Let’s wait for the blooming.”
It seemed to take an age, but eventually the bud opened and flowered. There was a gasp of shock when people saw it. It was Santa alright, but his face was much paler than usual. No rosy cheeks. But worst of all, what really shocked people, was that the face wasn’t smiling. In fact, it looked like Santa was very sick. His face was drawn and his eyes were half closed.
“What’s wrong,” asked Annika’s grandmother. “Why are people not cheering like they normally do?”
“Let’s go home, grandmother,” replied Annika. “I’ll explain there.” When they got home, Annika explained what had happened. She explained the stunted growth, the small height, the pale face and worst of all, Santa’s sick-looking face.
“Santa must be in trouble,” said Annika. “The face must be a sign of how he’s feeling and there’s something wrong.”
“Oh dear,” replied grandmother, “I wish there was something we could do.”
Villagers stayed all night and into the next morning to see if things would improve. They even threw in additional fertilizer into the soil, but to no avail. The flower remained the same. All the children were upset and wondered if Santa would be coming this year at all. It cast a dark mood over the entire village and it didn’t seem like Christmas at all in Flottsheim.
Annika continued with her chores and her shopping, but it was with a heavy heart.
Now a few nights later, Annika was asleep in her bed, when she awoke to hear a tapping sound on the roof outside her window. She ignored it at first, but it really was quite loud, so she climbed out of her bed to investigate.
She opened the window and felt the cold blast of the icy air against her face. “Who’s there?” she called out, but all she could see was a red glow coming from somewhere.
“Hi Annika, we need your help,” came an answer. And there from around the other side of the roof appeared a large reindeer. It had large antlers and a bright red nose.
“Rudolph?” asked Annika in amazement. “Why are you here? And you can speak?”
“Hi Annika, yes I can speak. Santa’s in trouble and needs your help,” replied Rudolph. “I need to bring you to the North Pole straight away,” he said, “otherwise I don’t think any children will be getting their presents this year.”
“What’s wrong with Santa?” asked Annika with concern. “Is he OK?”
“Let me explain,” replied Rudolph. “Santa’s magic is powered by his love of good children. When he meets a really good child, then his magic batteries get re-charged for another few hundred years. As you know, he only comes to houses where the children are asleep, so he never gets to meet them. It’s been a few hundred years since he actually met a good child. We totally forgot that his magic-batteries were nearly empty.”
“What if they run out completely?” asked Annika. “What happens then?”
Rudolph looked away. “I’m afraid if that happens, then it’s the end. No more Santa. No more Christmas.”
“Oh no!” cried Annika. “We have to do something to help Santa! But why did you come to me? Surely there are hundreds of other better children you could have asked?”
“The better the child, the longer the recharge,” replied Rudolph. “You are right at the very top of the ‘Nice’ list this year, so you’ll be able to recharge Santa’s magic for hundreds of years.”
“OK,” said Annika. “I’ll go. It’s very cold out there but I’ve got to help Santa.”
“Don’t worry,” replied Rudolph. “Just hop on my back, you’ll see. I have a central heating bubble around me that will keep you toasty warm.”
Sure enough, as soon as Annika hopped out the window and onto Rudolph’s back, she felt warm and snug all over, as if she was under a heavy duvet with a hot water bottle. Rudolph kicked off and they were soon flying high over land and sea.
Annika was never so thrilled in her whole life. She could see the whole world below her passing by at enormous speed, and it wasn’t long before they were approaching the North Pole.
“Just hang on tight, Annika,” called out Rudolph. “We’re going in for a straight landing!”
Annika saw a sort of a runway appearing below her that appeared to end at the doors to a large barn adjoining a house. As they landed gently on the runway, the barn doors opened and Rudolph came to a stop inside. The doors closed gently behind them.
A door opened into the barn from the adjoining house and out came Mrs Clause at top speed. She was smiling but you could also see the concern on her face.
“Annika, thank you so much for coming. We must move quickly as Santa is fading fast. We must get to him before it’s too late.”
Annika was led inside the house and quickly upstairs to Santa’s bedroom. As she entered she was struck by how quiet and dark it was. She could just make out Santa’s head on the pillow, his face all pale and drawn.
“Santa, we have a visitor,” called Mrs. Clause gently. “Annika, from Flottsheim.”
Santa didn’t move a muscle and seemed to have his eyes closed. Annika went up to Santa and held his hand.
“Hi Santa,” said Annika. “I am sorry you are not well. Everyone in Flottsheim is concerned about you. I do hope you get better soon.”
At first, Santa didn’t react. He lay flat against the pillow, not moving. Annika heard Mrs. Clause leave the room and close the door gently behind her. She continued to hold Santa’s hand and pet his face, telling him how wonderful he was and did her best to remember all sorts of stories from the village. She even sang all her Christmas songs, including Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and Jingle Bells.
After a few minutes, Annika noticed something. Santa’s cheeks didn’t seem as pale any more. His eyelids fluttered and opened. He looked at Annika.
“What’s your name?” he whispered.
“How old are you?”
“What would you like for Christmas?”
“Just that you are better, Santa.”
Santa smiled. “I think we can do better than that!”
They continued to chat and Santa was sitting up within thirty minutes. Within an hour he was on the floor demonstrating to Annika his favourite hip-hop dancing groove that he always does in the sleigh when he is delivering presents around the world.
Annika had a magical night that night. They had a big feast in the kitchen with Santa and Mrs Claus. Then Santa took Annika on a tour of the workshop where the elves make all the toys. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head at every turn. One of the highlights was when Rudolph brought her to meet Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen and she even got to feed them carrots.
“Got to build up your strength for the big night!” she said to them.
Finally it was time for Rudolph to bring her home.
“I think I’m good for another thousand years at least,” boomed Santa. “I feel completely recharged now, never better. Thank you for coming and most of all for being such a wonderful and nice girl.”
“Glad I could help,” replied Annika. “The people of Flottsheim will be relieved.”
Santa and Mrs. Claus both gave Annika an enormous hug and then Rudolph brought her home safely. It wasn’t long before she was back at home tucked up into bed.
The next morning she woke to shouts of joy from the centre of Flottsheim. “Look! Santa’s OK! The flower is wonderful!” the people cried.
Everyone ran to gather round, including Annika and her grandmother. The Santa flower was now bigger than it had ever been, over three feet tall. And Santa’s face had a beaming smile from ear to ear. Annika smiled and looked into the sky. She knew it was going to be an extra-special Christmas.
On Christmas morning, Annika came down early to light the fire so that her grandmother wouldn’t be cold when she got out of bed. At first she couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw it. There, beside the Christmas tree, was a shiny new bicycle, all twinkling from the lights on the tree.
On the saddle was a card. Annika couldn’t stop smiling as she opened the card and it read:
My dearest Annika,
Thank you so much for saving me. Without you I could not have survived much longer. Now I feel wonderful again. I hope you enjoy your new bicycle. Rudolph sends his love too, as does Mrs. Claus. Have a very, very merry Christmas.
Annika hugged the card to her chest and ran upstairs, crying “Grandma, Grandma! Santa came!”