Written and Illustrated by Charles Vess
From Issue #29 – digital // print

Come closer and listen well, for I have a tale to tell. For far longer than even I can remember Father Christmas has always lived in his warm, sprawling house set close by a vast northern forest.

There, in his workshop, Nikolas…Yes, I said Nikolas. Hush. You would do well to remember that it is his given name. Now, where was I? Oh yes… In his workshop there, Nikolas spends each and every day making gifts that he hopes will bring small moments of joy to every boy and girl who receives them. Ever so patiently he sits by himself carving intricate wooden toys of every shape and size. Big ones, small ones, and in-between ones, they all fill the shelves of his vast workshop. And, as the days grow shorter and darker outside, he stays in his workshop longer and longer. No matter how long or short the day, they all seem to fly by faster and faster as the year itself grows shorter still.

Always he must be thinking to himself, “I’ll just spend but a few more minutes here and finish just one more toy.” But that minute always and again blurs into hours and hours and many more long hours besides.

I saw him there once, sitting at his workbench, his carving tools and pots of paint and brushes scattered round about him. The floor at his feet piled high with wood shavings. A splash of bright blue paint smeared his ruddy cheek and the pungent aroma of turpentine filled the air.

He was carefully applying a highlight on the carved eye of one last, small toy and then, finally, Nikolas got to his feet. His boots planted firmly in that deep litter of shavings, he eased his aching back. Even so, he smiled to himself and began to softly murmur.

Indeed, I had to hold myself very still to hear his words.
“Well, that’s the very last of them. At least for this season.”
Nikolas stood for a moment, gazing out his window into the world beyond, his forehead creasing briefly with worry.

“Every year there are so many more children out there in this world that it takes me longer and longer to finish my work. Next year or perhaps the year after I fear I’ll not be able to finish my task.”

Then looking at the shelves around him, stuffed as they were with his homemade toys of every kind and description, he let a gentle, satisfied smile wipe the frown from his care-worn face.

“Now then, it’s off to bed for me. Tomorrow will be a very busy day.” One by one, he blew out the lanterns that lit his work place and, pausing at the door, he carefully placed a saucer of milk on the floor at his feet before whispering into the now-darkened room, “Tomten, Tomten, thank you for your patience. Watch this place and keep all here safe through this long dark night.” Then, softly shutting the door behind him, Father Christmas made his weary way to his soft bed and his pleasant dreams.

At this very moment, you may very well be wondering to yourself, What exactly is a Tomten? Well listen and I will tell you true.

Many traditions speak of every home having its very own guardian spirit. Tomten is only one name amongst the many given to these small creatures. Whatever you choose to call them, they are very rarely seen for they only ever come out when everyone in their house is fast, fast asleep. Then they mend what needs mending and chase away the bad spirits that need chasing away. And what is it that they ask for in return? Why, only a fresh bowl of milk or a warm slice of bread.

So right there, in that darkened room, I stilled my breath and waited patiently for what might happen next.

Read the full story in issue #29 – digital // print

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