This is a story of long, long ago...so long ago, in fact, that Christmas as a holiday hadn't been around very long. At this time, people still lived in villages. They chopped their own firewood in the nearby woods and dragged it to their homes, where they burned it in their fireplaces to keep their homes warm through the long, cold winter nights. As they watched the snow fall, they wondered if the food they had stored, grown in their fields over the summer, would last
Everyone in the families worked every day of the year. Some of the men would raise crops in the fields and hunt or fish for food. Others would work in the villages. The women would spin yarn and make clothes, prepare food, haul and split wood, and raise the children. And the children, except the very youngest, had their jobs, too: gathering eggs, fetching water and kindling, and watching over the youngest ones.
During the long dark nights of winter, the oldest of the children would amuse the youngest by telling them stories. Many of these stories had been told to the oldest children by their mothers or grandmothers. And some of the stories were begun by these older children after looking out at the woods or looking up at the night sky. Once the stories were started and told to younger children, the stories continued through the years, as the children retold them to their own children and grandchildren.
It was during this time that Santa Claus began his work. And while this could have been the story of how Santa Claus built his home, or how he came to know Mrs. Claus, or how his beard got to be so white or his boots so black, it's not that story. By the time this story starts, Santa had begun his work in the far north country. In those early years, he only had a small number of elves -- a few dozen or so of the little snow people of the north -- helping him make toys. But they were enough, because there weren't as many children in those days.
At that time, too, Santa's reindeer team was a little bit different from the team we know today. Santa's team was:
Courage was the name of Santa's lead reindeer, and even though she was Santa's favorite, none of the other reindeer minded. She seemed to know the magical old man's mind better than anyone, and had guided the team valiantly through many a vicious storm to ensure that every deserving child received what he or she wanted at Christmas. Her name became her: she was courageous and steadfast as though she were magical -- and indeed, in some ways, she was, as were all of Santa's reindeer. And even though this winter looked as though it might be very harsh -- the bears had gone to their caves early, and the squirrels had stored many extra acorns -- Santa and his reindeer weren't worried. After all, they had Courage to lead them.
The first snows swirled through the villages early in October. Men and women looked up at the sky, and worry was in their hearts: would there be enough food? Would the animals be all right? They hurried to their churches and lit extra candles, praying that the winter wouldn't be too severe.