My name is Thomas Hartman, and I write this in response to a letter. It is a question I have been asked several times already over the past few years, but never have I given the true, honest, answer. It concerns something I swore not to speak of, for the sake of my reputation and credulity as a historian. Today, though, I feel it is time to tell the story. This year has been momentous already, both for our country – may her imperial majesty rest in peace, and long live King Edward – and for myself. Perhaps it is that which changes my mind, or perhaps it is the time of year, or that the letter simply found me in an unusually cheerful mood. In any case, here is my answer. The question was, in my own rewording: what single event I can say has changed my life?

What a question. For most people, a difficult or impossible one. Change is a gradual thing, made up of as many moments and decisions as the life it changes. However, some moments do stand out more than others, and I am lucky enough – if lucky is the word – lucky enough, I say, to have one particular event that stands out more clearly than any other.

It was before I came into my small fame. I was a gentleman, and had some considerable wealth, thanks to my late parents, but I spent little of it. I have always been, in the vernacular of the psychologist, somewhat obsessive. Always my life has been taken up with some great endeavour or other, something to which all my energies can be devoted to. This moment I am thinking of could, I suppose, be called the end of one such quest and, in a roundabout way, the start of another.


It was early winter, near the solstice, when I first saw the place he lived. After so long, and so much work – the years poring over maps, trawling through ancient stories, seeking out diaries and translating legends – but it had paid off. I had found it.

But, I have to say, it surprised me. I don’t know what I expected – none of my research had given much evidence for the type of place this man might live. A factory? A palace? A cave? Something extraordinary, certainly, for – in a foolishness I think I have lost since those days – I expected exceptional things to come in exceptional surroundings.

In fact it was a simple place, built like many I had seen around those parts. It was small – or squat, at least; from where I stood I could not see how deep it went – and undecorated. The stone was gray and thick, and what windows I could see were small, though of course this was necessitated by the weather. In design, I would not say it was new, but nor was it ancient: I would put the style at perhaps a century old, not more. That seemed oddest of all to me, because the being I sought was an ancient one indeed.

Despite the cold climate and the time of year, that region of Finnmark was far from desolate. The house stands on the edge of a vast forest, in the shelter of one of the uncountable gullies carved there by ice, long ago. We saw little wildlife during our journey, just the occasional bird, perhaps because our sleds were noisy and the dogs more so. A shame, for I would have dearly loved to see a reindeer. But there was a sense of presence there, of hidden eyes watching from the trees, of all the life of the northern forests being somewhere just of out of view. It had snowed, but the sky was clear for us. Of course, given the time of year, there was no sun. The stars shone throughout the night, and only a blush of twilight crossed the skies around noon.

The search had been hard and slow, and that is why, when at last we had found the place, I was so eager to reach the goal of my quest. My captain urged caution, and asked to send some men with me, but I did not heed him. I left them to pitch the tents and handle the sledges, while I approached the house alone.

Up close, it was not as featureless as I had first assumed. A stand of holly grew right in front of it, and

It was a still day, and my footsteps on the cleared stone path seemed to echo off the frozen snow as I approached the house. Up close, I saw that the stone was not featureless, but was thickly crusted with those plants that grow in such a clime – moss and ivy, for the most part. It was as though the forest were reaching out its fingers to grasp the house and pull it into itself, or so it struck me.

The door had neither knocker nor bell-pull, so I pounded on the thick wood a few times.

I had not more than a few seconds to wait before it opened, inwards. A woman stood there, which surprised me. Was she a servant? She didn’t have the bearing of a housekeeper, but it was difficult to guess her station from her clothes. They were simple enough in design, and looked homemade to my eye, yet they had been embroidered well, almost lovingly, and they were of a rich luscious green, like none I had ever seen a servant wear. Was she perhaps his wife? In some of the stories he had a wife, of course. I had assumed that to be a modern addition, but perhaps not. After all, there she was, eyeing me up and down, her mouth creasing into a smile, and saying, “Now, I didn’t think that sounded like pointed feet!”


She turned to call back into the house, in Dutch, though my own Dutch was too rusty to understand her. I heard a muffled reply from deeper in the house, and she faced me again. “You’d better come inside,” she said. “Why, you must be frozen out there!”

I thanked her, and followed her through a vestibule into a narrow stone hallway. She had an accent that I found most familiar, as it was similar to that of my own parents: soft, and rather slurred, especially on the letter ‘s’. She was speaking English, and speaking it well, which was something of a relief after months of trying to use my stilted Norwegian.

I take it you’ve come to see my husband?” she said, quite cheerfully. She didn’t seem at all surprised by my arrival, despite their isolated location, nor did she seem curious about how I had got there or even found their house. “Come through to the front room,” she said. “He hasn’t been in long, so he’s just getting warm by the fire.”

As she showed me through to the room, I was reminded forcibly of my childhood, when my mother would take me through to the drawing room, saying “Look, Thomas, look who arrived last night,” and there would be my father, all dressed in red and white and talking in a deep voice, and I would laugh and play along. And now there I was, twenty years later, living that game we used to play.

The front room of that house was small and plain, like a servants’ common room, small enough that the three armchairs it contained took up most of the floor space. But its size was its advantage in the polar winter: a glowing fire on one wall easily filled the room with heat. A narrow window gave a view of the dark night outside. The walls were lined with colourful knitted hangings. The only other decoration was a scabbard hung over the fireplace. It was, for some reason, empty.

I could see no-one in the room, but the place had such a feeling of cosiness, and I was so tired after my journey, that I suddenly felt quite faint, and – at the lady’s invitation – I sat gratefully in one of the soft armchairs beside the fire.

Well,” I heard someone chuckle, “It seems that our guest is tired.”

I admit I quite started. The room had seemed empty when I entered, but I saw now that an elderly gentleman sat in the chair across from me, watching me, sucking on a long-stemmed pipe. He was a bulky enough man, and now I saw him, his presence seemed to expand to fill the room. How had I not noticed him?

He saw my surprise, and raised his eyebrows. “Did I give you a start?” he said.

I am so sorry, sir,” I said to him. “I didn’t see you.”

The man laughed. He had a pleasant face – weather-beaten, as of one who has seen outdoor labour, but creased also around the eyes and mouth in the way of a man who smiles often and frowns rarely.

Perhaps you should look harder,” he said, his voice a cheerful rumble. “No need to apologise, dear boy, it happens surprisingly often. People look only for what they expect to see, and so often they look in the wrong places. Now, make yourself comfortable, please – so there’s no need to be shy.”

He wore red, as in the Dutch stories: a red cloak over a white cloth robe, the bright colour contrasting sharply with his wife’s green clothes. His hair too was white, as was his beard; both were long, flowing and so very soft, like virgin snow. He held a pipe in his hands, of hand-carved wood with a long stem – it reminded me of a similar pipe my father once owned.

My friend,” he said. “Let us talk. May I ask what is your name?”

I think I was still not at my ease with the situation, and his question wrong-footed me, and I blurted, “I expected you to know that already.” I regretted it immediately. A childish thing to say. But then, from the stories, was it such an unreasonable expectation?

The old man looked startled, then laughed again. “Very well,” he said. “We will not use names. I will call you ‘friend’, and you can do the same, if you wish. I think you’re English, is that right?”

I nodded. “And I thank you for your consideration in speaking my own language,” I said.

I am?” He looked genuinely startled. “You must forgive an old man. I know so many languages, and sometimes I do not notice which one I am using. I wonder, is the delightful Victoria still on the throne?”

It was now my turn to frown. “Of course,” I said. At the time it was true, though she was weakening even then.

I’m glad to hear it. Don’t be surprised by my ignorance. There are a lot of countries out there, and I do not always keep up with their latest news.” He coughed into his hand, and looked over at his wife. “Goody here is better at these things than me. Her memory has aged more healthily than mine.”

She looked at me, and raised her eyebrows. “I’m afraid Klaus tends to ramble,” she said. “You’ll have to excuse him. Would you like some wine? It should be warm enough by now, I think.”

She unhooked a large tin kettle from where it hung over the fire, found a tin mug on a shelf behind her, and handed both to me.

Thank you very much,” I said.

Not at all,” she said. “If you two don’t mind, I’m going to get some knitting done. I want to finish Piet’s new gloves by Friday. I think you two have a lot to talk about without me, anyhow.” She pulled some half-finished knitting from under a cushion, and started clacking away.

I wouldn’t mind some of that wine myself, when you’re done,” said the old man to me. “Now, perhaps I’ve rambled long enough, as Goody says. So, to business. Why have you sought us out, friend?”

What makes you think I was looking for you?” I asked, taking a sip of my wine. It was mulled, and had a very pleasant, fruity taste.

He chuckled, gesturing through the window at the deserted country outside. “Oh, my man, you were either looking for us or you were extremely lost, and I don’t think you look like a lost man – at least not geographically.”

I didn’t ask what he meant by that, and he didn’t elaborate.

You’re right,” I said. “I was looking for you – you and your wife here. And it took some doing to find you, I might add.”

Well, as I said earlier, perhaps you were looking in the wrong places,” he said, raising one eyebrow and drawing again on his pipe.

I was indeed,” I said. “I searched for months in northern Finland before we made our way here. But sometimes looking in the wrong place is how we find the right place, don’t you think?”

His laughter turned into a coughing fit as he choked on his pipe-smoke. “S-so very true,” he spluttered. “I think you are a wise man, friend. But did you have a reason for looking for us? Or was it just a particularly boring winter?”

I nodded. “I did have reasons. I have been investigating you for a long time, and I have questions I wouldn’t mind asking you. You know that to most of the world, you are believed to be nothing more than a story? Told to please children?”

I don’t doubt it,” said Goody, looking up from her knitting. “Or we’d have so many visitors, we’d have to fit a bell-pull.”

And at least the children are pleased,” said the old man. “If I was taught in schools as fact, they would find it much less enjoyable, don’t you think?”

But it is true, then?” I said. “If you’re here, that means the stories, all the things people say about you, they are true?

Not all of them,” said the old man, his eyes twinkling. “Some of them, yes, of course. As you can see, for instance, I am alive, if not so healthy.” He gave another hearty cough.

But which?” I persisted.

He tapped his pipe against his teeth. “Which stories have you heard?” he said.

I sat back in my chair. I had not realised until I entered the house how astonishingly unprepared for such a conversation I was. In all the years of searching I had done my best to avoid thinking about the actual meeting, so as to avoid disappointment if I had turned out to be mistaken, and because I hadn’t wanted to build up a false image of the man before meeting him.

In this, incidentally, I had failed, for I had always pictured him as, in personality, the image of my father. In fact, he was extraordinarily similar to my father. Less stern, and a shade more jocular, but he had a similar way of talking, the same patience, the same infuriating habit of never answering a question directly.

But, as I say, I had done my best to avoid thinking about a conversation like this happening, and so had no real idea of how I wanted it to go. I did my best to start from a logical place.

I told you that I was English,” I said, “And it is true that I was raised in England. My late parents, however, were Dutch. They were both from wealthy merchant families in Amsterdam, and moved to London thirty years ago.

Though they lived in England, they remained fond of their homeland, and were determined to teach me its traditions. One of their favourites was the story of Sinterklaas, the story of the old man who arrived by steamboat and delivered presents by chimney.” I paused. “My father used to dress up as him – as you, that is.”

I am deeply flattered,” said the old man, raising his cup to me.

His wife chuckled. “Tell him things like that, it’ll go to his head,” she warned.

Well, as I grew, I became a historian,” I pressed on. “I found stories of similar figures from different cultures. I was fascinated. I started to trace them, found connections between them. And the more I studied, the more I became convinced you were a real person.”

He raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.

I couldn’t prove it, of course,” I said. “There is no way one could. There are some few eye-witness accounts, but even they do not hold much water as evidence. I gained a reputation as something of an oddball, devoting my life to the study of a fantasy. I doubt people will believe me when I return. But I had to prove to myself that you existed, that I wasn’t simply deluding myself.”

You must have enough people with you to man a sledge, at least,” his wife said. “I take it that’s how you came here?”

I have money,” I said. “The men don’t laugh too much, as long as I give them their salary on time.”

The old man was frowning at me. “You used the phrase ‘devoting your life’,” he said, slowly. “Is that an exaggeration? You must have had some other pursuits.”

Not many,” I said. “I have always been somewhat obsessive in pursuit of something. Unhealthily so, I am frequently told.”

I see,” the old man said. He glanced briefly at his wife, who looked in turn at me and smiled. Was there pity in that smile?

Well,” he said, “You’ve met me, and assuming you trust your senses, you have proven yourself to yourself. Is that your job accomplished?”

Almost, but I do have more questions I would like to ask you,” I said. “If you’re agreeable?”

But of course,” he said, refilling his cup from the kettle of wine. “What would you like to ask?”

Again, I found myself unprepared, and after several seconds of mental floundering, I said. “Well, if the stories are true, I’d like to know … how? How do you do it? How can it all be true?”

Goody chuckled again, but for once the old man didn’t look amused. He set his cup down on the floor and sighed. “I’m afraid the first thing you ask is the wrong question. In what we do, it’s the why that matters, not the how.”

I am a historian. The question of how things came about is my subject,” I said.

I didn’t mean for the sake of your subject,” he said. “There are other things you need to ask.”

There are a lot of things I could ask,” I said. “If you’ll permit my saying so, you are a great mystery, even to me, and I have spent years studying your past. I know, for instance, that you were a man once. You lived in Myra, in Turkey, is that not so? Yet that was centuries ago, and you are here, still living.”

He was merely watching me, brow furrowed, plainly not in a mood to contribute information of his own. I carried on.

In the English stories, you were called the Yuletide Father, the Old Man of the Woods.”

There are a lot of woods in the world,” he said, “And more than one old man living in them.”

In the Dutch, you were a Christian saint,” I said. “The stories from there say that you visit every year, on the 5th of December, and give gifts to children. But you are still alive, so how can you have been canonised? And the stories run that you give gifts to all children in the country, in one night.”

And that is a problem?” he asked, not in a challenging manner, more like a teacher questioning a flaw in my reasoning.

It is not possibly true,” I said. “Even with all the technology of the industrial age, no-one could do that.”

Well,” Goody spoke up, “Maybe not a person working alone – ”

You might have some helpers, perhaps,” I said. “But still, you couldn’t do everyone, not in one night. I’ve thought about this long and hard. A group of that many people acting all at once – it would take so much organising, and so many people – it could never be kept a secret for long.”

Well, perhaps you’re right there,” he said. “I admit, I have no secret society of gift-givers helping me.”

So, is it not true that you deliver the presents at all?” I pushed him. “Or do you have some other way?”

He laughed. “You just told me it was impossible,” he said.

With all the science we know, yes,” I said. “But … it is true, is it not, that there are things we do not yet know? We progress more each day, and there is an idea among some that we sit on the cusp of discoveries the like of which we cannot dream of. I’m not a scientist, and I can’t pretend I understand it all, but I do read the papers. Have you heard of the recent work of Michelson and Morley? Or of Hertz?”

The old man shook his head. “News travels slowly out here,” he said.

It doesn’t much matter for my point,” I said. “I merely mean that there is much that science does not yet understand. And just by being still alive, you are one of them. Who is to say there is not more to you? Perhaps you do have some power to travel at such speeds, or to hold back the clocks to give yourself the time you need.”

I took a swig of my wine, then pushed it away with a grimace. My head was starting to feel clouded, with the wine, and the warmth, and my own bone-deep tiredness from the journey. The old man was looking at me, leaning back in his chair.

Well,” he said. “Is that what you think?”

You answer my question with another question,” I accused.

You haven’t answered mine at all,” he returned, with a laugh. “And I maintain that you ask the wrong ones. Could you pass my tobacco, dear?” he added, to his wife. While he leaned forward to tip the ashes from his pipe into the stone by the hearth, and refilled the bowl with fresh leaf, he said, “I will answer your questions, do not fear, but I am curious to hear your theories. After all your time researching, you must have developed some. There is no rush – there is never a rush, in this house.”

The man’s attitude was frustrating – I had come here to hear answers, not to repeat my own thoughts – and he spoke to me like a teacher to a child. But, at the same time … I admit to being a somewhat vain man, and I enjoy talking about my ideas enough that I was willing to play along with his game.

I began, “I know you were a man, yet now you have extended life. Whatever you say, I think the question of how that happened is the obvious one to ask, and do I have some ideas on that. In the old English tales, you were once connected with pagan spirits and Nordic gods – hence the stories that you ride through the sky in a chariot. In the Dutch, as I said, you were a religious figure. Always you are associated with some higher power, something beyond the physical world. So I think there is truth there.”

The old man frowned. “Go on.”

I theorise that you made some bargain with some unholy spirit, or a holy one, I don’t know. Eternal life, and whatever other powers were necessary, in exchange for the job you were given – to distribute something to children, though why, I honestly don’t know. But in the original tales you were middle-aged, and now you’re an old man. Whatever force should be keeping you alive is not working.”

Goody tutted. The old man said, “And I assume that – for the sake of completeness – you have an idea why that is, as well?”

A suggestion,” I said. “Based on what I know. I know that you never came to my house when I was young, and nor have there been reliable eye-witness sightings of you for a long time. This is something everyone knows. So, my idea is … I think that you’ve stopped doing your job. Or perhaps you can’t, for some reason, in this rational age. But as a consequence, whatever magic kept you young is fading. That is my best theory.”

He was looking at me pensively, sucking on his pipe, and didn’t speak.

What do you think of it?” I challenged.

He sighed. “I suppose I do owe you an answer now. Well, you are not altogether wrong, although I’m afraid you are on most of the important points.”

Such as?” I prompted him.

Well, there was no bargain,” he said. “It was a gift that allowed me to live so long, and I don’t know myself who it was from.”

The difference between a gift and a bargain is merely a choice of words, is it not?” I said.

No,” he said, his voice sharp for the first time. I had thought that he brought to mind a more jovial version of my father. Well, now I saw the other side of my father in him, the stern, pedantic old man, the one who used to shout at me for my lazy grammar. “There is all the difference in the world.” The look in his eyes was so fiery that I admit to feeling a little intimidated.

Maybe you should tell him the whole story, Klaus,” his wife spoke up. “You’ve made him wait long enough.”

Perhaps,” he said. He heaved himself forward in his chair, chewing his pipe, then as though coming to a decision, he started speaking. “Well, you were right about the beginning. I was once a man, by the name of Nicholas. My parents died in a plague that swept through our town, and I was raised by my uncle. He was a bishop, a kind man, but always very pious and humble. He told me, constantly, to be grateful for what I had, and reminded me that many other children lost their parents to the same disease, and not all of them had uncles to take them in.”

He paused to take another draw of smoke, then continued.

Well, that didn’t seem fair to me. When I was still young myself, I took a vow with my uncle to help those other children in the town, and any who had troubles. My uncle and I set up a charity for orphaned children in the town, and we tried to help those people my age who had been orphaned by the plague that killed my own parents. My uncle introduced me to three girls who needed marriage to sustain them, but having no parents could not afford any dowry. I had a fair amount of money left by my parents, so I did what I could to help. I gave them each a sack of gold. I couldn’t be seen giving it in person, because accepting charity would have been considered shameful, so I dropped it to them down their chimney.

Once I was older, I left my home town and travelled along the sea. In every place I stayed, I found people who needed help – and not just children. Some needed money, others just needed time, or someone to talk to. I gave what I could. The year after I left there was a great famine, and I convinced a crew of sailors to unload their cargo of wheat, paying them well for their loss. In Constantinople, I met a thief who repented his crimes, and managed to argue the case for his release.”

All this to fulfil the vow you made?” I asked him.

In a way,” he said. “It was a naïve vow. To help those who have troubles – to help everyone, in short. It was childish, but I did a lot of work to follow it, devoted my life to it. I was obsessive, in your words.

I carried on travelling, heading north, and I saw a true winter – a hard winter – for the first time. There is winter in Myra, of course, but it does not compare.

The further north I went, the colder, darker and longer the winters were. I’d never seen snow. I had never seen water stand hard as stone. I had never seen anything so beautiful, or so terrible. People feared it – to most, it meant food shortages, disease, death. How could there be a time when nature was so beautiful, yet human suffering so rife?

So you see, I had found something I could not solve, couldn’t fulfil my vow. The whole of winter – it was suffering on a scale no man alone could hope to conquer. But I asked, I begged, for a way to help.”

Who did you ask?” I said.

Everyone,” he shrugged. “I prayed to every god I could think of, everyone that had been worshipped in every country I had travelled through. And somehow, it was provided. I will not say who by, because I don’t know. But I found myself developing a sense for what people wanted, and, more usefully, what they needed. I became much more active, more dedicated even than I had been before. I gave gifts to children, mostly – they are easier to satisfy, at least in the short term. For the adults, I tried to teach them to celebrate the time of year. I showed them that whatever the weather outside, while there was a fire and drink inside there was something to celebrate.”

For some reason, those words in particular stuck in my head. ‘More usefully, what they needed’. And what had he said earlier? ‘I didn’t mean for the sake of your subject. There are other things you need to ask.’

I travelled still,” the old man was saying. “And the stories began to spread. I started to hear tales of a man who visited on winter nights to give gifts to children, and to spread cheer among their parents. The tradition grew into a festival, a time of celebration in the depths of the oppressive winter – a few days of light in the darkness. Enough to help people through.”

So you did do what they say you do,” I said. “You did visit the children?”

Those I could,” he said. “In some places, the story became that I visited every child, to give gifts, and then that I did it all in a single night. It’s not true, of course. I cannot be in two places at once. I would work all winter, and visit as many as I could – I acted, tried to fulfil my role in people’s stories, to keep the legend alive – and to those I couldn’t reach, well, their parents filled in for me well enough.”

Goody started to tell you that you were wrong to assume I worked alone. But you were right to say that a team of helpers large enough to visit every child could never be kept secret. There is no secret, you see? Just the parents. The helpers are everyone.”

He paused to suck on his pipe, and I asked, “Do you still travel? Do you still visit people?”

Rarely,” he said. “I’ve grown old. I found that I had been given another gift – I lived a long time, and my body aged slowly. I continued to travel for many centuries. In the Low Country, I met my wonderful wife, and we married, and we found – to our surprise – that she became as long-lived as me. And we have lived a very long time. But no man lives forever, of course, and I have grown into the old man you see before you.

Not long ago, we found that travelling became too much for us, and we settled down here, in Finnmark, in the very heart of winter. My powers are almost gone now, you know, though not entirely. I still travel around the country, sometimes. I visit the people of these parts every year. But for the most part, the legend takes care of itself these days.”

I sat forward and reached for my wine. “I thank you for your story,” I said. “It means a lot to me that you’ve taken the time.”

Of course,” he said. “But you see my point, my friend, that you ask the wrong questions. What matters – what should matter, to you, Thomas – is not how I came to live so many years, but why. I think I have answered both. And the difference between a gift and a bargain is that a gift is entirely one-sided. Nothing is asked for in return.”

We sat together in silence. I drank the last mouthful of my wine, which had gone almost cold. The old man, Sinterklaas, Nicholas of Myra, began to fill his pipe again. His wife Goody still sat beside him, needles clacking. Outside, I noticed the sound of the wind for the first time.

I spoke first. “So you do know my name.”

I do,” he smiled, bringing the lit pipe back to his mouth. “My powers are not entirely gone yet, my friend.”

Lines from our conversation ran through my thoughts. I found myself developing a sense … for what people needed. There are other questions you need to ask. In what we do, it is the why that matters, not the how.

As though he read my mind, he said, “Think on what I’ve said. And now, I also happen to know that you have a dozen men pitching tents outside. Why don’t you invite them in? We have room, and I think the wind is picking up out there.”

I agreed, and rose to leave the room. At the door, though, I paused, and asked him one last question. “You said you have a sense for what people need. Do you mean for their sake, or for the sake of other people?”

He beamed. “Sometimes one, sometimes the other,” he said. “But normally, the two are the same thing.”

I did go out and invite the men in. We stayed for nearly a week at the old man’s house, drinking him nearly out of wine, I dare say. We left in good spirits, and though it was still winter, and the weather was if anything worse than during our journey out, we arrived at the port of Trondheim in a merry mood.

On my way back to England, I thought about my time with the old man. No-one would believe me, I was sure, and I resolved to tell no-one of it – which I had not, until now. But he had said some things which I wished to think over. You ask the wrong questions. I had asked what I wanted to know, and he had failed to answer – ultimately, he didn’t know how he gained those powers. But he had told me the story anyway. Or, more usefully, what they needed.

So why had he? Perhaps he expected me to see parallels between his story and my own. After all, he had termed himself obsessive, capable of devoting himself solely to a single cause, as I am myself. Until then, I had given much of my money and my time to the pursuit of my own goals. I had met the old man – I had succeeded. So now, perhaps, it was time to put the rest to another use.

And that is my answer. Believe it if you will, or choose not to; though I regretfully think that most will choose not to. Still, my life has changed, that is undeniably fact. Never before then had I received letters asking personal questions, for instance. Now, thanks to the things I have done since that day in Finnmark – the establishment of my Home for Orphaned Children of the Poor, for instance, and the Christmas Meals for the Homeless Fund – I appear to be somewhat more well-known, for better or for worse.

This is the path I have chosen for myself. This is the time of year to be merry – the time that we must be merry, if we are to get through the long night – and, like the old man in the North, we must give all that we can to ensure that we are merry.

That ends my story. It just remains for me to leave you in the knowledge that I am, yours, most faithfully,

Thomas Hartman.

Whenever you give someone a present or sing a holiday song, you’re helping Santa Claus. To me, that’s what Christmas is all about. Helping Santa Claus! – Louis Sachar, Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger