Okay, kids, sit back and I’m gonna tell you a Christmas story, one I doubt you’ve heard before, but it’s all true, I swear!
It started a few years ago in August. Now, we don’t usually think of August as being cold, but up at the North Pole, where Santa lives, it’s always snowing. So it was August and it was time for the reindeer tryouts, to see which reindeer were going to make the team this year.
The fellow this story’s about, Fritz, was competing. Like all the reindeer up there, he had dreams of one day making the team. But his dreams were once again dashed to the ground when Lou, the Reindeer Foreman, announced that year’s team. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer…you know the rest. The same team as always. It seemed like nobody else would ever get a turn. In fact, the lineup had been the same for years, and the last change anyone remembered was the addition of Rudolph, who, due to his freak mutant nose, had scored himself a permanent, cherry position at the front of the team. Since Santa’s magic reindeer live a long, long, time, it was looking like there wasn’t much hope for anyone else.
“Chestnuts!” grumbled Fritz, kicking at the snowy ground. “What I wouldn’t give to make just one flight…just one! Would it kill them to give someone else a turn?”
His moping continued clear up to Christmas Eve, the busiest day of the year for everyone. Everyone at the North Pole had a job to do on this day, and Fritz was no exception. He was needed at the sleigh for fitting. You see, the actual reindeer on the team were busy being brushed and groomed so they’d look their best for the flight. Fritz and eight other deer were stand-ins, getting the harness worked fitted on them instead of the real deal. For Fritz, this was adding insult to injury, having to pretend to be on the team just to be unhitched and told to go away while the real flyers took over.
“Aww, cranberries,” muttered Fritz as the elves fitted him with someone else’s harness.
Afterwards the stand-ins and elves hustled out to other jobs, but Fritz lagged behind and marveled at the sleigh. It was already being loaded up, and even though he’d seen it dozens of times, the sight of it always made Fritz’s heart race a little. What he’d give to be proudly pulling it! He climbed in the back and got a driver’s-eye view of how it looked. Just incredible! He imagined himself hitched to the front…not in the lead position necessarily; he’d be satisfied with one of the slots towards the back. Any position was a place of honor. How dignified he’d look, hooves all polished, coat neatly brushed, antlers waxed, as fine a member of Santa’s team as any! Just once…just one time…
Fritz was awakened by a strange bump and a sharp feeling in his stomach. Zuh? What happened? Suddenly he was jostled completely awake and realized what was going on. He had fallen asleep in the back of the sleigh! The sleigh which, until a few moments ago, had been flying through the air. He had accidentally stowed away for the big flight!
But as the sleigh collided into a snowbank he realized something had gone wrong. He peeked out from under the bag of toys that had been loaded on top of him by an unaware elf and saw Santa tending to one of the reindeer.
The winter wind drowned out all sound, but as Santa took out his cell phone and wandered back over to the sleigh, Fritz caught part of the conversation: “Blitzen…yep, wind shear. Took him right down…nah, hurt leg, but it’ll mend…send replacement…hang on…” Santa consulted his GPS to figure his location but the storm was blowing up too fierce to get a good reading. He wasn’t going to be able to get a replacement for Blitzen in time. What would he do?
Fritz was conflicted. He didn’t want to get in trouble for stowing away. What if it was his extra weight that had caused the crash in the first place? But he couldn’t just do nothing. He was part of Santa’s Team…not just the reindeer that pulled the sleigh, but the team that made all of the Christmas Ride possible! He had to do what he could to help!
He wrestled himself out of the sleigh and meekly presented himself to Santa. “Sir,” he said, “I know the routine, and I’ve gotten fine grades on my flying. I’d like to help out if I can!”
“But…wha….how did you get here?” Santa stammered, then shook his head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter! You’re in the right place at the right time!” Quickly he put Blitzen in back of the sleigh and hitched Fritz up in his place. Santa returned to the driver’s seat and counted three. “Ready, team?” He pulled the reigns and all nine, including Fritz, soared up into the air.
Fritz was too intent on his mission to feel overwhelming pride. The storm was still brewing and it would take all their best flying to get through it. In addition, they were now behind schedule. The only thing on Fritz’s mind was getting the job done.
It wasn’t until the next day that Fritz, exhausted from the trip, fully realized what had happened. News had spread quickly, and all the other second-string reindeer gathered around to hear about their amazing comrade who had actually managed to get on the team, if only accidentally! Fritz tried to tell them how amazing it was to make the trip, but really he had been too busy to remember everything.
Suddenly the crowd hushed and milled away from Fritz as Santa himself approached the tired deer.
“Fritz, I know you stowed away on the sleigh yesterday.”
Fritz hung his head. Under his breath he muttered, “Aww, sugarplums!”
“And it’s a good thing you did!” Santa added. “I don’t know what we would have done without you. You’ve pointed out a crucial flaw in our program, and for that I thank you! Fritz, I want you to be part of the team. I want you to ride in back of the sleigh every year as…the spare!”
Fritz beamed! This was a moment he had dreamed of all his life! He looked at the reindeer who had overheard and saw the utter envy on their faces. Ha! He had made the team! He was now part of the few, the elite, the–
Fritz looked again at the other reindeer and then had a plan. “Well Santa, I was just doing my job. It’s what we’re all here for, all of us. And since it’s all of us, I don’t think any one deer should be assigned as the spare. Why not give everyone a chance and have a different one each year? That way we can all do our part!”
“That’s a fantastic idea!” said Santa. I’m going to go discuss it with Lou! You get some rest now, you’ve had a hard night. And thanks again!”
Santa walked away and Fritz the reindeer, the very first spare reindeer, went off for a well-earned nap.
So that there’s the story of Fritz the Reindeer, folks. Merry Christmas!