Christmas Eve finally arrived and Santa was in a tizzy. Weather was good over most of the world with the exception of the Sunshine State. It was a real mess down there in Florida. Santa’s regional weather elf informed him that Florida was under heavy fog with almost no visibility. It was thick enough to cut with a knife and it would be impossible for the reindeer to navigate parts of the state not having street lights. Therein was a huge problem.
Now many think that Florida is all beaches and big cities but, in reality, much of her inland area, the spine of a long peninsula, is open country with farms and woodlands, swamps and bogs, and the rolling hills of horse country. The swamp and bog areas teem with gators, black bear, poisonous snakes, a few of the dwindling Florida panther and other wild animals. Most of the swamp country is dark, very dark, and without a full moon or manmade lighting to guide Santa how could he safely navigate the remote areas? For you see, a hearty group of people live in these seemingly inhospitable areas and they have large families, including many boys and girls anxious for the arrival of Santa.
Venturing into an area like this without an expert guide is very dangerous. And since Santa knew that he couldn’t fly with his reindeer into the swamp, he needed someone with appropriate transportation and knowledge of the area to expertly lead the way. Being a smart and special fellow with fast recall of names and talents, Santa instantly came up with the answer to his dilemma. He would call his old friend, Farmer McNab, who had lived on the edge of the swamp for many years. If anyone knew what to do, it was Farmer McNab.
Santa placed a call that was quickly answered. The connection was weak, however, because Farmer McNab only had a cell phone and the fog caused phone problems in these hard-to-reach areas with limited communication towers. He must talk quickly before the signal was lost.
“Farmer McNab”, said Santa. “I’m in a real jam. As you know it’s Christmas Eve and I’m preparing for my all night journey. The weather elf says I can’t fly into rural Florida because of the fog; it’s too dangerous”.
Continuing, he asked for help, “I know you don’t want to disappoint your grandchildren, so I thought you might have a solution. What do you think?”
Farmer McNab scratched his chin thoughtfully and replied, “Well, Santa, I certainly don’t want any children to miss out on Santa this year so if you can make it as far as Gainesville, I can help you from there. You remember Little Jimmy? Well, he’s now a grownup with children of his own and he can help. He’ll meet you in Gainesville with his Jeep and a special friend and they’ll make sure you complete your rounds.”
Santa was curious and replied, “What kind of special friend?”
Farmer McNab laughed saying, “Well, Santa, that’s your surprise. Just trust me. Call me by cell when you’re nearing town and I’ll direct you to a safe landing place. Ok, Santa?”
“Of course, Farmer McNab,’ he replied. “I know I can count on you.”
That settled it. Santa would fly by reindeer to Gainesville, land as directed, and meet the farmer’s son and special friend who would guide him delivering the presents to the little boys and girls in the wilder, more natural parts of Florida. He looked forward to a different kind of adventure.
About twenty minutes from landing, Farmer McNab gave directions to a nice barn on the north side of the city, owned by his good friend Robert. The reindeer would be tended well and bedded down to rest until Santa finished his rounds.
Jimmy was waiting for Santa with his four wheel drive Jeep and his special friend. As Santa hopped off the sleigh, said goodbye to Rudolph and the others and grabbed his large sack of presents, he was nearly knocked down by a large animal who just wanted a hug and a slurp.
Briefly taken aback, Santa looked shocked and asked, “What in the world is it? Is it a wolf? Is it a bear? Is it a pony?”
Jimmy just looked at Santa and laughed and said, “Say hello to my special friend, Santa. His name is Goliath, and he is a one hundred and forty pound Great Dane. By the way, Santa, you need to wipe off the drool.”
Once Santa wiped the slobber and was over his surprise, he laughed so hard that his tummy shook and shook. And Goliath licked him and wagged his big tail. He took to Santa in an instant.
“He loves red, Santa,” said Jimmy, “and he really likes you. And that means that he will
do whatever necessary to make you happy.”
Out of curiosity, Jimmy had his own question to ask of Santa. This whole thing just seemed impossible.
“Santa, how in the world do you get all of your stops made in one night? I mean, really, it will take us all night just to cover the swamp country.”
Santa winked and said, “Well, Jimmy, I’ve got one little trick that I‘ve been given. But it’s only available one night a year and tonight is the night. Since tonight is Christmas Eve, I can make time stand still.”
Seeing Jimmy’s questioning look he said, “Just wait, you’ll see when our rounds are done.”
Then Santa threw his toy sack in the back of the Jeep, hopped in the front passenger seat, and off they went.
“Where’s Goliath?” he asked.
Jimmy chuckled as he responded, “Look behind you, Santa.”
There sat Goliath right beside the sack of presents, looking through his big, sad and bloodshot eyes as if he would guard them with his life. And he would, if necessary.
As they quickly left the city lights, they turned onto a bumpy dirt road that meandered into heavy woods and swamps. In the thick fog it was eerie with Spanish moss dangling from the large oaks and cypress like spider webs. Santa was glad to be with someone who knew where to go. It never looked like this from the sky on a clear night.
“Ok, Santa,” said Jimmy. “As I find a house deep in these woods, you need to get out the right present. I’ll give you a name, and then you give Goliath the present. He’ll do the rest. First stop is the Callahan family.”
They pulled up to a pathway leading through the woods. Killing the engine, they could hear frogs, owls and insects chirping. The fog drifted by in a cool mist and no other sounds were made. Santa handed the present to Goliath, and he gently held it in his mouth as he headed off into the dark.
Santa worried, “Are you sure he’s ok?”
“Not a problem for Goliath”, chortled Jimmy. “One time a big black bear approached him and getting closer, took one look and headed the other way. Even alligators don’t mess with him. Did you know he can take down a three hundred pound wild boar all by himself? He’ll be back in a moment.”
Sure enough Goliath returned a short time later, panting heavily with his tail wagging as he jumped into the back seat, dirty paws and all. When he shook both Santa and Jimmy got a soaking from swamp water mixed with mud.
The trio covered the first part of their trek easily but then Jimmy stopped suddenly. Santa couldn’t figure out why, but he would soon find out.
“Ok, Santa,” explained Jimmy. “It’s time to change our set of wheels. The Jeep won’t go any farther. The paths aren’t wide enough. Follow me.”
They walked through thick brush and brambles which suddenly opened into a small meadow. In the middle was a storage shed. It looked like a tiny haunted house in the dense fog.
When Jimmy opened the door, Santa was surprised to see an almost new, bright and shiny red four-wheeler. It was perfect.
“I thought you’d like the red one for this occasion,” Jimmy laughed. “And you even have a new version of Rudolph. Goliath can find anything with his nose.”
Santa looked puzzled and asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, Goliath won’t be riding,” Jimmy explained. “He’ll be running in front of us leading the way, checking the path as we go. If we get stuck in a bog or thick swamp, he will pull us out. I told you he is my special friend. There’s no better friend anywhere.”
Santa just couldn’t believe how much darker, wetter and spookier the deep swamp was compared to where they had been before. They could barely see their outstretched hand in front of their faces and eerie bird calls and even the occasional alligator “bark” warned of possible danger at every turn. The fog covered and gnarled trees resembled monsters waiting to grab anyone coming too close.
He asked Jimmy, “Are you sure people live out here?”
“Oh, yes” was Jimmy’s reply. “People have lived out here for over one hundred and fifty years. These folks are tough, deeply religious, know how to live off the land, and they love Christmas. They just don’t like living around big crowds and they live off the land. They hunt, fish, make lures and rigs and guide tourists and sportsmen for their living.”
As they rounded a bend on the trail, suddenly the vehicle was stuck. They were mired in deep mud and the four-wheeler was going nowhere.
Jimmy yelled, “Goliath”, and out of nowhere the trusted Great Dane appeared. He was muddy and wet but happy. This was the kind of place he loved.
Jimmy hitched him to the four-wheeler and Goliath pulled with the strength of an ox. He easily towed the muddy vehicle to dry land again. Jimmy quickly unhitched him and they were once again on their way. And as before, Goliath could be heard panting but couldn’t be seen.
Suddenly off to the left they heard a horrible cry of a frightened animal. Then just as suddenly, the roar of a bear bellowed. Goliath instantaneously was off through the brush.
While Jimmy and Santa saw nothing, they heard the brush and palmettos moving violently and the sound of animals fighting. Jimmy recognized the sounds of Goliath. He knew he was facing off with the bear as they circled one another like two prize fighters itching to find an opening. The roaring reached a maddening pitch as each animal made an attempt to gain the upper hand. There were howls of pain and then quiet. And then, complete silence returned.
Santa was concerned. He asked Jimmy, “Do you think Goliath is ok? Is there anything we can do?”
Jimmy just smirked and said, “I’m sure Goliath is fine. Just wait a few moments and he’ll return.”
True to Jimmy’s word, Goliath returned in a few minutes, no worse for the wear except for some matted blood on his neck. But there was something else. Goliath was softly carrying in his mouth a small but terrified dog. She was a cute little terrier and Goliath saved her life.
Checking him over with a night light, Jimmy found that the blood was not Goliath’s. It was from his opponent. Goliath’s imposing carriage and strength had won the night and Jimmy was proud of him.
Jimmy lovingly hugged and petted Goliath and his new friend and divided a large milk bone biscuit saying, “Good boy, Goliath, you are the best. I don’t know where this little dog came from but you saved her. We’ll take her home to Little Jimmy as a special Christmas surprise.”
Goliath just looked at him with big sad eyes, gave him a sloppy slurp across the face, and continued to wag his tail as if he was saying he was King of the Swamp. By golly, on this night he was.
They made over one hundred and twenty stops that night in the deep swamp. Santa never saw a house, a light or a person but Goliath faithfully delivered the correct package to each one in record time. And as he came back from the last house, Jimmy gave him a special treat. It was a large piece of steak, which Goliath wolfed down in seconds.
Returning the trusted four-wheeler to the storage shed, they jumped in the Jeep for the trip home. It had been a wild but interesting night.
As they reached Gainesville, Jimmy was worried about how much time they had taken. He was expecting to see signs of the early morning sky at any time but they never came. It was still just as dark as when they started.
Arriving back at the farm where the reindeer were resting, Santa couldn’t believe how things looked in the light. They were covered with mud and were quite a sight. Goliath was head to toe slime and muck and the Jeep looked like it was returning from a mug bog.
Jimmy’s friend Robert approached with hot coffee and fresh, homemade sweet rolls. And for Goliath, he brought a bowl of what he called “swamp stew”. Santa was afraid to ask what was in it, but Goliath gobbled it down in seconds.
Santa sat on a picnic bench for a moment to enjoy his coffee and sweet rolls. Jimmy looked astonished. How could Santa sit and relax when he still had the entire world to cover?
Santa read Jimmy’s mind and said, “Remember when I told you about my special gift of stopping time? Take a look at your watch.”
As Jimmy peered at his watch dial he was shocked. They left on their journey at 8:30 that night and it was now 8:35. Time had indeed stood still.
Now Santa jumped up and asked if there was a place to freshen up a little. He didn’t want to continue on his way covered with mud. Robert directed him to a bathroom and offered towels and anything else he needed.
And then another surprise happened. Within fifteen seconds, Santa reemerged. He was clean and spotless. He had entered the rest room empty handed but returned clean and bright with no evidence of his filthy clothes or appearance.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Santa said with a grin. “That’s another special secret that I have for Christmas. It means I don’t have to worry about getting dirty. I do this every time I go down a sooty chimney. Fascinating isn’t it?”
The two men looked at Santa with amazement. Even Goliath looked puzzled. What a night it had been for all.
As Santa hitched his reindeer team and readied them for travel, he winked at Jimmy and Robert and said “So now you know I am the real deal. No one will believe your story except for your dad, Jimmy, and Robert here. So it’s best if you keep it to yourselves. But now you know the truth about old Santa and the Christmas Spirit. Keep it in your heart always.”
And he remembered Goliath as well saying, “I will always remember your wonderful job, Big One. I might call on you again if I need you.”
Goliath barked a hearty response in delight.
With a big “ho, ho, ho” and a “giddy up, go”, Santa and his reindeer, led by Rudolph’s guiding red nose, were off and quickly disappeared into the dark night sky. The last thing Jimmy and Robert heard was a loud “Merry Christmas” and then he was gone.
Suddenly to the east the sky started to lighten. Jimmy looked at his watch and it read 6:30 a.m. Time had caught up. It only stood still while Santa was working.
Jimmy and his dad’s friend Robert were absolutely astounded. Had this really happened or was it a dream? And while they didn’t really know, they suddenly felt tired, as if they had been up all night.
Getting ready to head for home with Goliath, Jimmy went to the rest room to wash up. And there he found it. A note written in longhand on special Santa Claus stationery was sitting by the sink. Beside it was a large bone with a tag for Goliath. What’s more, there was no sign of dirty clothing or a mess from the quick clean up. All doubts vanished. Santa was real and he had been here.
Getting home at sunrise, Jimmy felt more alive than ever. His dad was waiting for him and said, “Jimmy, I know what you’ve been through. Just keep it to yourself. I had the same thing happen to me when you were little. Believe me, no one will believe you. But the important thing is that you know and you believe. Never forget.”
As father and son sat down to breakfast with the rest of the McNab family, the Christmas Spirit was truly alive and had never been stronger. Both men were lucky to have experienced it in a very special way, and they would keep it in their hearts forever.
And for all of you children of all ages reading this, remember that the reason for this wonderful season, the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, also requires us to have faith. Take the birth of this baby boy who grew to be our King for Eternity on faith and believe it with all your heart. You will then find it is indeed the key to all that is real.
I wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas and wishes for the Star of Christmas to shine over you always. Ho, ho, ho.
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark
Reissue for Christmas 2016