It was time to go.
One of the camel-deer was startled and stepped backward, causing the whole line of them to stamp, snort, and threaten to break ranks. Chloe stepped forward to take it by the bridle, hushing and soothing it. Magdalena worked the reins until the rest were quiet, and looked at me.
“Miracles,” the old woman said. “Miracles. Everyone gets one every year. Nobody knows what they will get, or when during the year it’s going to be revealed to them, or even if it will be visible at all. Sometimes, the miracle stays unseen, and unknown… but it happens, even so. No one is ever forgotten.”
She looked at me meaningfully.
“This is a good year for you, I think.”
She waved at Chloe, who was walking up the line of camel-deer, kissing and murmuring good-bye to each of the eight of them. I nodded. I knew what my miracle was. Chloe sensed me looking, and looked back at me happily.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” she asked. “Magical?”
“It is magical,” I murmured. “My heart’s desire.”
“A long, long time ago,” Santo said, “The world was lost, and dark. There wasn’t much happiness, and what little hope was left was running out. People remembered how to fight, but not how to forgive. They looked at what made other people different from them, and the more differences they noticed, the more alone they felt.”
“They hated,” Magdalena murmured, “and the hating made them afraid.”
“They were very afraid,” Santo agreed. “When it was all at its most, most black, something happened… under a Star. It didn’t seem like much. It was only a little newborn baby with a mother and father, huddled together in a place that was far from home.”
“That tiny baby changed everything,” Magdalena murmured. “People around the world had different names for him, and later they told different stories about him, but it was always the same baby. They weren’t alone any more.”
“The mother and father loved that baby to bursting,” Santo said. “The way mothers and fathers often do, and that love made the strange place seem not strange at all. It was just one ordinary, extraordinary baby, the kind that cries and needs to be changed and fed. A magic baby, but magic in the way that all babies are.”
“It’s all the same baby, just different stories,” Chloe whispered. Her eyes shone. “All over the world. It always was... and we’re not alone. We’re not alone.”
We stood there, together. Even though it was snowing, I could see the stars. I wondered if it was some kind of sign. I caught Chloe’s eye, and knew that she was thinking the same thing.
“I am the last of the kings who were there,” Santo said. “The others have gone on. I brought a gift, and I saw it all with my own eyes. I saw the baby, I saw the Star, and I saw the love.”
“Tell them what you brought,” Magdalena suggested, smiling. “Your gift? I still don’t know what you thought a baby would do with myrrh.”
“I did the best I could,” he said. He was clearly uncomfortable. “Last minute gifts are a nightmare. The Star rose with no warning at all… I had to grab something on the way.”
“But myrrh? Honestly?”
“It came in a nice box,” he shrugged.
Magdalena looked at him affectionately. She had clearly enjoyed teasing him about this for centuries.
“The baby changed everything, just like that,” Santa went on. “The very first Christmas present was magic, a miracle… and a promise.”
Above us, the skyline burst with lights that turned the falling snow into a kaleidoscope of blues and greens and reds.
“Now, I keep that promise,” Santo said. “That’s my job, the ‘why’ of me… to keep that promise. I don’t have toys, and I don’t have candy. I don’t have wrapping paper or sugarplums, tinsel or bows… but I give every single person in the world one miracle every year, to remember that first Christmas miracle by… to remember the Star, and know they’re not alone.”
“We all get one Star… everybody,” Chloe whispered, and kissed me. “Just one.”
Santo took my elbow and turned me to look out at the city. It was lights and smoke, everything good and everything wonderful. The whole world was very big and very small, all at the same time.
“Now do you understand?” he asked. “Now do you believe in me?”
( -A Christmas Song for Chloe)
Happy Christmas… wherever you are, and whatever you call it.