Red Cap Elf Apprentice 3rd Class
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A Family Tradition, A Christmas Mystery
When my sister Susan and I were young, we often chased each other about, we argued and yelled while we tore through the house throwing our toys anywhere we pleased and generally leaving a mess everywhere we went.
My mother, at her wits end, came up with a plan to calm the situation down. One day she called us into the living room.
When we arrived she told us to sit at the table and she announced she had a surprise for us.
"Is grandma coming to visit?" I asked excitedly, I couldn't think of anything I liked more.
Grandmother always brought presents and took us places like the zoo or the movies; she didn't mind how much noise we made or how we ran about leaving our toys lying all over the living room floor.
"No," my mother replied, "this is even bigger."
What, I wondered, somewhat disheartened, could be bigger than our grandma coming to visit?
On the table lay a white envelope half open; my mom pulled a card from inside. On the cover of the card was a wintery landscape with a small house, a wreath hung on the door and a lighted Christmas tree shown though the window.
Santa's sleigh glided across the sky above the house.
'A very Merry Christmas' written in red along the bottom finished the face of the card.
"Somebody sent us a Christmas card?" I asked.
My sister and I stared at the greeting card.
"Who would send us a Christmas card in July?" I asked.
My mother adapted a serious expression; she leaned closer to us, looked around the room as if someone might be listening and whispered, "I think the card came from the North Pole, maybe from Santa Clause himself."
She took a piece of paper from her pocket and continued, "This note was inside with the card." She opened the letter and flattened the paper out beside the Christmas card in front of us on the table.
Mom read the printed message aloud.
"Dear Madam, this is to inform you we are sending a reporting elf to your home. He is an apprentice 3rd class Christmas elf and his name is Red Cap.
His duty is to observe the children in your home and report back to me (Santa Clause) as to their behaviour. Red Cap will arrive at your house on the next shooting star."
At the end it was signed S. Clause.
My mom instructed us to examine the sky after dark and try to find the next shooting star, the one Santa mentioned in his message, so we would know the elf had arrived.
As soon as the shadows of darkness fell over our city we trained our eyes on the blackness of the night sky, searching the countless twinkling of the bright white stars until we could no longer keep our eyes open, after two nights we were rewarded with the sight of a small shooting star.
My sister and I ran to our mother yelling, "He's here, He's here."
"Who is here?" she inquired, looking up from the book she was reading. Laughing and giggling my sister answered, "Santa's elf, Red Cap, we saw a shooting star, he's here."
My mother just nodded and went back to her reading, pretending she wasn't concerned or even interested.
The next day at breakfast she announced, "Yes, you are right, Red Cap did arrive on the shooting star you saw.
I spoke with him last night; he told me Santa Clause is very concerned about you. Red Cap said that you are very close to being put on the naughty list.
He has been reporting on you already."
After breakfast, when we returned to our room, a surprise awaited us.
On my pillow I discovered two sticks tied together with a piece of red yearn. My sister found the same on her pillow.
Confused we took the sticks and showed them to our mother.
"Hmmm," she sighed, "I guess Red Cap was not pleased that you came to breakfast without making your beds or washing your face."
She glanced up and added, "Yes, he is shaking his head and he appears very disappointed."
I peered around the room, but I couldn't see anything unusual, there was no elf in sight.
"Where is he mom?" I said, "I don't see him."
"Well of course you don't see him, how could he report on your actions if you knew when he was watching? Red Cap can only be seen by adults, and at this moment he is perched on the very top of the bookshelf."
My sister stared hard at the bookcase squinting up her eyes for a better chance to see him.
I questioned, "What does he look like mom?"
She said, "Well, I think he is about this tall," she held her hand out at about the level of her knees, "he has pointed ears and a small pointed nose. He is dressed all in green except for his shoes and his hat, they are red." She added, "Oh yes, he also has a very large notebook which he constantly writes in."
After this first encounter Red Cap was always present; occasionally he would leave remainders that he was watching.
Sometimes if we did a nice thing like cleaning up our room and picking up all our toys without being told to, a candy bar would mysteriously appear on our pillows.
Other times when we were mischievous a stick or a rock might appear.
My sister and I often drew pictures of what we thought he must look like and our mother would tape them to the refrigerator door.
We tried to be as good as children can be, always hoping Red Cap would report good things back to Santa.
Red Cap followed us through our childhood years, but as children grow into adults, their lives become complicated, and their needs and concerns change until one day Red Cap faded from memory and joined other forgotten childhood adventures and pastimes.
A tradition buried in the past.
As for myself, I grew older, became an adult, married with three beautiful daughters of my own.
Susan, the oldest was seven, Mary in the middle, just turned six, and barely five Judy was the youngest, each girl named after a different aunt.
These three girls, though precious to me, were impossible to control, always running, yelling, fighting amongst themselves and generally making a mess everywhere they played.
My wife and I had almost given up trying to calm them down.
Then one night I remembered Red Cap, I told my wife the story and suggested maybe our girls needed their own reporting elf.
Red Cap apprentice Christmas elf 3rd class was about to be reborn.
The next day I got up early. I searched through the piles of dust covered old boxes stacked long forgotten in the attic and after a few hours I found what I was looking for.
"Good it's still here." I muttered as I pulled a time worn tattered envelope from the middle of one of the dusty boxes.
After dinner that night, I called the girls into the dining room.
I told them the story about Red Cap, I showed them the same printed letter my mother had shown my sister and I, even more believable now that the page was faded and yellowed with age. Then I informed the girls this would be the time of year for Santa to send out all his reporting elves.
Red Cap could arrive at any time and they should be on the lookout for shooting stars.
As fate would have it, a meteor shower occurred that very evening and the sky was filled with shooting stars.
The three girls were quiet and looked from one to the other trying to decide if it could be true.
Later in the night the girls talked among themselves and decided that while they weren't sure a Christmas elf named Red Cap might, or might not, be on his way to watch them, reporting back everything they did to Santa, it would be better to not take a chance, you know, just in case.
The next morning the girls got up, made their beds, picked up all their toys and put them away neatly, washed their faces, brushed their teeth, dressed, and were sitting quietly at the breakfast table by the time my wife and I came down.
Susan, the oldest made the coffee, Mary, the middle girl made toast, and the youngest, Judy set the table. As we observed the dining room scene we were quite pleased with ourselves, Red Cap the Christmas elf had come through once again.
After breakfast the girls returned to their rooms, we heard them start to squeal with delight. Rushing downstairs amidst giggles and laughter they lined up to show us their rewards.
Each girl received a candy cane tied with a red bow and a silver jingle bell with a note that said, 'Good Job' the note was signed, Red Cap, apprentice Christmas elf, 3rd class.
After the girls left and returned to their rooms talking excitedly about their prizes, I turned to my wife and said. "One question dear, where did you find candy canes at this time of year?"
With a puzzled look she replied, "Me? I thought you did it."
We stared at each other for a while in silent disbelief.
Later that night she and I saw a shooting star, trailing a fiery tail of golden light in a lazy arc across the dark sky.
The sight rekindled new beliefs in old traditions.
I said, "I think this will be a very special Christmas this year."
She replied, "Yes, I think so too, I'm sure this will be one to remember."
To this day both my wife and I each swear we were not the one who put the candy canes on the girl's pillows; I guess we will never know how they got there.
Maybe you only need to believe in the spirit of Christmas, believe in it the way a child does.
In our family, a family tradition became a family mystery.
My advice, if you see a shooting star, be sure to be on your best behaviour, because you never know, especially at Christmas time.
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