top of page

The Santa Who Saved Christmas Creek
By Tim Wintermute

It was early in the morning the day before Christmas and Ezra, as usual, was sitting at his desk in the pastor’s study of the Prairie Star Community Church. What wasn’t usual was what he was doing, which was nothing. Usually, he would be putting the finishing touches on the Christmas Eve service, but this year his pastoral intern, Eliza Hopewell, was in charge.  Eliza was in her early twenties, fresh out of seminary and filled with energy and ideas. She had planned a service that would include carol singing, dramatic readings and even something called sacred dance.  There would be a role for everyone in the small congregation … except Ezra. Rather than behind the pulpit leading the service he would be sitting in a pew and watching. Instead of being happy at the prospect of his first Christmas Eve off in fifty years, he was overcome with the feeling that having nothing to do also meant he had nothing to contribute. 


Suddenly, the phone on his desk rang. He picked it up, wondering who would be calling that early, especially on the day before Christmas. It was Kate Phillips, the pastor of the Church in Christmas Creek, a former mining town high in the mountains near Spanish Peaks. She had taken the position less than a year ago after graduating from seminary. This was her second career after being a dentist for twenty years. When she and Ezra met for the first time after she’d become the new Pastor at Christmas Creek, he’d joked that there was a difference between saving teeth and saving souls. She had replied without skipping a beat that Ezra was right – you couldn’t use an anesthetic. Since then, they had become good friends. 


Dispensing with the usual greeting, Kate blurted out, “I need your help, Ezra.”


“Why sure, Kate, I’d be glad to help any way I can,” Ezra replied.


There was a sigh of relief. “I knew I could count on you.”


“I’ll explain everything when you get here. Thank you for being such a true friend.”


Before Ezra could ask Kate why she needed his help, she hung up. It didn’t matter, he told himself, as long as he could make some contribution on Christmas Eve, even if it was nothing more than reading some bible verses and leading a prayer. He called Eliza on her cellphone and quickly told her that he would not be at the Christmas Eve service as a colleague had just called with an urgent request for his assistance. After hanging up, Ezra rose from his chair, tossed the crossword puzzle he’d been working on into the trash can and took his winter coat from the hanger behind the door.  He was closing the study door behind him when he suddenly found himself face to face with his old friend Iker “Ike” Elizondo.


“I was thinking that since you don’t have anything to do, we might have a cup of coffee at that new place in town, the Grateful Grind.” Ike said. 


“Sorry, Ike, but I have to drive to Christmas Creek to help a colleague in distress,” Ezra answered in a tone that he realized bordered on the boastful.


“Christmas Creek? Why, that’s an old mining town up in the mountains near Spanish Peaks. Well, if you’re going to help out this colleague of yours, this old friend is going to help by driving you there.”


“But I can drive myself,” Ezra protested.


“That old junker you call a car might be okay around here, but you’ll get yourself stuck in the snow on the mountain roads up there. I’ll drive you in my four wheel drive pick-up and I’ll throw some chains in the back just in case.”


“But you’ll miss Midnight Mass at Saint Drogos.” Ike was a Catholic and always went to Midnight Mass at St. Drogos in the nearby town of Picketwire after attending his friend, Ezra’s, Christmas Eve service.


“I’d rather miss Midnight Mass than have you go missing because you’re buried in the snow on some mountain road. Besides, I’ve never missed a Christmas Eve service with you as long as we’ve been friends. I’ll be back in a jiffy after I get some things,” Ike said as he walked toward the door. “It’ll be cold up there so we should both wear some thermal underwear, boots and parkas.”   



After quickly traversing ninety miles across the prairie with Ike at the wheel, slowing slightly as they climbed over La Veta Pass, they turned onto a winding mountain road that accumulated snow as it gained altitude. A hundred and twenty miles and almost five thousand feet in elevation later they reached an alpine valley surrounded by high, snow packed mountains with the twin Spanish Peaks being the most prominent. Christmas Creek was at the base of one of the mountains. Several dark lines etched in the white snow ran from the town up the mountain slope.  As they got nearer they could see that they were ski lifts. Although the town’s buildings were mostly wood rather than stone and the roofs metal, not thatched straw, with a covering of fresh snow and smoke rising from the chimneys it looked more like an old English village instead of an old mining town. They couldn’t miss the church with its steeple rising from the center of the town. 


 “You said you’d explain why you need me to help you?”  Ezra asked Kate as they sat in the cozy parlor of the manse next to the church. Their chairs were next to a fire burning in the hearth and there were mugs of hot cider in their hands.  


“You might already know that Christmas Creek was named by a prospector named Sam Knoll,” Kate began. “He discovered gold here on Christmas Day more than a century ago.  He started the Christmas Creek Mining Company and built this town next to the mine to provide housing for his workers.”


“Didn’t he bequeath the town to its residents in his will?” Ezra asked.


Kate nodded. “He called it a Christmas present in his will. What you probably don’t know is that there was a condition that had to be met in perpetuity or the land would revert back to the mining company or its successor.”


“I didn’t know they still mine gold here,” Ike said. He’d done a little prospecting for gold in his youth but soon decided that if he was going to spend hours wading in an ice cold mountain stream it was more fun to do it with a fly rod than a metal pan.


“They stopped mining years ago, but the company never went out of business, and they built the ski resort on the land they owned.


“What’s the condition in his will?” Ezra asked.


Kate gave a hearty laugh that shook her petite frame. “I really shouldn’t laugh but it is sort of funny or maybe jolly is a better word this time of year.  You see, the condition is that Santa Claus has to appear in town in a sleigh every Christmas Eve. The town has a sleigh for just that purpose.”


“You shouldn’t have any problem meeting that condition,” Ike said.  “Anyone can play Santa with the help of a fake white beard, a red suit and some pillows if they’re too skinny.”


Kate nodded; as she sipped her cider, her laughing face was replaced with a frown. “I’m tempted to put something stronger in this cider than apples.  You see there is another part to the condition that requires a direct descendant of Sam Knoll to play the role of Santa Claus. I suppose it was a way to keep the spirit of Christmas going with his offspring.  In years past this wasn’t a problem because there was always a member of the Knoll family who could play Santa … until now.”


“What happened?”


“In March, shortly after I became Pastor here, the Knolls sold the ski resort. After the death of Sam Knoll’s grandson, who had been the CEO, none of the other Knoll kids wanted to take his place.  They’d all moved away and didn’t have the same ties to the company or the town, so they decided to sell it. The Town tried to buy it, but the family wanted to sell to the highest bidder and that turned out to be a company called Lux Mountain.  As their name implies, they operate exclusive, upscale resorts and their plan for Christmas Creek is to make it into another Aspen or Vail. Yesterday we found out that as part of the purchase there was an additional agreement by members of the Knoll family that none of them would play Santa this year. That way Lux Mountain can claim that the terms of the gift haven’t been met and the land has reverted to them. From what we’ve heard they plan to replace the existing buildings and homes with a fantasy Bavarian village with gingerbread chalets.”


“What about the church?” Ezra asked.


“It will be converted into a restaurant and event center.”


“Does this mean that everyone who lives here will have to leave?” Ike asked.


Kate nodded her head. “Christmas Creek might be a small town, but It’s still home for a lot of people.  Many of them are descendants of the original miners who worked for Sam Knoll.”


“There has to be some way to stop this,” said Ezra, who was now sitting at the edge of his chair.


A slight smile played across Kate’s lips, “It so happens that one of Sam Knoll’s great grandsons, Nick Knoll, lives here and his name wasn’t on the list of family members who signed the agreement not to play Santa Claus.”


Ezra sat back in his chair and sighed with relief, “Then you don’t have a problem.”


Kate took another sip of cider and said, “Unfortunately we do. You see, he’s been living like a hermit up on the mountain since he came back to town several years ago.  He’s prospecting on a claim that Sam Knoll staked out.  He was able to take over the claim before the sale of the property to Lux Mountain and supposedly as long as he can prove he’s mining it they can’t evict him.  From what we understand he doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the family, which would explain why his signature is missing from the agreement not to play Santa this year.  He also avoids the town and only a few townspeople have run into him since he came back. When I say run in, I mean they came across him while hiking on the mountain and he made it clear that he wanted to be left alone. He gets his supplies by sending a note to Christmas Creek’s general store down on one of the ski lifts and then they send the supplies up the same way.”


“Someone has to persuade him.”


“I hope you will.”


“Me? Why not you?”


“I have to lead the service tonight, although if Nick doesn’t show up as Santa it’s going to be more of a candle lit funeral service for the town than a Christmas Eve service.”


“Why did he decide to be a hermit?” Ike asked.


“The story is that when he was growing up here he was always in trouble. He barely graduated from high school and left town right afterwards, telling everyone they’d seen the last of him. Then he reappeared three years ago, but only to exile himself in a cabin on the mountain.”


“I can see he wants to be left alone,” Ezra said.  “But there must be someone who lives here who he’d be more likely to listen to than some stranger from out of town like me?”


“Everyone here is absolutely convinced that Nick won’t listen to anyone from town.  They asked me if I knew someone.  That’s when I thought of you, Ezra.”


“Why me?”


“He won’t suspect you of having an ulterior motive since you don’t have any connection to the town, Lux Mountain or the rest of his family, and because you’re a minister he might trust you.  Also,” Kate paused. “You were the first person I thought of calling and you agreed to come without even asking me why I needed you.”


Ezra was tempted to say that it was because she hung up before the question got out of his mouth. Instead, he stammered, “But there’s hardly any time since Christmas Eve is tonight.”


Kate looked at her wristwatch and said, “In fact the service starts at six, right after it gets dark and its almost three now, so you need to start right away.”


“How do I even get to Nick’s cabin?” Ezra said.  “I’m not a mountain climber.”


“You can take one of the ski lifts up the mountain and from there follow a trail to his cabin. I can go up the lift with you and show you the trailhead.  The trail to his cabin should be a pretty easy hike from there.”


“I’m going with you,” Ike said to Ezra. “I don’t want you to get lost in the snow or buried by an avalanche … at least, by yourself.”


“I should tell you that there’s always the possibility of a sudden snow storm, especially at the higher elevations,” Kate said.




At the lift station all of them sat on a ski chair that could seat three with Ezra in the middle.  Kate and Ike pulled a safety bar down across their laps and with a jerk they began ascending the mountain, suspended by what Ezra thought was an awfully thin cable. As the wind buffeted the chair, his mittened hands tightened their grip on the bar and he looked down through his dangling feet at the snowy slope that seemed to get farther and farther away.


 “Someone could make a heck of a snow angel if they fell from here,” Ike chuckled, poking Ezra in the rib with his elbow.


“If that happened they’d be seeing real angels,” Kate replied. 


“What’s that below us in the snow?” Ike asked pointing his right mitten at a ditch in the snow beneath them that curved back and forth down the slope.


“That’s the old bobsled run that starts near the top of the lift and ends in town. It was closed down years ago as being unsafe.”


“I’ve always wanted to try bobsledding.”


“You wouldn’t catch me dead in one of those things,” Ezra replied, then closed his eyes and prayed until Kate shouted in his ear that he had to get off the lift now or he’d be taking a round trip back down the mountain. He opened his eyes as the bar lifted and stumbled off, planting both of his knees in the snow. At least it was a soft landing, he mumbled, as Kate and Ike helped him to his feet. Kate showed them the trail head and said she had to get back to finish preparing for the Christmas Eve service. Before Kate got on a chair heading down, she handed Ezra a red cap, with a fluffy ball on top. “If you can persuade Nick to play the part, there may not be time for him to put on a Santa suit but at least he can wear the hat.” 



Ezra was almost gasping in the thin air when they spotted Nick’s log cabin with smoke curling from its chimney. It was set on a flat piece of land that had been carved out of the mountainside. As they approached, the door opened and a man with a bushy white beard and wearing a pair of heavy wool pants with red suspenders over white long johns stood in the doorway. “Well, he sure looks like Santa Claus,” Ike whispered. “Although he’s on the skinny side and will need a pillow or two.”


Ezra, who was bent over with both hands on his knees, struggling to catch his breath. didn’t answer.


“Your friend looks like he’s on his last breath,” Nick said to Ike.


“Ezra isn’t used to this altitude,” Ike replied. “Do you mind if we take a break so he can catch his breath?”


“Come on in,” Nick said, standing aside the doorway so they could enter.


Inside, the cabin was a single room with a ladder leading to a loft.  The space was cozy, lit by a kerosene lamp and a roaring fire inside a stone hearth.  In front of the fireplace was a rocking chair. In the other half of the room there was a wooden table with two chairs and a pot bellied stove with a coffee pot on it.  On the far wall were several open shelves filled with cans and boxes and a sack of flour. Some copper pots and pans hung from the rafters overhead. Ezra collapsed onto one of the chairs next to the table.


Nick moved the two chairs over to the fire, then poured some coffee from the pot into mugs and handed them to Ike, Ezra having collapsed onto one of the chairs, being in no condition to hold his.  Nick settled into the rocking chair, took a pipe out from one of the pockets of his bib overalls and filled it with tobacco from a pouch he’d extracted from another pocket. He lit it and puffed silently.


Finally, Ezra regained his breath and took the mug of coffee from Ike.  After a sip he broke the silence by thanking Nick for his hospitality.


Nick chuckled. “I don’t get many opportunities to practice being hospitable, which is fine and dandy with me. If I wanted visitors I wouldn’t be living up here.  Speaking of visitors, am I supposed to believe that you two were just taking a stroll in the winter at ten thousand feet and got lost?”


“We’re not lost if you’re Nick Knoll,” Ezra said.


“Yeah, I’m Nick so that means you’re not lost, so who are you and why did you come all this way to see me?” He asked, jabbing the stem of his pipe at them for emphasis.


Ezra calmly explained who he and Ike were and why they were there. As Ezra talked Nick silently puffed on his pipe. When they were done, he said, “What you’re telling me is that all the folks in Christmas Creek will have to move out because this company that bought the resort made it a condition that no one in my family can play Santa Claus, and everyone in my family agreed.  Everyone, except me.”


“It seems they forgot about you,” Ezra said.


“Maybe they thought you were dead,” Ike said.


Nick chuckled again, “Well, as you can see I’m not dead. Although I’m a nobody that wouldn’t be missed by anybody, including my family.”


“You’re sure missed by the people in town,” Ezra said.


“You mean Santa Claus will be missed, not me,” Nick relit his pipe and puffed. “When I came up here I swore that I was done with trying to be someone I’m not and accept that I’m a nobody. I’ve failed at everything I’ve tried - romance, friends, jobs, you name it and I’ve screwed it up. I’ll spare you the details since even my failures aren’t worth talking about. That’s why I decided to live up here by myself, so I won’t let anyone down, including and most especially, myself.  Even the ‘Grinch that stole Christmas’ would be a better Santa Claus than me.”


“All you have to do is wear a Santa suit and sit in a sled,” Ezra said.


“What could be easier,” Ike added.


“Easy for anyone but me. I’d still find a way to screw it up, so the answer is no, which happens to be the middle two letters of that white stuff that’s coming down outside.”


Ezra and Ike looked at one of the two windows and could see the snow was falling harder. “If that’s your answer, then Ike and I better head back to the ski lift so we can get down the mountain before we’re snowed in.”


“It’s already too bad,” Nick replied.  “When it’s snowing like this and with the gusty winds they’ll have already shut down the lifts.”


“Is there a trail we can hike down on?” Ike asked.


“There’s a trail, but it’s pretty difficult to follow even when it’s not covered with snow. I’m afraid you’re stuck up here … with me.”


“But I have to be back for the service tonight,” Ezra said.


“What’s the point if Santa Claus isn’t going to be there?”


“It’s still Christmas Eve and there’ll be a service even if it’s the last one, and I promised my friend, who’s the Pastor, I’d be there. I have to at least try.”


“Not having any friends, I wouldn’t know about making those kinds of promises,” Nick said, shaking his head. 


“What about the bobsled run? We saw it when we were coming up on the lift.” Ike asked.


“There’s a reason it’s been closed for years.”


“I don’t think anyone is going to stop us from using it,” Ike said. “Are there any bobsleds up here?” 


“They keep the old bobsleds in a shed near the top of the ski lift.” 


“I’ve never bobsledded before, have you?” Ezra asked Ike, with alarm. 


“Nope, but it’s just a sled, Ezra.”


Nick snorted, “A sled going ninety miles an hour in a chute with corkscrew curves.”


“You want me to go down the mountain on a bobsled?” Ezra said with alarm.


“I know you said you wouldn’t be caught dead in one, but it’s the only way down, Ezra,” Ike replied. 


“And since it’s shaped like a coffin you’ll be all set for being buried in the snow,” Nick said.




“Have you ever bobsledded?” Ike asked Nick.


Nick answered like he’d just been insulted, “I used to do it all the time when I was a kid on that very bobsled run.  It was the only thing I was good at, although nobody wanted to ride with me because it scared the heck out of them.”


“Then you can steer the bobsled as we go down.” 


Nick shook his head, “I haven’t done it for years, so I’d just screw it up.”


“Would you do it by yourself if you had to?” Ezra asked.


“Sure, but I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else.”


“Is that better than being responsible for us trying to do it without you?” Ezra said, and added, “I trust you to get us down alive, Nick.”


“Me, too,” Ike said.  “And it should be a heck of a ride.”


Nick didn’t answer, he just jammed the pipe between his lips, got out of the rocker, pulled his ski jacket from a peg on the wall and said, “Let’s get going or we’ll be late for our funeral.” 



Twenty minutes later after battling their way through the snow and wind, they got to the bobsled shed. It took the efforts of all of them to drag a sled out and push it across the snow to a barricade where there was a large sign reading, “Bobsled Run permanently closed due to unsafe conditions.” After shoving the barricade to the side, they slid the bobsled onto a relatively flat section before the descent into the run down the mountain. “This is where we start,” Nick said. “This flat stretch is here so we can push the sled and then jump in once it’s moving. We need just enough speed to get to the beginning of the run. I’ll be in the front using ropes to steer.  It’s not exactly power steering, but it’s better than nothing, although not much better.” Nick then pointed at Ike, “You’ll be in the rear handling the brake, which is that lever.”


“How will I know when to brake?” Ike asked.


“You’ll know, because the brake is only used to stop the sled at the end of the run when we may be going over ninety miles an hour. Of course, if we don’t make it to the bottom, it won’t matter.”


“What’s my role?” Ezra asked.


“You just kneel down in the middle and do nothing. You’re ballast to help keep the sled or you or both from flying out into white yonder on the way down. You two grab the handles on either side and push.  As soon as we pick up enough speed to get us into the start of the run, I’ll jump in, and you hop in.  Then kneel down like you’re praying.”


“I won’t be ‘like praying’, I will be praying,” Ezra said.


“How will we see anything if we’re bent over?”  Ike asked.


“The only person who needs to see anything more than the backside of the person in front of them is me and there’s nobody in front of me, anyway. That’s why I’ve got these.” Nick pulled some goggles out of a pocket of the orange ski jacket he wore.  He took off the wool cap with a visor and earflaps he was wearing, fastened the goggles over his eyes and put the cap back on.  “Too bad I didn’t bring my ski hat, because I’m not sure this thing will stay on and my ears will get frozen off and I’d rather not be buried without them.”  He pinched the visor with his right mitten and yelled “Let’s go!”.  Over the roar of the wind and pelted with snow they began pushing.” 


As the bobsled quickly picked up speed. Nick jumped into the front and Ike hopped into the back, but Ezra kept running, afraid to let go of the bobsled’s handle as if he was frozen in fear. “It may be called a run but you can’t go down it on your feet, Ezra,” Ike shouted. “Take my hand and I’ll pull you on board.” 


It took an act of faith for Ezra to let go of his right hand and grab Ike’s. With Ike pulling, Ezra was able to climb on board just as the bobsled dove into the run down the mountain.  Ezra and Ike both knelt into tuck positions. As Ezra prayed, Ike started hooting and hollering as if he was riding a bucking bronco like he had when he was growing up on his family’s ranch.


“Dang,” Nick swore. “My cap blew off.”


“I’ve got one,” Ezra yelled, then reached into one of the pockets of his parka and pulled out the hat Kate had given him. Keeping his head down he reached up with both hands and jammed the hat over Nick’s head.  


“Thanks,” Nick shouted.


For what seemed like hours instead of minutes, they were tossed back and forth inside the bobsled as it careened down the mountain. At one point Ezra was sure they had flipped completely.  Suddenly, the bobsled leveled off and they were in a straightaway. “Pull the brake,” Nick yelled over his shoulder.


“Roger that, or whatever the heck you say,” Ike shouted and yanked on the lever. Despite his efforts the bobsled barely slowed. “I’m pulling as hard as I can, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything.”


“Hold on,” Nick said. “Because I’ll have to steer us around the barricade at the end of the run.”


“Then what?” Ezra said.


“Then we’ll be taking a tour through the streets of Christmas Creek until this thing stops.”


With that Nick yanked hard on the ropes and the bobsled veered sharply to the right and they just missed the barricade to the left. Nick continued to pull the ropes as he steered them through the snow covered streets. Ezra stayed tucked in his kneeling position, not daring to look out. 


“Look up, Ezra,” Ike shouted. “You’ve got to see this.”


Ezra lifted his head off his knees and peered out.  They were gliding down Noel Way, Christmas Creek’s main street. All of the Christmas decorations were lit and glowing in the darkness, and with snowflakes swirling about it was like being inside a snow globe. Both sides of the street were lined with people waving, jumping up and down and cheering. 


When they glided to a stop it was in front of the Church. At the top of the front steps Kate stood in her minister’s gown framed by the blazing lights from inside the sanctuary.  Now that is a snow angel, Ezra said to himself.


“Looks like we made it in time for the Christmas Eve service,” Ike laughed, steadying Ezra who was wobbling as he stood up in the bobsled. 


“It’s Santa Claus in his sleigh,” children shouted as they surrounded the sled.


Nick stood up, pulled his goggles down around his neck and looked back at Ezra and Ike in bewilderment. “They seem to think I’m Santa Claus.”


“That’s because you look like Santa with your white beard, and you could call this bobsled a sleigh, even though there aren’t any reindeer,” Ike yelled.


“And the hat I put on your head when you lost your cap might have something to do with it as well,” Ezra said.


Nick pulled off the red hat with the white, fluffy ball at the top and looked at it. “Well, I’ll be …”


“Santa Claus,” Ezra said, grinning with joy.


Instead of a smile, Nick scowled, “If they think that, then they’ll be pretty disappointed, because I don’t have any presents to give them.”


“No, they won’t, Nick, because you are their present. You’re the Santa who saved Christmas Creek.” 


bottom of page