The mantle clock struck midnight. As the last chime died away, a tall, thin man stood in the living room, facing the Guardians. His white hair hung shoulder-length, blending with his white beard.
Welcome, Father Christmas, said First Guardian. We have done our work this Christmas season, and now we stand ready. Judge us true.
The solemn figure nodded. “It is so. You have indeed done your work. You have guarded your people, and defended yourselves.” The guardians glowed. “And yet, there is one thing you missed.”
The guardians’ glowing wings flashed red with alarm. Tell us, Father Christmas, First Guardian prompted. What have we missed?
“The most important part of Christmas: compassion.” The guardians stood mute, their wings glowing red and yellow, waiting for him to continue. “Those men who broke in. They were not any danger to your people, who were off doing the things they do through the day. Perhaps you could have thought of a way to deter them, short of obliteration.”
The guardians hung their heads, as Father Christmas continued. “As for the elf, he meant neither you nor the people any harm. He was part of the celebration as much as are you three. Once he settled in, he may well have ceased his bluster and you could have reached an accommodation. As it was, he died a rather gruesome death.”
We are guilty, said First Guardian, not looking up. We accept your judgement and your punishment.
For the first time, Father Christmas smiled. “What I have in mind is not so much punishment, as education. This Christmas night, I will whisper a word in the ears of the parents. She will leave you here on the mantle, and he will not insist otherwise. In the year ahead, you will observe your people and their guests. You will hear their quarrels, share their joys and sorrows, and be amused at the silly things the children say and do.” His smile widened. “And you will not obliterate anyone who is not threatening your people. Understood?”
The guardians nodded. And we will not sleep the year through? asked First Guardian.
“You will not,” said Father Christmas. “You will watch and learn. Not everything your people do is good, and yet they are good people. You must learn to see them as they are, forgive their transgressions, and rejoice at the good they do. And remember that other people are much the same, even if they do not always act it.” He hefted his sack. “And now, it is time for me to fulfill my own purpose. Watch over your people, and remember that charity and goodwill are not only for Christmas.” He turned and walked down the hallway, to bless the people and whisper his word.
Compassion, said Second Guardian, her Sword of Light dim. It seems a hard lesson.
But one we can learn, First Guardian assured her. If we could not, we would be put away. Or recalled. Let us reflect on what we have heard this night. In the morning, we will hear and share the joy of the children. It is a beginning.