The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

The Christmas Invitation

I T HAD been known to the village since the forming of new ice that the ship which they had visited in summer had not left for the far-away country from which it had come, but was now frozen in the ice and would spend the winter in the Far Northland. So there was no surprise when one day there arrived two white men and an Eskimo guide, who had journeyed overland by dog sledge. One of these men was the one who had told Tuktu the story of Christmas. As Kutok's house was the largest and the best house in the village, the visitors were entertained there.


They remained two or three days and when they left to return to their ship, all the village turned out to see them go. They had brought things to trade and in return for deer meat and warm clothing of deerskin had left things which were of equal value to the Eskimos. And they had left the feeling of goodwill, for in all their trading they had taken the greatest care to be fair. When they left they had taken with them a promise that those of the men who could be spared from their duties in watching the deer, together with some of the women and children from the village, would visit the ship at a certain time, which the white men called Christmas. There would be much feasting and merrymaking and strange things to see on the ship.

The white man who had made friends with Tuktu had made Kutok promise that Tuktu should come. And this her father had been the more willing to grant, because he had been given a knife he had long wanted. So it was arranged that unless the weather should be too bad, so there could be no traveling, Kutok, Navaluk, and the two children, and perhaps some others of the village, should pay a Christmas visit to the ship.

Tuktu and Aklak could think of and talk about little else. Aklak saw to it that the sled-deer were in the best possible condition. It would take them at least two days and one sleep. That sleep would be at the herder's hut near Kringle Valley. At least, that is the way that Kutok planned to go. There was a longer way around by way of another village and this would be the way that others from the village would go.

Kutok and Aklak went to work on the sleds. They must be put in the best condition for such a long journey. They would take six, one for each of them and two extra to carry provisions and things for trade. It would not be necessary to have extra drivers, for often one driver handles at least three sleds. He rides on the first one, the deer drawing the second one is attached to the rear of his sled, and to the rear of that sled is attached the third deer. So, it would be a simple matter to look out for the extra sleds on this journey. Kutok was to drive Speedfoot; Tuktu would drive Big Spot; Aklak would drive Little Spot; and Navaluk would drive Whitefoot.

While her father and brother were busy going over the sleds and seeing to it that they were in perfect order, Tuktu and her mother were equally busy. They had promised two pairs of boots and two new suits, for which they had taken the measurements when their visitors were with them, and there would be none too much time to get them ready. As she worked, Tuktu kept thinking of all that she had heard from the white man about Christmas. This would be her first Christmas and she wondered if she would see the wonderful Santa Claus. Then she remembered that he would be on his journey around the great world. Besides, had not she been told that those who peeked never saw him? But, despite this, right down in her heart, she couldn't help hoping that she might get just a glimpse of him. She did want to see if this Santa of the white man was in very truth the Good Spirit whom she had seen in Kringle Valley.

The cold grew stronger. The Northern Lights flashed, and the stars seemed so close that one could almost pick them from the sky. It was a world of white, but the snow was not so deep but that the deer could easily paw down through it and get their food. It was just right for good sledding and as the time for the start approached, Tuktu and Aklak watched anxiously lest a fierce northern blizzard should sweep down and delay their journey.

But the blizzard did not come, and at last they were ready to start. Each wore two suits. The inner one was worn with the fur turned in and the outer one with the fur out. The inner hood was trimmed with wolverine fur, because frost does not cling to this fur. With any other fur, the moisture from the breath would freeze and soon make a ring of ice around the face.

The outer hood was trimmed with wolf-skin, the long hair of which would protect the face from the bitter wind. With their bearskin trousers and their double boots, they had nothing to fear from the cold. So with Kutok leading, with a deer and one of the luggage sleds following, Aklak next with the second extra deer and sled behind him, Navaluk next, and Tuktu at the end, the little procession started for their Christmas outing.