I originally posted this story last year, but I thought it might add to the holiday enjoyment of some of my new readers this year, so I’m posting it again. Arnold may be a youngster, but what he learns about life is important enough to pay attention to even after we’re way up in years.
Happy Holiday Reading!
And they say that everyone who lives there spends their time making toys and games and yummy treats to give away to all the boys and girls who live on planet Earth.
The reason is that the city is the home of a jolly, round, kind man named St. Nicholas – and he’s known as the giver of gifts. Some children in different countries call him by other names: Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, and Santa Claus, to name a few.
As the story goes, St. Nicholas plans his whole year around one particular night – Christmas Eve – when he loads up a huge sleigh with all the wonderful gifts his helpers have made and flies through the night to deliver them to homes all over the planet Earth.
He has twelve reindeer who pull his sleigh for him, and when they are on the ground, they look just like any other reindeer. But as soon as he’s ready to take flight, St. Nicholas calls out to his team, “Let’s fly!” and they all leap into the air. The leader of the team is a reindeer named Rudolph, and he has a bright red nose that helps light the way when it’s foggy.
Rudolph has become very famous. There’s even a song about him, and people all over the world sing it. But a lot of people don’t know that he has a younger brother named Arnold. That’s right. And the story in this book is about Arnold and his antlers.
When Arnold was born, his parents were so excited, and so was his older brother. Rudolph had been an only child for many, many years, and even though he had a lot of friends among the other reindeer who lived at the North Pole, he didn’t have anyone that he felt was his very own.
So as soon as Arnold was old enough, Rudolph took him along everywhere he went and taught him all about the city where the toys were made. He also taught him about the North Pole, the great forest that hid the city from sight, and the icy cold river that ran through the forest and all the way down to the places where the weather was warm all year.
Rudolph and Arnold ran and played with the other young reindeer in St. Nick’s herd, and they were very happy. One of Arnold’s favorite things to do was to sit and listen to Rudolph tell how he had became the leader of St. Nicholas’ team. Arnold was proud of his big brother, and he got so excited when Rudolph told him stories about flying through the air delivering all the toys.
And St. Nicholas was always looking over the herd, checking to see who might be a good addition to the team. He liked to have young deer in training at all times. If some of his team caught a cold and couldn’t fly on Christmas Eve – or if his older deer became tired and needed to switch to doing easier jobs – he could get a substitute instantly and never be without enough reindeer who were in perfect shape to pull his very heavy sleigh. Every year, he chose two young deer to go into the training program.
When Arnold was about a year old, St. Nicholas came to look him over thoroughly and talk to the family about his following in his brother’s footsteps. The whole family was excited. They just knew that since Rudolph was St. Nicholas’ most important deer, his younger brother would surely be the first one chosen that year to go into training.
“What a fine specimen you are, Little Arnold,” St. Nick said, as he lifted Arnold’s head and smiled at him. Continuing his examination, St. Nick checked out Arnold’s back and hips and legs. He lifted each leg to examine Arnold’s hooves. And when he was done with that, he came back to Arnold’s head and began to look over his antlers.
Now, regular deer grow antlers and then shed them and grow new ones the following year. But the reindeer at the North Pole do not shed their antlers. They keep the same antlers all their lives. St. Nicholas looked carefully at Arnold and said, “Hmmm, these are quite large already, aren’t they?”
“Yes sir,” said Arnold proudly. He felt that growing large antlers must be a good thing.
“Hmmmm …” was all that St. Nick said before he patted Arnold’s head kindly and turned toward his parents. Mom and Dad had noticed that St. Nick did not seem all that happy about Arnold’s antlers. They looked at him hopefully.
St. Nick sighed gently. “Well,” he said, “we’ll let Arnold start training and see what happens. He may grow into those antlers yet.” And with that, he took his leave of the family, but he asked Rudolph to walk with him.
As they walked, St. Nick looked at Rudolph and said, “Well, Rudy, you know what the problem might be.”
Rudolph’s heart beat fast. He was feeling afraid. He knew that his little brother wanted to fly with St. Nick on Christmas Eve more than anything in the world. And Rudolph had looked forward all year to helping train his brother so that they could work together. He finally managed to get words out. “You … you think his antlers are going to be too big to fly, don’t you sir?”
St. Nick looked kindly at his favorite deer. “Yes, Rudolph, I fear that Arnold is one of those special deer who grows such a huge set of antlers that they make him too top-heavy to fly.”
“But, sir … but you said yourself that he might grow into them!” Ruldoph’s voice shook just a little as he talked, and St. Nick reached out his hand to stroke his back and comfort him.
“Yes, I said that he might grow into them, but, you know as well as I do by now that it rarely ever happens that way. I just could not disappoint him today. So … we will put him into the training program and see how things go.”
And so it was that Arnold began his training. There were so many things to learn. Pulling the sleigh wasn’t just about leaping into the air and taking off.
Each deer had to learn how to balance his body once he was airborne. And he had to learn how to turn left and right even when the wind was blowing the opposite direction. And, most of all, he had to learn to pull with all the other deer, so that they all worked together as one. It wouldn’t do for some of them to be pulling one way and the rest pulling a different way – or for some to be pulling all the time, and the rest not to be pulling much at all.
Arnold loved his training, and when the day came for him to actually lift off the ground, he was so excited he could not sleep the night before. On that day, at Rudolph’s command, Arnold threw himself into the air, all four of his legs moving at the same speed, just the way he’d been taught. He felt the wind brush past him, and his lungs sucked in the delicious air.
He was bursting with pride and excitement as he began his turn to the left, but suddenly, he felt thrown off-balance. He could not complete his turn, and he began to roll through the air, headed for the ground. He landed with a thud, but, thankfully, since he hadn’t been flying very high yet, he wasn’t hurt badly.
Rudolph hurried to his side. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. I just sort of lost my balance and started rolling to the left.” He had scrambled to his feet by then, so he shook himself to get the twigs and dust off his coat and said. “But I’ll give it another try.”
“Okay, if you want to, but be careful, you hear?” his brother said.
“Oh, I will. And besides, what’s a little fall. I’m sure other reindeer have fallen plenty of times when they were learning.”
By this time, he was a year and a half old, and his antlers had kept growing and growing and growing. They hadn’t bothered him because he just figured he would do as St. Nick had said and grow big enough to fit them. But now he found himself worrying that it was his antlers that were his problem.
Two days later, when St. Nicholas sent for him and his parents to come to his office, Arnold felt very afraid of what was going to take place. St. Nicholas was very kind when he talked with them, but that didn’t make what he had to say any easier to hear.
“I’m always sorry when one of my deer has to be disqualified from flying with my sleigh,” he said. “It’s happened only half a dozen times in all these hundreds of years, but it’s always sad for me. This time,” he added as he looked over at Rudolph, “I’m especially sorry because I know that Arnold’s flying with the sleigh means so much to his brother as well as to Arnold himself.”
St. Nick got up from his chair and walked over to Arnold. He put his arm around the deer and rubbed his nose gently. “I’m sorry, Arnold, but I have something for you.” St. Nick picked up a holly wreath from a stack of them on his desk. “As you know, only my sleigh reindeer wear these wreaths around their necks, but I’m giving you one and making you an honorary member of the team because you’ve worked so hard”.
St. Nick placed the small wreath around Arnold’s neck and said, “And I promise you that you can have any other job you want here at the Pole. You just think about it and let me know what you’d like to do.”
The family returned to their apartment in the stables, and for days, Arnold just lay on the hay and would not even eat. “But, dear,” his mother said, “you must eat to keep up your strength.”
“Strength for what?” he cried. “If I can’t fly, then I don’t need strength to pull the sleigh, and there’s no other job that I want to do.” His mother didn’t argue because she knew that when a young deer decides to feel sorry for himself instead of making the best of things in his life, there is no taking him out of his self-pity. She would just have to let him figure it out for himself.
“I wish I’d never grown antlers!” Arnold shouted. “Why couldn’t I have been born a girl! Girls don’t have antlers. That would be better than this.”
Rudolph just shook his head. What nonsense, he thought. Who would want to be a girl reindeer? They didn’t have nearly the fun the boys had. Oh, he had heard St. Nick talking about how he thought it was time to start including girl reindeer on his team for the sleigh, but Rudolph doubted it would ever happen. (Now, that’s where he was wrong, because, although he hadn’t told Rudolph yet, St. Nick planned to put two girls into the training program the following year.)
But Rudolph tried once more to talk his brother out of leaving. “You know Mom and Dad will worry about you,” he pleaded.
“No, they won’t. They’ve taught me well, and they know I can take care of myself.”
“But what will you do?”
“I don’t know, but there’s nothing I want to do here,” Arnold answered and turned to walk away.
“Well, will you at least stay in touch with us?” his brother asked.
Arnold turned to look at him. “Maybe,” was all he said, and headed into the forest.
Arnold walked through the quiet forest for hours, once in a while stopping to nibble on a few berries or sniff at an unusual scent that came his way. For several hours, the only sounds were the normal sounds from the other forest animals, and he was so used to them that he didn’t even pay any attention. But all of a sudden, he heard a terrible squawking coming from an area of forest up ahead of him, and he hurried his steps to see what it was all about.
He followed the sounds to a huge Spruce tree where one of his favorite Redbird friends had her home. But something strange was happening today. Several men in hard hats were surrounding the tree, examining it. Off to the side sat a huge truck with a long flat trailer on the back. Suddenly, one of the men pulled a handle on the machine he held in his hands, and the machine started groaning loudly enough to hear it on the other side of the forest. Arnold learned later that the machine was called a chainsaw, but knowing what it was didn’t make it sound any less scary.
At that moment, Arnold’s Redbird friend swooped down toward the man, screeching and acting as though she would attack him. A couple of her friends did the same. One of the other men picked up a large stick and started swinging at the birds.
Arnold couldn’t believe his eyes. He hurried over to the scene and called out to his friend. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “Can I help?”
“Oh, Arnold,” the Redbird cried, flying over to him, “I don’t know what to do! These men are going to cut down my tree. But my nest is there, and my little babies are just about to hatch. I can’t let them cut down my home and kill my babies. But I can’t get them moved to a safe place without building another nest, and that will take too long. What can I do? What can I do?”
The chainsaw had stopped for a minute, while the men talked together, but now it started up again. Arnold thought quickly. “I know!” he said. “I will come and lift your nest onto my antlers and carry it away safely.”
“But my nest is very high in the tree. Can you reach that high?”
“Oh, that’s no problem,” Arnold said. “My antlers are much bigger than an ordinary deer, so I will have no trouble reaching your nest and lifting it to safety.”
“That’s very kind of you, and it would get my babies out of the tree, but where can I put them? It will take me at least three days to build a new nest anywhere – and that’s if I can find the materials. Wild animals will find my babies and eat them before I can get it done.”
“No they won’t. I will keep the nest in my antlers until you build another nest. You can sit on your eggs in your nest, and when your babies are hatched, you can feed them and take care of them just the way you always do. I have nothing else to do these days, and I will enjoy being useful.
“Oh my, what a great friend you are. How can I ever thank you?”
“There’s no need. In fact, I am the one who’s grateful. I’ve been feeling rather useless lately. You see, we discovered that my antlers are way too big for me to be able to fly with St. Nick’s sleigh. They put me out of balance, and I keep heading toward the ground.” He hung his head low, and one little tear ran down his nose and dropped to the ground. “I’ve been awfully sad about it.”
“I’m very sorry, my friend,” said Redbird. “But I’m so grateful for your extra big antlers today.”
Arnold lifted his head and looked toward the big Spruce tree. “Let’s get your babies to safety,” he said and started toward the back side of the tree where he knew the nest rested. He pushed his way gently between the lower branches, stretched his neck up, and lifted the nest onto his antlers very carefully. “Now, you make sure it’s settled,” he told Redbird, and when she was satisfied her nest was lodged snugly into the antlers, she flew ahead of Arnold into a quieter, safer part of the forest.
Arnold was having fun with the babies hopping around in their nest and chirping loudly, wanting to be fed. He enjoyed their company, and he almost forgot about his problem with his antlers. Finally the day came when the mama Redbird was able to move her babies to the new nest.
“Arnold, my friend,” she said. “You have saved my babies lives. If there is anything I can ever do for you in return, please, please let me know.”
“It was my pleasure, Redbird. I’m so glad they are safe.” He sighed deeply. “I guess I need to be on my way,” he said, the sadness back in his voice.
“I know you’re very unhappy because you can’t pull St. Nicholas’ sleigh, but I wonder if the Creator who made all of us didn’t work it out for you to have extra large antlers because you can use them to help other animals and even people sometimes. You need to think about that, Arnold.”
“I guess,” he answered, but he didn’t really believe it. He just didn’t want to hurt Redbird’s feelings by arguing with her. “I’ll see you again sometime I hope,” he said now and started through the forest again.
“Are you going home?” Redbird asked.
“No, not right now,” Arnold said. “I just can’t go back and watch my friends training to pull the sleigh and know that I never can. Goodbye, Redbird.”
So he went on his way, and Redbird watched him, hoping he would soon learn that he had been created for things more important than just pulling a sleigh.
Two days later, Arnold heard the sound of a chainsaw again. It frightened him, because he thought maybe another bird friend was in trouble. But as he came close to the sound, it suddenly stopped, and he heard the thud of a big tree hitting the ground.
But he also heard another sound. It was not the cry of another animal. He thought it sounded like the voice of a person, so he moved toward it slowly and carefully. He had heard the voices of the men who cut down Redbird’s tree, and was used to hearing the voices of St. Nicholas and his family, so he knew what people’s voices sounded like, but this voice was smaller and lighter than men’s voices.
As he came closer to where the tree had fallen, he also heard weeping. The terrible sadness in the sound touched his heart, because he knew what it was to be so unhappy that he cried. He moved even closer and saw a little girl kneeling on the ground close to the fallen tree, crying and saying, “Daddy, please wake up. Please wake up.” Then the girl moved just enough for Arnold to see that there was a man on the ground beside her, but he was under the top part of the tree that had fallen.
Of course, Arnold couldn’t understand the girl’s words. St. Nick was the only person whose words he could understand, but it wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened here. The man had been cutting down the tree, and it had fallen in the wrong direction. People often came through this section of the forest to cut Christmas trees for their homes, but sometimes, they didn’t really know how to do it safely.
Arnold slowly made his way toward the girl. She looked up when she sensed he was beside her, and she must have been able to tell that he was not going to hurt her, because she reached out to him and touched his nose. He gently licked her hand to let her know that he was friendly, and she sniffed and said, “I wish you could help my daddy. I can’t get him to wake up.”
But just then, the man on the ground made a sound. Then he said, “Kelly, honey, are you all right?”
The little girl moved closer and touched her daddy’s face. “Daddy, I’m right here, and I’m okay, but what about you?”
“I don’t feel like I’m hurt badly, honey. I think I was just knocked out for a minute. I can feel my legs and hands and all my fingers, but I can’t move out from under this heave tree, and I can’t get to my cell phone in my pocket. I need to think of what to do.”
“I’ll go find someone to help daddy.”
“No, darling. You could easily get lost in this forest, and it’s going to start getting very cold in a couple of hours.” Kelly sniffed again and wiped more tears away, and her daddy spoke again. “You know, Kelly, we’re not really alone here. We have the Lord with us, and He promised to protect us and take care of us, so let’s pray for His help.”
“Okay, Daddy. You pray, and I’ll close my eyes and believe with you.”
“Dear Lord,” Daddy said, “in the name of Jesus, Kelly and I are praying that you will do something to get me out from under this tree and get us home to safety. We just don’t know what to do, but we know that You promise You will take care of us, so we are going to thank You right now for working everything out.”
Kelly sniffed again and finally pulled a handkerchief out of her pant’s pocket to blow her nose. Arnold felt so bad for her and for her daddy. He looked around, trying to think of a way to get them some help. Then Kelly stood up. “I’m going to try to pull on the tree, Daddy,” she said.
“No, dear. Please don’t,” he said. “To begin with, it is too heavy for you, and another problem is that if you just pull it to the side, it could cut into my legs. We need someone who can lift if up so that I can roll out from under it.”
All at once, Arnold shouted, “Hey, I just thought: my antlers are big enough and strong enough to lift the top of that tree off that man!” Of course, Kelly and her father did not understand Arnold’s words, but they heard him making excited sounds and saw him begin to circle around the fallen tree, looking things over.
Finally, he stood still, braced his four legs, and lowered his head. Then, very, very gently, he worked his huge antlers between the smaller branches of the tree until they could get hold of the main trunk at the place where it lay on the man’s legs. Next, Arnold took a deep breath and began to lift his head slowly and steadily. As he did so, the whole top of the tree came away from Kelly’s father, and he rolled out from under it and crawled completely out of the way.
“Oh, Daddy!” Kelly shouted, running to him and throwing her arms around his neck. “The deer saved you!”
Arnold gently laid the top of the tree back on the ground and turned to look at Kelly and her father. Kelly ran to Arnold then and threw her arms around his neck. “Oh, you darling deer!” she said. “Thank you! Thank you! I love you for saving my daddy.”
Arnold’s heart was about to burst. He was so happy that he had helped to save Kelly’s father, and he felt proud. Then Kelly’s father spoke again. “You know, Kelly, the Lord sent that beautiful deer to help us, and do you realize, he was here even before we prayed. How wonderful God is.”
“You’re right, Daddy. He was here before we prayed, and then after your prayer, he just walked right over there and lifted the tree.” She petted Arnold’s back and his nose and rubbed his ears. “What a wonderful friend you are,”she said, and then turning to her father, she asked, “Could we take him home with us, Daddy?”
“Oh, honey, that would not be kind. He lives in the forest and knows how to take care of himself out in nature. He was never meant to live in someone’s little bitty yard in town. He wouldn’t be happy there. The kindest thing we can do for him is let him stay here where he belongs and pray that the Lord will take very good care of him and bless him for helping us.”
He stood to his feet then and checked out both his legs to make sure they moved correctly. Then he walked over to Arnold and petted him. “Dear Lord,” he prayed, “Kelly and I thank you for sending this deer to help save us, and we ask you to bless him with a very long, happy, healthy life. Give him plenty to eat, wonderful deer friends to play with, and the best kind of life that a deer can have. Amen.”
“Amen,” said Kelly, as she hugged Arnold one more time. “Goodbye, deer. Jesus will take good care of you.” Her father patted Arnold’s head one more time, and then he took Kelly’s hand.
“I think I tried to cut down a tree that was too big for us, Kelly. We’ll go home and buy us a smaller tree for this year, and next year, maybe we can come back with more help and try cutting down a smaller tree for our house. So he and Kelly started back through the forest to head home, and Arnold watched them until they were out of sight.
“My goodness,” he said to himself, “that’s the second time I’ve been able to help save someone because of my big antlers. I’m almost glad that I have them.” But, suddenly, he remembered that he could never pull St. Nick’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, and he hung his head down again and felt sad. He also noticed that his holly wreath from Santa was missing. He must have torn it off when he squirmed in under the branch to lift it. He breathed a big sigh and started off through the forest again.
But as he walked, he remembered the look on Kelly’s face when she saw her father was free from the tree. And he kept thinking about how she and her father kept petting him as if they couldn’t thank him enough. And, slowly, as he walked and thought about those things, he began to feel happier.
He began to think about how, if he had not grown such huge antlers, Redbird’s babies would have died, and Kelly and her father might have been trapped there for days before anyone found them – and then it might have been too late. And the longer he thought about it, the more he began to feel that he didn’t want to be just an ordinary reindeer with ordinary antlers.
That night, Arnold slept close to the river, and the next morning, as he was walking along the bank and stopping now and then to take a welcome drink of the clear, sweet water, he suddenly heard someone scream. By now, he was getting used to the sound of human voices, but this time, he wasn’t sure it was a human because it was so loud and sharp.
He looked downstream, but didn’t see anything. Then he moved a little so that he could look upstream a long way, and, immediately, he saw where the sound was coming from. A man and woman were in a boat coming down the river, and the man was jumping out of the boat into the ice cold water.
Arnold walked closer to the edge to see better, and that’s when he understood the problem. There was a little baby in the water. It had on a life-jacket, so it was still floating, but the water was much too cold for a little child. The baby was in great danger in water that cold, and it had been caught by the current and was being carried downstream too fast for the man to catch up to it.
Suddenly, Arnold leaped into the river and started swimming toward the baby. All those months of training for pulling the sleigh had caused his leg muscles to grow very, very strong, and he had no trouble swimming against the current.
He heard the man yell something, but of course, he couldn’t understand the words He also heard the woman screaming even louder. He guessed that she was afraid he meant to harm the baby, but the thought never entered Arnold’s mind to do anything except grab the little bundle and carry it back to its mother.
It took longer than he thought to reach the child, but he finally did. Then he ducked his head beneath the water just enough to get his antlers underneath the baby, and as gently as he could, he lifted the little bundle onto his big antlers and out of the water completely. He then turned and swam as fast as he could toward the boat.
By that time the man understood that Arnold was bringing the baby back to them, so he started swimming back toward the boat himself. He and Arnold reached the boat at the same time, and as Arnold paddled along the side, the mother reached over and lifted her baby from Arnold’s antlers. “Oh, my darling little boy!” she said, as she held him close and then began to wrap him in warm dry blankets. The man got back into the boat and hugged his wife and child.
“The Lord answered our prayers, honey,” he said. “He sent this precious deer to save our David.” Then he reached over the side of the boat to pet Arnold’s head. “What a gift of God you are, little deer,” he said. And even though Arnold did not understand the words, he knew that the man was telling him how grateful he was.
By that time, Arnold was very cold himself, so he wasted no time in swimming back to land. And as soon as he could, he found a place in the sunshine where he could lie on the dry ground and let the sun get him warm. It felt very comforting on his body, and he was surprised at how fast he got dry. In fact, he was warm and comfortable in no time at all, and he fell asleep.
About an hour later, the sound of someone calling his name woke him. He looked up and turned his head in several directions, trying to figure out where the sound had come from.
“Arnold. Arnold.” There it was again. Arnold shook his head and listened carefully. That sounded like Rudolph’s voice. But surely not —
“There you are!” Rudolph shouted, coming through a thicket of bushes and heading straight for his brother.
“I couldn’t stand it another day without you, Arnold,” his brother said. “I’m so unhappy, and Mom hasn’t stopped crying since you left. Please, please come home.”
“I’m ready to come home,” said Arnold. “I have had so many adventures since I’ve been gone, and they have taught me a very important lesson.”
“Really? What have you learned?”
“I’ll explain it to everyone when we get home,” said Arnold. “Right now, let’s just hurry back home.” When they arrived safely, their mother greeted them with tears and laughter, and Dad said he was proud of Arnold for being wise enough to come back home.
Even St. Nicholas laughed and cried with joy at Arnold’s return. Then they all sat down and Arnold told them of his adventures. At the end of his tale, he said, “So I have learned that I have extra big antlers for a reason, and I am glad now that I am who I am.”
“Arnold, my young buck,” St. Nick said, “you have learned a very valuable lesson indeed. The Creator gives each one of us special gifts and special abilities to do the work that He wants us to do on this earth. No two of us are alike. And if we will just learn what our special gifts and abilities are, and be grateful for them and use them to do good for the rest of God’s creation, we will live very happy lives.”
Then St. Nick hugged Arnold’s neck tightly, and putting his other arm around Rudolph’s neck, he laughed: “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas, everyone! I think this will be the Merriest Christmas we have ever had!”
And it was.