Coming to town!

In Elf, Will Ferrell plays a human raised at the North Pole who faces some hard facts about Christmas. People don’t believe in Santa Claus, his adopted father bemoans. “What about the presents?” Ferrell’s character asks, incredulously. “How do they explain that?”

“There’s a rumor going around that the parents do it,” replies Papa Elf.

Until recently, Jeff Guinn, a journalist at the Fort Worth Star Telegram, believed these tales—that is, until he wrote a newspaper story about Santa Claus only to have a reader show up at his office seeking to clarify a few details. The mystery man took Guinn on a trip to a faraway place where, to make a long story short, Guinn got the story straight from the reindeer’s mouth.

The Autobiography of Santa Claus recounts what Guinn learned in this most exclusive of interviews, and if your faith in old St. Nick is waning, here’s the book for you. Though Guinn’s Santa never quite reveals all his secrets—“I’ll tell what I can,” Father Christmas says—his tale provides readers with a fascinating history of Christmas.

The story begins in Lycia, a country on the Mediterranean where Nicholas was born in 280 to wealthy parents who died young, leaving their child a sizable estate. A socially conscious young man, Nicholas was forever trying to do the right thing, taking guidance from priests who watched over him. When he heard about children in need, Nicholas snuck into their homes and left coins in their stockings.

Over time, these nighttime escapades became a full-time job that took Nicholas well beyond Lycia and helped him become a bishop in just his 20s. “I learned the bigger the city, the greater the number of people in need,” Nicholas says, sounding like a Red Cross employee. Wherever he went, St. Nick donned a red robe trimmed with white, because that is what bishops wore.

And here’s where the magic begins. In the year 343, Nicholas was granted eternal life by a spirit who approved of his mission. Suddenly, Nicholas found he could walk 50 miles in a night. In this way, St. Nick visited France, Germany and Spain (before they were countries). Touring Constantinople, he met his wife, Layla, a beautiful woman with an inheritance who wanted to spend her life giving it away.

In the course of his travels, Nicholas also met a wide variety of world leaders, anticipating the diplomacy of Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger. He met Attila the Hun, Arthur of the Round Table (whom Attila nursed back to health), Charlemagne (“a tall man with a long, gray beard”), St. Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther and, eventually, William Brewster, who ferried St. Nick over to the new world to bring Christmas to America.

In this way, Santa Claus became the first global enterprise.

To reveal just how some of the magic occurs—like teaching reindeer how to fly—would spoil one of many surprises of Guinn’s delightful little book. Needless to say, Santa Claus had “some very embarrassing accidents” along the way. Roofs were not always the landing strip of choice.

To believe Guinn, though, Santa’s whole life has been an accident—running into the right people, at the right time, who have transformed him from a gift-giving man into a worldwide enterprise of generosity. No one, his story tells us with a wink and a nod, can do great works alone.

Santa’s illusions aside, this, right there, explains the magic of Christmas.