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It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and some friends from Sesame Street were having a skating party.

"Let's play snap-the-whip!" said Cookie Monster.

"Wonderful! Wonderful! One more time!" said the Count.

From inside the can a grouchy voice grumbled. "Hey, take your hands off the hardware!"

"Six times around!" yelled the Count.

"Take it easy!" yelled the trash can.

"Stop!" yelled Bert.

But now they were going too fast to stop. Around and around and around, faster and faster and faster! Bert tried with all his might to hold on, but...

The can went flying through the air, down a flight of stairs, through a wall, down some more stairs, through another wall, and out a door. It finally landed with a crash on the sidewalk outside.

"Oscar, are you all right?" Big Bird set the trash can upright. Oscar poked his head out and shook his green fur.

"All right?! Let's go back and do it again!" Then he mumbled, "I've been thrown out of better places than that."

"Oh, I'm so glad you're all right, Oscar," said Big Bird. "I want everybody to be happy on Christmas Eve. It's a big night tonight. Santa's reindeer will be landing on the roof, and then he'll take his big bag of toys and slide down the chimney!"

Oscar couldn't stand it.

"Just hold it right there, birdbrain. Do you know how big the inside of a chimney is?"

Big Bird and his friend Patty didn't.

"About this big, that's how big." Oscar held his grubby paws about six inches apart. "So how's a guy like Santa Claus, who's built like a dump truck, how's he going to get down all those skinny chimney? Huh?"

Big Bird had to think about that.

"Well, he holds his breath, like this..." Big Bird sucked in his breath to make himself thinner.

"That's like trying to get a backetball into a ginger-ale bottle!" snorted Oscar.

Big Bird tried again: "Well, he could come down the fire escape and in the window."

"Window's locked!" growled Oscar.

"Through the door?" asked Patty.

"Door's locked!" snapped Oscar.

Big Bird eyes filled with tears.

"I don't know how Santa gets in...."

Then Oscar spoke very softly, so Big Bird and Patty had to lean close to hear him.

"Well, I think you'd better find out! Because if there isn't a way for him to get in, there are going to be a lot of empty stockings around town tomorrow morning. Heh, heh, heh.

"Merry Christmas."

Big Bird sighed and sat down on the curb. He was so upset that he didn't notice his friends were heading back to Sesame Street. They were singing and laughing, but Big Bird didn't even hear them.

"Come on, Big Bird," said Patty. "It's time to go home."

When Big Bird and Patty finally arrived back on Sesame Street, Kermit the Frog was waiting for them. Kermit could see right away that something was wrong. And being a clever frog, he knew just how to find out what was wrong.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Big Bird told him. "Oh, it's that Oscar. Everything was find until he started asking 'How does Santa Claus get down those skinny chimneys when he's so fat?'"

"And we've got to find out," said Patty.

Big Bird agreed. "Because if Santa can't get down the chimney, nobody will get any presents tonight!"

Now Kermit knew what was wrong, and he gave the problem some frogthought. Then he had a frogidea!

"Who knows more about Santa Claus than anybody?"

Big Bird and Patty guessed. "The elves?"

"Mrs. Claus?"

"Macy's?"

But Kermit had another answer. "Kids! That's who. So I'll just round up Grover and Harry and we'll go ask some kids!" And off he went to find Grover and Harry.

In the basement apartment at 123 Seame Street, Ernie threw his skates under the sofa. Bert was already undressed and ready for a hot bath.

"Ohhh boy," he sighed as he slowly lowered himself into the bubbles. "This feels peachy."

But suddenly he had a terrible thought. "Golly wonkers! It's Christmas Eve, and I still don't have an idea for Ernie's present. It's got to be something special. Wait a minute! What this in the tub?" He groped around and fished out a chubby little bathtub toy. "It's Ernie's Rubber Duckie. Say, that gives me a nifty idea! I know what to get Ernie. I'll get Ernie a soap dish. He can put his Rubber Dickie in it so it won't keep falling into the water. I'd better get over to Mr. Hooper's store right away."

Meanwhile, in the living room, Ernie noticed something shiny on the rug. Because he was curious, he did something that he almost never did. He picked it up.

"Why, it's a paper clip," he said. "I'll bet it's from my old buddy Bert's paper-clip collection." He looked closer. "Of course. It's Bert's 1957 Acme. Why, he'd feel just awful if he lost this.

"Hey! Now I know what I'll get Bert for Christmas! I'll get him a cigar box to keep so he can keep his paper-clip collection in it. That's what I'll get him. Then none of his paper clips will ever get lost again."

As soon as Bert left the bathroom, Ernie grabbed Rubber Duckie.

"Bert," called Ernie, "I'm going out for a while." He tossed the 1957 Acme paper clip over his shoulder, back onto the rug, and marched out the front door.

Ernie hurried to Mr. Hooper's store.

"Well, hello, Ernie," said Mr. Hooper. "What brings you here?"

"Hi there, Mr. Hooper," said Ernie. "Just doing a little last-minute Christmas shopping." Then he spotted just the thing he was looking for. "Say, that sure is a fine-looking cigar box on you shelf. I don't have any money, Mr. Hooper, but supposed I gave you Rubber Duckie here for that cigar box? Would you trade?"

"Ernie!" exclaimed Mr. Hooper. He couldn't believe his ears. "Are you sure? You love that Rubber Duckie more than anything!"

Ernie swallowed hard and looked up at Mr. Hooper. "I've just got to have that cigar box."

Mr. Hooper stared long and hard at the sad little face, then slowly took the cigar box down from the shelf.

"Well, if it's really that important..." "Here's the cirgar box, Ernie."

"Thank, Mr. Hooper," said Ernie. "And here's Rubber Duckie." He thought for a moment. "Good-bye, Mr. Hooper." Then he looked one last time at his chubby little yellow bathtub friend and said that hardest thing in the world for him to say. "Good-bye, Rubber Duckie."

As Ernie turned to leave, the door opened. It was Bert! Ernie quickly hid the cigar box behind his back.

"Errr....See you at home, Bert," he said. And before Bert could answer, Ernie ran out of Mr. Hooper's store, holding the cigar box so Bert couldn't see it.

"Ahem...Mr. Hooper!" stammered Bert, "I am prepared to offer you the deal of a lifetime. Now, this is the finest paper-clip collection in the free world. Just look. Oh, here my chrome-plated Jumbo Gem. Ah, and this one I bent in the shape of the letter W! Ah..."

"It's very impressive, Bert," said Mr. Hooper.

Bert agreed. "Yes, and they're all so...individual. Mr. Hooper, I prepared to trade you this terrific paper-clip collection for just one small soap dish. What do you say, Mr. Hooper? Do we have a deal?"

Mr. Hooper knew how Bert felt about his paper-clip collection. It was very much the way Ernie felt about his Rubber Duckie, but he could see that Bert's mind was made up.

"What can I say, Bert? You talked me into it. Here's the soap dish. I'll put it in a nice box for you."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Hooper!" Then Bert paused for a moment. "There's just one more thing, Mr. Hooper. Could I come by once in a while to look at my paper-" his voice choked and his eyes filled with tears. He couldn't finish the question. "Never mind," he said. Bert slowly turned his back on the paper clips and left the store.

Mr. Hooper looked after his friend. Then he looked down at the Rubber Duckie and paper clips on his counter. After a moment he smiled, gathered them up and put them in boxes, and closed his shop. He hurried down Sesame Street. He was thinking so hard he didn't even notice Bob until Bob spoke to him.

"Happy Chanukah, Mr. Hooper."

It was just like Bob to remember that Mr. Hooper celebrated the Jewish holiday at this time of year. "Thank you, Bob," he said, "and Merry Christmas to you."

As Mr. Hooper passed the trash cans in front of 123 Sesame Street, he heard a gravelly, grouchy voice.

"Chanukah, Christmas, presents, songs, happy kids...it's all a of baloney, if you ask me." Mr. Hooper stopped and thoughtfully touched the ratty grouch stocking that was hanging from Oscar's can.

"If it's all a lot of baloney, Oscar," he asked, "then why do you have this stocking hung here on Christmas Eve?"

Oscar was trapped, but he managed to think fast.

"If you want to know, Mr. Nosey Parker, I was just drying my laundry!"

And Oscar slammed back into his can so Mr. Hooper couldn't see how embarrassed he was.

After Ernie had left Mr. Hooper's store, he went right home and wrapped Bert's present. And just in time, too. As he was taping the last corner, Bert walked in the door.

"Oh, I'm glad you're home, Bert, old Buddy," said Ernie. "I can't stand it any longer! Let's open our presents right now."

"Okay, Ernie," said Bert. "Let's go." He handed Ernie the package he was carrying.

"Merry Christmas, Ernie."

"Merry Christmas, Bert. You go first."

Bert studied the neatly wrapped present that Ernie held out to him. "Ernie, what a superb wrapping job! Now, if I can just slide my finger under the paper and get the tape....No. How about scissors? Well, maybe if I just..."

Ernie couldn't stand waiting. "Just open it, Bert!" he howled, and Bert tore off the papaer.

"Oh, hunky-dory, Ernie. A cigar box!"

"It's for your paper-clip collection, Bert."

Suddenly Bert's knees became weak and his face felt cold and clammy. "For my paper clips!" Tear filled his big round eyes, but somehow he controlled himself.

"Oh...ah...er...yeah...well....Why don't you open your present, Ernie?"

And Ernie did. "Why, Bert! It's a soap dish!"

"That's right, Ernie," Bert said proudly. "I got it for Rubber Duckie!"

Just as soon as Ernie heard it was for Rubber Duckie, his heart just broke. Now there would always be an empty soap dish in his tubby to remind his that Rubber Duckie was gone forever.

Just then there was a knock at the door.

"Come in," Ernie said sadly.

It was Mr. Hooper.

"Merry Christmas, boys," he said, and he handed a gift to each of them. Ernie and Bert tried to smile. Slowly they unwrapped the presents, not really caring what was inside. Now really caring, that is, until they saw what was inside. Bert reached into the wrapping and pulled out a handful of bright, shiny metal.

"Mr. Hooper!" he exclaimed. "It's my paper-clip collection!"

"And here's my Rubber Duckie!" shouted Ernie, jumping up and down. But suddenly Bert had a terrible thought.

"Ernie, we didn't get Mr. Hooper anything."

"You're wrong, Bert," said Mr. Hooper. "I got the best Christmas present ever. My present was seeing that everyone got exactly what he wanted for Christmas."

Kermit and Harry and Grover were spending the afternoon talking to kids.

Everyone they asked had a different idea about how Santa Claus gets down the chimney, and Kermit wrote down every single answer.

Finally, Kermit went back to where Big Bird, Patty, and Snuffy were waiting.

"It doesn't look good, Big Bird," he said. "Just listen to some of these answers we got.

"Santa Claus goes on a crash diet every Christmas Eve and loses two hundred pounds.

"Several kids believe that they have rubber chimneys.

"Here's one who says Santa either has a fishing pole or very long arms.

"A boy on Seventy-second street thinks Santa sends one of his elves.

"Or how about this? He sneaks in with the relatives at Thanksgiving and hides in the laundry room until Christmas."

"No, no, no," moaned Big Bird. "This isn't getting us anywhere! Here it is Christmas Eve and we still don't know how Santa gets down the chimney. What are we going to do?"

"I'm really sorry, Big Bird," said Kermit, "but we tried."

"Well, what do you think, Kermit?" asked Big Bird.

"Me? Oh, I think he...uh...maybe what he does is..." Kermit stopped and thought for a long time.

"I don't know how Santa gets down the chimney, Big Bird."

Patty and Big Bird were left alone with Snuffy.

"Now, Snuffy," said Big Bird, "we're going to use the scientific way to find out how big fat Santa gets down those skinny little chimneys."

"I'm sure it will work if you thought of it, Bird," said Snuffy.

"Now here's what we'll do," continued Big Bird. "You play the part of Santa Claus, and we'll pretend that this barrel is a chimney!"

"Okay, Bird," said Snuffy. "Ho, ho, ho!"

"Now let's see," said Big Bird. "You put one foot down in the barrel..." Snuffy did. "And now the other foot. And now another foot..."

"I don't think Santa has more than two feet, Bird," said Snuffy.

Big Bird considered that and came up with a typical bird answer. "Well, just pretend he has a reindeer with him."

Snuffy thought that made sense.

"Bird," he said, putting his foot into the barrel, "it's getting harder to 'Ho, Ho, Ho.'"

Big Bird stood back and studied his friend, who looked very worried with all four of his legs stuffed tightly inot a very small barrel. Suddenly, Big Bird burst inot a delightful smile.

"Snuffy! Maybe that's how Santa Claus gets into the chimney!"

"There's just one thing, Bird..." Snuffy said sadly. "Do we know how he gets out?"

It was getting dark; and Patty and Big Bird still didn't know how Santa would get down the chimney. Snuffy lumbered home to his cave, leaving his two friends cuddled together in the nest. Patty snuggled up into the yellow feathers to keep warm, and she and Big Bird thought very hard for a long time. Large snowflakes began falling.

"You'd better go home, Patty," Big Bird said. "It's starting to snow."

Patty climbed out of the nest and stared at her friend. He looked so sad. What could she say to cheer him up?

"Don't worry, Big Bird. Even if we don't konw how, Santa will come down the chimney. Really he will."

"Oh, no," said Big Bird. "It'll never work."

Patty took a few steps but decided to give one more try. She turned back to the bird and said the happiest thing she could think of.

"Merry Christmas."

But Big Bird didn't even look up. Patty shook her head and left.

"Wait a minute," Big Bird said to himself. "I and find out how Santa gets down those itty-bitty chimneys!"

Big Bird climbed out of his nest, marched past Oscar's can, into Gordon and Susan's house, and up five flights of stairs. Then he poked his beak out the door to the snow-covered roof. No one was there but Bert's pigeons.

"Hi, fellas," he said. "How are things up here on the roof? You haven't seen Santa Claus, have you?" The pigeons cooed no.

"There's our skinny little chimney!" said Big Bird. "I'm just going to stay here and watch how Santa gets down that little thing. Brrrrr! It is cold! I don't see how those pigeons can take it!"

He pulled up a box, brushed the snow off of it, and sat down, staring very hard at the chimney.

He tried hiw best now to look away even once, but with the soft snow falling and the gentle cooing of the pigeons, he grew sleepier...and sleepier...and sleepier.

Down in the Fixit Shop, Cookie Monster was getting ready to write a note to Santa Claus. He had borrowed a piece of paper and a great big pencil from Luis, and he began to write..."

"Dear Santa..."

Then he thought out loud. "Oh, what me ask for? What else? COOKIES! Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Two dozen coconut macaroons. NO-no-no-no. Maybe pound and a half of figgy newtons! Ohhh, me getting so HUNGRY!

And without realizing what he was doing, Cookie Monster took a big bite of his pencil.

"Me love cookies! Oatmeal cookies! Me ask for three dozen...Ho, what the hey...FOUR dozen!"

And he took another bite of his pencil.

"Or how about banana cookies? Or prune cookies? Chocolate-covered-marshmallow-with-jelly-inside cookies?

He stuffed the rest of the pencil, eraser and all, into his mouth and ate it.

"Me got to write that down."

And he looked up, down, and all around.

"Where pencil?" he asked.

Cookie Monster moved over to Luis' typewriter and rolled a sheet of paper into it. Since he'd lost his pencil, he would type his letter.

"Dear Sandy Claus," he typed slowly. "Me no care what kind of cookies you bring me. You surprise Cookie Monster."

Then he began to daydream again.

"Boy, me wonder what Sandy Claus going to bring me...

He absent-mindedly played with the typewriter keys.

"Or dainty little raisin cookies. Me LOVE raisin cookies!"

He ripped a handful of little keys off the typewriter and stuffed tehm into his mouth.

"Or maybe Sandy bring me bunch of fortune cookies wiht delicious paper inside."

And without thinking, he tore the roller off of the typewriter and ate it, along with the paper he was going to type on.

"Delicious! Or Sandy bring round cookies!"

He ate the two little round spools that held the typewriter ribbon.

"Cowabunga!" he howled as he whomped the rest of the typewriter and ate the pieces. Then he looked up, down, and all around.

"Where typewriter?"

Cookie Monster moved over to Luis' telephone and said to himself. "Christmas Eve too late for letter to Sandy Claus anyway, so me call him. Let's see...North Pole area code..." He began to dial the number, and as he dialed he thought of what he would say when Santa answered.

"Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Me get him on the phone and say, 'Hi, Sandy Claus! Cookie Monster here!' And then asked me him to bring me..."

He held the telephone and stared lovingly at the receiver as he spoke.

"Bring me two...delicious, round, chocolate, fudge-covered...CUPCAKES!!!"

And he ate the telephone that looked for all the world like two delicious, round, chocolate, fudge-covered cuppycakes. After a moment he heard a click in his tummy. Then he heard a voice coming from deep inside him.

"Ho! Ho! Ho! Hello...Hello?"

Cookie slowly realized what he had done.

"Oh boy. Me better go see Gordon. He always knows what to do."

Up in Gordon and Susan's apartment, Gordon was hanging the Christmas stockings. Cookie followed him around as he worked.

"Gordon! Me tried to write letter to Sandy Claus but me ate pencil. Me ate typewriter, too!"

"Well, Santa know all about you, Cookie Monster," laughed Gordon. "He'll bring you some cookies."

"Then me tried to call Sandy. But telephone look like cuppycakes and me ate it, too! Sandy never bring Cookie Monster cookies now!"

"Yes, he will, Cookie Monster. But it might be a good idea if you left him a little something."

"That terrific idea," said Cookie. "Sandy Claus leave me cookies and me leave Sandy...necktie!" Then he had a better idea. "No-no-no! Me leave him...shaving cream!"

"Well, you could. But most people leave him..."

"What? What?" Cookie Monster could hardly wait to hear. "What do most people leave for Sandy Claus?"

"Cookies," Gordon said quietly.

Cookie Monster fainted.

Gordon thought he heard something. It might have been someone knocking, but it was so soft that he wasn't sure. He went to the door and opened it. Patty was standing in the hallway, her eyes filled with tears.

"Big Bird's gone! He was acting so funny when I left him that I went back to his nest to see him-and he was gone!"

Gordon tried not to look worried. He stood up and called to Susan to get her coat. Then he turned back to Patty and said, "Don't worry. We'll find him."

He and Cookie and Susan and Patty hurried down the street to find Big Bird. Bob and Mr. Hooper, Linda, Maria, and Olivia all joined in the search.

All the while his friends were searching for him, Big Bird was sound asleep on the roof.

"Oscar," Maria said, "I hope you're satisfied. You had to start all that stuff about Santa and tiny chimneys and no presents, and you've upset Big Bird so much he's gone."

"Aw, I was only teasing him," Oscar answered. "He'll be back. He's part homing pigeon. Besides, what's the big deal? He lives outdoors anyway."

"Now, look here, Oscar." Maria was getting angry. "His nest is something different. That's Big Bird's home. He got his electric blanket there, and heating pads, and he's near all the people who love him. But it's Christmas Eve and he's out there somewhere in this big city. It's snowing and getting colder and he could be in serious trouble unless we find him."

"Okay, okay," Oscar said, "let's go."

Now everyone on Sesame Street was looking for Big Bird.

Up on the cold roof, Big Bird was fast asleep. Snow was piling up around his feet, and two little icicles had formed on his beak. He was in danger of freezing, but he didn't know that. He was dreaming the nicest dream....He could hear the jingle of sleigh bells and the clatter of reindeer hooves landing on the roof.

But maybe it wasn't a draem. Maybe it was really happening. Or maybe it was just the noises from the street below....

Then Big Bird dreamed that someone was jumping down from the sleigh and walking closer and closer to him. No, that was just the wind blowing through the chimneys. Or was it the pigeons fluttering in their pigeon coop?

But it seemed so real....

And then this big, fat, jolly fellow was standing right in front of him. He reached down and touched Big Bird to wake him up.

Or maybe it was just some snow blowing against his feathers. But whatever it was, Big Bird's eyes suddenly opened.

Big Bird looked all around the roof, but no one was there. There wasn't even a footprint in the snow. He shook his feathers and shivered.

"Brrrr. It is cold!" he said. "I'd better go down to Gordon and Susan's to warm up."

He poked himself in the side. "I think I froze my giblets!"

Big Bird climbed down the stairs to Susan's apartment.

When Patty caught sight of him, she shrieked and giggled and buried herself in his feathers.

"Big Bird! Are you alright?" asked Susan.

"Oh y-y-yes," he stammered, "except for my giblets."

"Where have you been?" asked Gordon.

"Well," said Big Bird, "I went up on the roof to see if I could see Santa Claus. But then I fell asleep. Brrr! I got so cold that I came down to get warm. But I'm going right back up there!"

"Oh no, you're not!" said Gordon. "You're going to come into out apartment and thaw out!"

"But I can't, Gordon! I'll miss Santa!"

"Yes, you can! Now come on!"

Gordon pulled Big Bird through the doorway into the warm apartment.

Now Gordon and Susan's living room looked like fairyland. THe tree twinkled with colored lights. Gifts were piled high under its branches. The stockings bulged with presents, and holly and mistletoe and ribbons and tinsel hung everywhere.

Big Bird stopped and stared at the beautiful room.

"Oh, dear," he sighed. "Now I'll never find out how Santa did it!"

Gordon looked at his friend. "Big Bird, do you remember what Oscar said to you?"

"Yes," Big Bird answered. "Oscar said that if Santa Claus couldn't get down those itty-bitty chimneys no one would get any presents."

"Well, just look around," Gordon said. "Does it look like no one's getting any presents?"

"No," answered Big Bird, his eyes getting wider as he looked around the room. "But it's a miracle! How did he do it?"

"Why do you want to know, Big Bird?"

"Well, Gordon, it's important."

"No, Big Bird. That's not what's important," Gordon said. "What's important is that we lost you tonight, and we were all very worried about you. And now you're back safe and sound, and we're all together for Christmas. That's what's important."

Suddenly the door burst open. It was Oscar.

"Heh, heh. I hear the turkey's back."

"Hi there, Oscar," said Big Bird.

"Listen, you big canary," grumbled Oscar, "I'm glad you're back...because I want to ask you a question."

Big Bird leaned low as he could hear what Oscar wanted to ask, and Oscar let him have it.

"How do you think the Easter Bunny can hide all those eggs in one night?"

Gordon gave Oscar's can a good solid whack on the lid. From inside, Oscar laughed.

"Come on outside, Big Bird," said Gordon. "Let's so tell everyone you're all right."

Patty held tight to Big Bird's feathers to make sure he wouldn't get lost again, and they all went to celebrate Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

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