Hi boys and girls. I have another story for you. Today’s story is a bit longer than past stories. Did you know Santa has a head map maker? No? How do you think he kept from getting lost? Anyway, Santa does have a head map maker, and her story is worth hearing, at least if you don’t want Santa to get lost. I know you don’t want that to happen!
Most of the time when parents give a baby a name, it is just a name. Sometimes, that name creates a destiny the baby will fulfill over the course of his or her life. For Santa’s head map maker, her name created just such a destiny. Astrid has been Santa’s map maker since she was little, little even by Elven standards. Seldom do kids here rise so quickly to such heights, but, Astrid is special.
It all starts with Astrid’s parents. When their little baby girl was born one fateful night, they looked to the sky to give thanks for having a healthy baby, when both said at the same time “‘Astrid!’ that has to be our little girl’s name.” With her name agreed to, and unbeknownst to all, fate was set in motion and Santa’s head map maker was on her way.
Astrid grew up a quiet girl. Although she didn’t say much, when she did talk, you best listen because she only said important things, usually expressing ideas no one else understood. The other thing Astrid was always doing was drawing; drawing maps of our happy little town at the North Pole and of the night sky. The fact that she was always drawing was not that remarkable. Both of Astrid’s parents have worked in Santa’s art department for a long time. What was remarkable was how accurate the maps were, showing details of buildings, paths around town, even inside the buildings. Somehow she could draw these maps to scale from memory. We were even more amazed one year when Santa, based on a hunch he had, borrowed some of the pictures and took them with him on a long sleigh ride. While on this ride Santa studied the maps and studied our little town and realized they matched.
A couple of days after Santa’s trip he went to see Astrid. Santa usually calls us elves to come see him when he wants to talk over something. However, because Astrid was still young and he did not want to frighten her (sometimes Santa call us in when we have done something wrong or forgotten to do something) or alert anyone else to what he wanted to ask Astrid, Santa went to see her. Unlike today where you can just turn on your phone or use a GPS to know where you are and get directions to where you want to go, way back when Santa had to memorize where he wanted to go and where he had been. As the world grew and the number of houses Santa visited every year greatly increased, this was becoming very hard. While Santa had maps for many cities he visited, he did not have a map that had all of the cities and how they were positioned to each other. Santa wanted to ask Astrid for help.
Santa decided that he had to ask Astrid for help without actually asking for her help. He decided this not because he doesn’t like asking for help, but because he didn’t want to put too much pressure on her. What he wanted would make his trips so much easier and more efficient. So, one day, Santa went to talk with Astrid and her parents to ask if Astrid would like to go for a sleigh ride. Going for a sleigh ride with Santa is something that all elves, no matter their age, love to do. Of course Astrid said yes, and her parents were outmatched when she started making her case for why she should be allowed to go. Before her parents said yes, they asked Santa why he wanted Astrid to go for a sleigh ride. Not ready to give his true reason for wanting Astrid to go for a ride, he responded that he wanted to let Astrid see the area from the sky so she could see how accurate her maps are. At this her parents said, “of course Astrid can go on a sleigh ride with you Santa. Just let us know when you have time and we will make sure she is ready.” At that Astrid started jumping up and down and clapping and yelling for joy. It was the first time her parents ever saw her so happy. After Santa and her parents talked a little more, a time was set for the next day.
That night Astrid was so excited she couldn’t sleep. She lay in bed all night looking out the huge skylight above her bed and drawing pictures of the sky. It was that night that Astrid first started thinking about what the night sky would look like from different cities. While the thought was the start of something, it would be many years before Astrid had enough information to finally start putting those pieces together. You have to remember that this was a very long time ago. A time when non-elf ocean navigators and map makers still marked the vast unknown areas with “there be monsters here!” as a warning that unknown dangers might exist.
After what seemed like an everlasting night, dawn broke and Astrid sprang out of bed to get ready for her first sleigh ride with Santa. Little did Astrid know then, but she would eventually go on many sleigh rides with Santa. She would also even have her own little sleigh so she could map all the cities of the world and make changes every year in time for Santa’s big trip. As Santa pulled up to Astrid’s house she ran out the door before he even had a chance to completely stop. When Astrid was all in the sleigh and sitting down, Santa yelled, “dash away, dash away, dash away all” and the reindeer leaped into the sky with a single bound and they were off.
As the sleigh started to get higher Astrid was amazed. The sights were like nothing she had ever seen. There not being any mountains around the North Pole, the highest Astrid had ever been was when she climbed out her skylight and onto her roof. From her roof Astrid had thought she had a good view of town. That was nothing compared to her view from way up where they were flying around. All of her friends looked so small at the playground. Even the houses and the giant toy workshop looked like the toys her friends’ parents made for Christmas. Eventually Santa asked Astrid to look at how well the maps she had drawn matched what was actually under them. Astrid couldn’t believe how well her maps matched the actual town. Her goal had never been to accurate draw maps, she just liked drawing the town.
Santa asked if Astrid would like to go for another ride when they were done with their first trip. The next ride, Santa explained, would be to a city to the south. Although Astrid knew there were other cities, she had never actually seen another city. Every year after Santa’s big night he tells stories to all the elves about his adventure. He talks about the differences between the cities. The different languages spoken. The different styles of houses. He talks about the different cultures he encounters. While many of the stories are needed so the toy designers can design special and new toys for next year, for the kids they are tales of adventure. Santa is a fabulous storyteller after all of these years. Although it seems to the kids like they have been on the trips Santa talks about, Astrid knew she had not actually seen any other city. Being ever curious, Astrid jumped at the chance to go on another sleigh ride. Santa said he would stop by next week.
The following week Santa and Astrid headed off to explore another city. After they were traveling a little while, Santa pulled out some colored pencils and a new pad of paper. Before he could even explain why he brought them for Astrid, she was busy drawing everything she saw below her. As they circled around, Astrid couldn’t help but fill-in areas not already drawn on her map. As Santa looked at Astrid’s map and at what was below them, he knew Astrid was more than capable of creating accurate maps and that with those maps he would be able to navigate wherever he needed to go.
When Santa returned Astrid home and to his parents he spoke in private with Astrid’s parents as she went to show her friends what she had seen. Santa explained his need for maps and how even at her young age Astrid produced better maps than he had seen anywhere. When Santa finally asked Astrid’s parents if she would be allowed to travel the world with him to make maps for him, her parents responded that they would like the night to talk in over between themselves and with Astrid. Santa agreed that that was a reasonable request and asked them to come see him tomorrow.
The next day Astrid and her parents came to see Santa. As you can probably guess, Astrid was overjoyed and her parents agreed to let their little girl become Santa’s first map maker. All of this happened a long time ago – it’s not polite to tell anyone a woman’s age so I can’t tell you exactly how long ago. What first started as simple paper maps progressed to be ever more complete and complex. Eventually Astrid worked out how to help Santa determine where he was based only on the stars above him. Even later when she worked with the computer programmers and developers Astrid was able to make ever more elaborate maps and star charts to help Santa. He now has a similar system to a GPS, but much more complex and complete, in his sleigh that can tell him exactly where he is and the shortest route to where he needs to be, allowing for wind and weather events. It even keeps tract of where he has been so he knows what houses he has visited.
Astrid is still Santa’s map maker. She now manages a department of hundreds of artists, computer programmers and developers, and yes, even other map makers. Every now and then she and Santa still go for a ride in the sleigh. Now it is just for fun (even though Astrid is usually testing something without Santa knowing). Sometimes a name is a name. Sometimes it is a destiny. For Astrid it was both. The next time you look at the night sky and see what looks like a shooting star, maybe, just maybe, it is Astrid and Santa out for a sleigh ride.