A College Santa Clause {Book Club}

Friends, we have another short story this week and the title has a bit of a play on grammar. Good times are in store! You can read A College Santa Cluase by Ralph Henry Barbour by clicking on the link.

Once again, literary poser that I am, I hadn’t heard of Ralph Henry Barbour. I’m going to talk about what I learned on the internet, but I have to warn you, it’s not much. So, if you don’t want to see any spoiler information, don’t read too much further.

Ralph Henry Barbour “lived from November 13, 1870 to February 19, 1944 and was an American novelist, who wrote popular works of sports fiction for boys.” This factoid stunned me: During his career, “Barbour produced more than 100 novels as well as a number of short stories.”

100 novels? What?!

That is about all the information I found. So, he might have written a lot, but not a lot was written about him!

If you’re still reading, we’re about to start discussing the story . . . okay?



I enjoyed this one, but for different reasons than A Burglar’s Christmas. If A Burglar’s Christmas was a version of The Prodigal Son, this was more The Rich Young Ruler. 

Seeing Satherwaite at the beginning of the story having his Christmas plans fall apart at the last minute and being away from home . . . made me think of us. I bet it’s happened to you too. Most of my Christmases abroad have been good and maybe even had a humorous story. But there were two that were utterly disappointing–I’ll share the short versions here, and if you want to know more, as in the comments :).

1. All hot water pipes in my building were being replaced resulting in no hot water for three months. My bathroom was used as the chute for all construction material in the whole building to be dropped through. The construction noise went on and on and on. For three months no one would visit us. Christmas that year was on a weekday. Pound. Pound. Pound. Bang. Bang. Bang. Crash. Crash. Crash. I was also having a medical situation that required me to soak my bottom in hot water three times a day. It is the time I point to if I had magically been offered a plane ticket, I might have left without looking back.

2. Another year, in a different city, I was on my way to church one Christmas Eve and dropped by little I.D. wallet that I had tucked cash into to pay for a cab home. I lost several important cards I needed. In shock, I hopped off the bus because my only option was to walk home and the further I rode, the further I’d have to walk. I was too dejected to go to church. (Sorry to disappoint, but it’s the truth). My I.D. wallet also carried the I.D. I needed to get onto the school property where I lived and without it, I wouldn’t be allowed to enter the campus. I spent the whole walk home crying, wondering how I could sneak onto the campus, and feeling more alone than I ever had at Christmas.

How about you? What are some of the lower points of your experiences? You know, the ones you can’t share because then you look like an ungrateful, unwilling to pay the cost, cross-cultural worker.

I loved how Satherwaite looked around his room and found an excuse to make a connection with someone. “I know, even though it’s Christmas Eve, I’ll return this book I borrowed NOW instead of waiting.” Hehehe, I know I’ve also come up with very thinly veiled reasons to return or borrow or ask a burning question all because what I really wanted was connection. Anyone else? Please tell me you get it.

I had mixed feelings when Satherwaite stumbled into the party. Isn’t it the WORST feeling when you realize you’ve crashed something and you weren’t invited?! But wasn’t it also the best for his snobby self to see this group together, having fun, and realize that riches come in other forms than mere money.

What did you think of the ways each side made gestures towards each other? As mildly uncomfortable as they all were, I was impressed to see how they leaned into and through the discomfort as they awkwardly made gestures of each other. I was glad that Satherwaite invited himself in and decided to stay. It’s so much easier to leave than to stay, isn’t it?

What moved you in this story? What annoyed you? What didn’t seem to ring true? Other thoughts this stirred?

See you in the comments, friends! Amy

Reading plan for the month:

December 1A Burglar’s Christmas by Willa Cather (our discussion is here)
December 8: A College Santa Cluase by Ralph Henry Barbour
December 15: How the Captain Made Christmas by Thomas Nelson Page
December 22: The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke


  1. Kiera December 7, 2015

    What is the play on words in the title? I feel like I need an English major to help me. 🙂 My first thought when I read ’02 was 2002 and I thought, maybe it’s a modern short story, but within a few lines I was thinking, no, no, gotta be 1902. 🙂

    I found it interesting how the snobbery can go both ways from the “rich” down and from the “poor” up. Like you said, Amy, I liked that both sides made real advances toward the other side. I think that is what gives the story its heart-warming quality.

    I wonder if (hypothetically) the relationship between Satherwaite and the others will continue past the end of the story. The fact that Satherwaite left with Doak’s pipe and Doak didn’t say anything, makes me imagine a scene where Satherwaite gives or sends it back to him – a reason to continue the relationship.

    My overseas Christmases have been a mixture of ones spent back at “home” and ones spent at home abroad. Most have been very merry – the closest I had to a bad one was one year when my husband and I were engaged and we were flying back for him to meet my family and we almost got stuck because of weather, but we made it! 🙂 One of the most merry was when I was single. At that time, we had a tradition of all the single girls sleeping over together at one house and then getting up for Christmas breakfast together. We used to bring our presents from family and others to open together on Christmas morning. One year, when we had invited the single guys (one who later became my husband) and another young married couple to join us for the breakfast portion, my now husband had taken delivery of a big box of puppets to be used with the middle school students he taught. He opened the box Christmas morning and we ended up doing an impromptu and very silly version of the 12 Days of Christmas with the puppets…I think the video is probably on Facebook somewhere…haha…it reminded me of Doyle and friends child-like fun at Christmas time. 🙂

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2015

      Kiera, you’re on to me :)!!! Notice how I said it was a play on grammar and then didn’t say what it was  . . . um, that’s because I don’t know! Anyone who gets it, please help us out.

      I, too, like the idea of them somehow continuing a relationship after this. EVEN if it’s “merely” to acknowlege each other in public with a nod or a “hi.” 

      Now you’ve got me curious to hunt down a video of this puppet show — I love the idea of a single guy getting puppets and then all of you playing with them! SO FUN.

  2. Spring December 8, 2015

    I really enjoyed this story. I also enjoyed your thoughts about the low points, the kind you can’t share at home. For me my thoughts also wondered to an article on Life Overseas where the woman discussed her on critical nature toward aspiring overseas workers. She knew what it was really like, should she tell them, should she let them experience things first hand?  In a culture where some things are so instant and staged, it feels inauthentic sometimes.  how can I live without sharing with people my joys and struggles?

    This is our first set of holidays away. Even my husband (who isn’t a big extended family type person) struggled at Thanksgiving.  My kids are feeling the fresh loss, and I am too. I long for the unexpected companionship that Satherwaite found.  I guess I have to continually keep my eyes open!


    1. Amy Young December 8, 2015

      Spring, I think you hit the nail on the head … sharing the joys and the struggles. When we can only share our joys, it creates a false picture. BUT when we only share our struggles, it can create a different kind of false picture. Life is both :). Joy and struggle.

      I’m not surprised to hear that the holidays were a bit lonlier than “normal” — and this Christmas might be too! But I’ll be praying for some unexpected companions like Satherwaite found :)!

    2. Anna December 10, 2015

      Hang in there!  I know it’s hard, especially your first year with big changes.  With time, I think it will get easier.  🙂

      1. Spring December 10, 2015

        Thanks so much for the encouragement!


  3. T December 8, 2015

    We used to host all the singles at our house for Christmas festivities on the eve and the day at least, if not more!  One year was a massive drama of girl likes guy and buys him something expensive that got ruined on the way to the party due to a hooligan on a moped.  Girl freaks out and boy is clueless and really wouldn’t care to get such a nice present anyway and most people don’t know what the drama is all about!  whew!  i was ready for bed that night!!!

    i’d say that i miss opening lots of presents!  but i’d also say that if you are looking towards Christmas and seeing it looking scary and sure to be a disappointment, look around and see who else will be in that boat and do it together.  maybe they’ll surprise you with real choc truffles they brought from France or fun gifts for your kids or teach you a new game (all true stories from my life).  maybe they will be silly boys and need to be asked to bring the pop (true, as well).  maybe it will be their first Christmas ever!  maybe that will be the start of new life for them.

    i’m loving the short stories, Amy!  i have a small collection of Christmas stories byLouisa May Alcott that i love and read annually!  (and maybe sometimes in the summer when it is sooo hot outside that i need some cold stories)

    hip hip hooray for bookclub!

    1. Amy Young December 10, 2015

      Oh my word. I can just picture this! The drama. The tears. The cluelessness.

      I’m loving the short stories too :). On my agenda today is to read next week’s and write about it. FUN!!

    2. Anna December 10, 2015

      The boy/girl drama cracks me up.  We have had some visitors who got involved in the drama (although not at Christmas time.)  I would just think, “I’m too old for this!”

  4. Ellie December 8, 2015

    Wow, I loved it. I loved that it sketched the awkwardness and the love. I love that they took him in. On his terms and theirs. So like cross-cultural life, a little of both – I adapt and yet I must still be me..

    The pipe, the humbling himself and seeing it’s value, the present he brought being accepted being humbling for the receiver as it was “too good”, the singing and “going it alone” out of his comfort zone but doing it well, because it was his gift. The gift of him seeing that for him going home was a gift. And feeling sad as the reader for those who couldn’t, but not pity.

    I loved that he went from a rather dislikeable character to one that we felt close to. Because of others opening up to him.

    I loved how it opened up to love at the end but wasn’t cloying, the possibility of future relationship but not a guarantee. Reality and joy.

    I am pondering the “Santa Clause” title and feel like there’s something gold in there but I haven’t quite plumbed it! Something about humbling yourself to receive, giving means you receive, it being an unseparable equation, two sides of the same coin or something?

    I find Christmas incredibly hard here without a team or a home to go to. Most locals go away to their families and many things we’ve tried have just fallen through. I think one thing I’m hanging onto at the moment is that it’s not just at this time of year that I feel this – I am really lacking a community of people to celebrate things with (birthdays, Easter, anything!) and so I need to be very intentional about seeking out that community so as not to just wither and die and I might need to seek it in some more unexpected places.

    1. Amy Young December 10, 2015

      Ellie, what a rich comment! “Awkward and love.” YES. The way love helped melt him into a more likeable person. YES. The way the bent towards each other, but still remained themselves. YES.

      You might be onto something! I’ve taken “clause” to be about a grammar clause, but maybe it’s like a clause in a contract. I know we’re missing something, I just don’t know what :)!!!

      And my heart hurts for your lack of community. For your desire (and real need) to connect and be a part of relationships broader than just your family. Much love Ellie.

  5. Deb Smith December 9, 2015

    I enjoyed the story a lot and found myself so fully engaged in it, that it was almost like I was in that room with the college students. It brought a smile to my face!

    1. Deb Smith December 9, 2015

      I should add this personal memory –

      One of my favorite Christmases as an overseas worker was when I hosted six South Sudanese guys plus my 90+ year old British neighbor. We had such a great time together and all of us still talk about it with much fondness!

      1. Amy Young December 10, 2015

        This is one of my favorite parts … the delightfully quirky gathering of characters :)!! (me included!!)

    2. Amy Young December 10, 2015

      The author really created the feeling that we were there, didn’t he?!

  6. Anna December 10, 2015

    I wasn’t sure about the play on words either.  Why would they say that and not what it means?  I was never good at that in literature, and I remember taking a required American lit course in college.  I thought people were reading WAY too much into the poems and stories.   Obviously, I missed the subtleties.

    I’ve been teaching grammar to my kids (homeschool), and I thought of “clause” in grammar terms.  A clause is a group of words with a subject and verb.  Maybe clause here is supposed to be about simplicity- getting back to the basics.

    I could relate to the thinly veiled excuse to visit someone.  I’ve done that when I needed conversation, or when I wanted to check on someone to see how they were doing (without coming right out and saying that.)

    I liked the way the characters connected, and learned about each other and their similarities rather than their differences.  It was powerful how the main character had no Christmas stories to tell the group.  He had all the trappings of Christmas without the meaning of it.

    I like to think that the pipe was a way to continue their friendship.  When leaving, he & Doak both recognized that he had it, and knew that it was a connection.  Either of them could follow up on that.

    I can’t think of any really difficult Christmas memories.  It would probably be smaller parts of Christmas celebration that are difficult when you have to navigate circumstances or interactions with others.  Our first Christmas in Congo was the most difficult circumstances.  There was a minor civil war across the river, refugees, potential danger, shortages.  It was stressful, but a simple celebration that was more meaningful in the midst of hard times.

    Our last Christmas in Congo was stressful because our team was disintegrating and any interactions with certain people were like a minefield.  But our family celebrations and other interactions and ministry were still really enjoyable and memorable.

    From 2009- 2015, we spent 5 Christmases in Congo, and this is our second in the US.  Wherever I am I miss the other place.

    1. Amy Young December 10, 2015

      Anna, I think you nailed it for many of us with your last line! 🙂

      Oh, and the minefields with certain teammates … I think that part of the comment got lots of head nodding too 🙂

    2. Ellie December 10, 2015

      “It was powerful how the main character had no Christmas stories to tell the group.  He had all the trappings of Christmas without the meaning of it.”

      Wow, nicely put Anna!

      1. Amy Young December 10, 2015

        I thought the same thing! Jinx, or doppleganger, or something like that 🙂


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