Hey, look! I wrote a fairy tale!
In the land of Polara, which is where my Obligatory Giant Young Adult Fantasy Epic (OGYAFE) is set, they have a folkloric figure rather similar to Santa Claus. But he's got an origin story rooted in the somewhat loosely-defined spiritism that pervades the kingdom. You'll see a little bit of it in things like the traditional opening (the "webs in the heavens" have quite a backstory themselves), but it should stand on its own. I think the only thing I ought to explain is that Polarans refer to souls/spirits as "sparks," which I SWEAR wasn't consciously a Transformers reference. It just seemed like a natural term people who think that their ancestors were shooting stars would develop. Alas, even the Polarans aren't cool enough to have Optimus Claus. YET.
In the old days, when the webs were still sparse in the heavens and the spirits still came to Earth in crowds, there lived a man in the city of Jubilation Lake. He was a trapper; the finest in the land. He would go into the mountains with his traps and return with stacks of pelts--red fox pelts, striped raccoon pelts, soft rabbit pelts, even silvery wolf pelts and rough warm bear pelts. And he used his furs for one thing--to trade them for gold and treasure.
He filled his house with riches. Jewels the size of apples, bars of gold and silver, finely wrought art pieces, he hoarded them all as a magpie dragon hoards glittering pebbles. He became known as Goldeye, for his obsession with treasure.
But though the gold gave off a warm glow, his spark stayed cold, for he had no love in his life. And fear of losing his treasure cooled it further.
Consumed with thoughts of thieves in the night, Goldeye finally went out into the mountains taking with him not traps, but with his chests of gold, and returning with not pelts, but with nothing. His gold remained hidden, far from the prying fingers of thieves.
But a man cannot hide from everything. The day he had taken his last bit of treasure to his secret hoard, the mountains were cold and snowy. As he made his way back toward town, an avalanche buried him. Not even thieves would discover his body.
His spark was displeased. He had amassed great treasure, and he would not let death take it away from him. Rather than return to the sky where it belonged, his spark stayed in the mountains--by the cave where he had hidden all of his fortune. Vowing to guard it forever, his spark sought a form in which to dwell.
After days of searching, Goldeye's spark found a grizzly bear.
The bear was a mean one, and had been a terror to all who came through the woods, so Goldeye reasoned he was doing a good deed when he displaced the bear's spark and took its body for his own. The spark of the bear wandered far and wide, but it does not come into this story.
Thus, Goldeye became Goldfur, the grizzly who guarded his treasure.
Many years passed--cold, lonely years for Goldfur. Tirelessly he drove off all who came into his territory, trappers and woodsmen and treasure-seekers alike. His mountain became known as a place no man dared to go.
But one spring day, someone who was not a man arrived.
Aster was a young woman, brown-skinned and blue-eyed. She lived in a cottage deep in the forest. One day she came to Goldfur's mountain carrying a basket.
Goldfur could not tolerate this. He stood on his hind legs and roared fiercely. "Why have you come to my mountain?" he demanded.
Aster did not falter. "O great golden grizzly," she said. "I seek trespass on your mountain. I want to make spruce beer, and the finest tips are there."
Goldfur considered this. The years had hardened him, but they had also grown long. Something different might be welcome.
"Come, then," he said. "I will go with you. But you may only stay until your basket is full."
And she did.
In the summer, she returned with her basket. "O great golden grizzly," she said. "I seek trespass on your mountain. I want to preserve berries, and the finest berries are there."
"Come then," he said. "I will go with you. But you may only stay until your basket is full."
And she did come. But when her basket was full, she stayed till the sun was low, for she was speaking with him and he did not wish to lose her company so quickly.
In the fall, she returned, basket on her arm. "O great golden grizzly," she said. "I seek trespass on your mountain. I want to make mushroom pasties, and the finest mushrooms are there."
"Come then," he said. "I will go with you." And he did not say that she must leave when her basket was full.
She stayed till the moon was high.
In the early winter, just before he was ready to return to sleep in his den full of treasure, Aster came again. But this time, she carried no basket.
"What do you seek on my mountain this time?" Goldfur asked her.
"O great golden grizzly," she said, "I seek to visit you."
And then he knew that she was kind, because she had seen he was lonely even when he had not. And he knew that he loved her.
But he was still a grizzly, and she a woman. So when the sky darkened and the clouds moved in, he saw her back to her cottage.
And the snow began to fall, and he made his way toward his den to begin his winter sleep. But on the way he climbed past a mighty waterfall, and tonight over its roar he heard a cry.
A woman had fallen into the river. She was clinging to a rock at the precipice of the fall.
In the past, Goldfur might have left her. But newfound love had kindled his spark, and he could not do so now. Ignoring the the icy water, he waded in and pulled her to the bank.
As soon as she was on land, the woman began to glow. Goldfur gazed in wonder. She was a fire fairy.
"Thank you, great golden grizzly," she said. "For this I grant you one favor."
"O fire fairy," said Goldfur, "I have but one wish. Let me be a man again so that I may marry the woman I love."
"Alas, my power is not so great that I may change you permanently," said the fairy. "But I will grant that on sunset at the winter solstice each year, you will wake from hibernation in the form of a man, and a man you will remain until the sun rises again."
And it was so. And on the winter solstice, Goldfur became a man, and he went to the cottage to find Aster. And though he had changed shape, such was their love that she knew him at once, and was pleased. That very night, they were wed.
The year passed. In the spring and summer Aster visited him while he patrolled the forest. But in the fall, he did not see her. And in the winter, he went to sleep.
On the solstice he awoke again as a man. But when he went to find her, the cottage was cold and empty.
He walked on till he came to a house closer to the village. He knocked on the door. "Where is the woman who lived deeper in the woods?" he asked.
"She died three months past," said the man in the house. "While delivering her child."
Then Goldfur wept, for the death of his wife, and for the child he had not known.
Seeing his distress, though, the man in the house added, "But the child did not die! It was taken to the village. Though whether it was then taken in by a family I do not know."
Goldfur grew excited. He wished to see his child. But when he went down to the village, Goldfur saw many children. Some were with loving families, but he others were cold and alone in the snow. And he did not know which one might be his. How could he be a father for a child he didn't know?
The sun would rise soon. Knowing that his grizzly form would frighten the townsfolk, he went back to his den. The gold and treasure he had amassed through his first life filled his mountain, cold and useless. But when the light of the rising sun glinted on it, he thought: even a handful would be a fine birthright for my child.
And he had many handfuls.
He resolved that his child should receive that birthright. And if he did not know which child was, well, then, he had enough for every child.
His wife was gone, but the fairy's blessing remained. Every year at sundown on the winter solstice, he became a man again. And every year he gathered his treasure and walked through all the woods, towns, plains, and villages, and to each child he left a handful of gifts, on the chance that the child might be his. And as the solstice night is powerful for spirits, in the years since he began his annual wanderings, he enlisted the aid of good forest fairies, and they travelled with him on that night to protect children from the bad fairies.
And even today, if children wake up the day after the solstice to find gifts at their doors, they know that Goldfur is still traveling the world each solstice. And thus is he called Father Goldfur, for though he has never found his own child, the great golden grizzly, once a sparkless miser, has become the father to all children.