“Who, me?” I protested. “Santa Claus? No way! Not a chance!”

“You forgot ‘Humbug,'” my wife replied.

“Don’t try to make me out as Scrooge, Barbara. I’d need a little notice for something like this. Just home from work with a report to finish before Christmas and you want me to drive downtown and play Santa Claus for goodness sake!”

“Yes, for goodness sake, Dear. old Mr. Duffy came down with the flu and if Santa isn’t at the tree lighting, it will break a wonderful tradition. Please reconsider.”

“I’ll have to think it over,” I said, and opening the closet door to hang up my coat, I spotted a bright red garment. “You took me for granted,” I shouted.

“I took your Christmas spirit for granted, you big softee. You should be flattered.”

Ten minutes later I was being hustled out the front door strutting in Mr. Duffy’s Santa boots and trying to adjust my new beard. “How do I look? The suit looks quite well doesn’t it?”

“It certainly does. Poor Mr. Duffy must have been uncomfortable all those years. He had to use a pillow.”

I drove to the town hall arriving in time for the tree lighting. I ad libbed a few ho, ho, hos, had my picture taken with the mayor and the choir and was intercepted on my way back to my car by one of the greediest little boys who ever recited his Christmas list to Santa. It took five minutes and sounded like the complete inventory of F.A.O. Schwarz. I told him if he was a good boy, said his prayers, studied hard in school and voted straight Republican, he would eventually get everything he wanted. He bought that.

I was the last to leave. I got in my car and turned the key. Nothing! Dead battery! My wallet and cell phone were in my other suit, the one without the white fur trim.

Muttering Christmas carols I trudged over to Main Street just in time to see the last store lights blink out and the first snowflakes sideslip past the street lamps. Pulling my fur-trimmed red cap down over my ears, I headed for home. It was very cold, but I didn’t notice because I was steaming.

A young man approached unsteadily on the snowy sidewalk and I thought I might avoid a two-mile walk. “Excuse me, buddy, can you……”

“Santa!, he shouted. “You remembered my name! Look, Santa, I meant to go straight home from work, but the boys insisted on stopping for a few holiday drinks at Murphy’s.”

“Buddy, I need your help. Can you give me a lift?”

“I’d love to, Santa, but I don’t know where I parked my car or even if I own one, ha ha! Anyway , I shouldn’t be driving tonight. But Santa, where are your reindeer?”

“They’ve been recalled, Buddy. Something about faulty antlers. Go home to your family now and have a merry Christmas.”

“Wait’ll the kids hear about this, Santa……Faulty antlers?”

Buddy was only a voice in the swirling snow as I walked on, beginning to marvel at the credibility and authority that went with my loud red coat and knickers.

Further on I overtook an old grandma huddled in a man’s overcoat. She was pulling a sled carrying a little girl and a bundle of laundry. “Susie, look who’s here,” she cried. Susie was about 4 years old with blue saucers for eyes. I leaned over the sled and smiled at her. “Susie, you’ve been a good girl and I’m going to bring you something special on Christmas. (I caught Grandma’s signal). It’s a pretty baby doll for you to take care of.” Susie laughed and reached up to touch my beard.

I pulled the sled toward a laundromat shining through the snowfall down the stree. “It’s a beautiful doll,” Grandma whispered. Just like the one you brought me when I was her age. Remember?

I told her I did and helped her in with the laundry not realizing what the effect would be as Santa entered with a bag slung over his shoulder. A young couple stopped loading a machine and watched me expectantly. A teenaged girl jumped back a step with a hand to her mouth and an old man stared at me with a puzzled look. I recognized him as a nodding acquaintance from the neighborhood, recently widowed and reportedly taking it hard.

“Merry Christmas everyone,” I called. “I have to be going now. It’s my busiest time of the year.” They laughed and wished me the same. I spoke softly to the old man. “Take comfort in the real meaning and promise of the season, Michael,” I said.

“I’ll try, Santa and thanks for stopping by.”

The snow was deepening, but I had only a short way to go and I made it almost without incident. Barbara handed me a steaming mug of her excellent chicken soup as I walked in the door and I sank into the sofa, exhausted.

“Aren’t you going to change your clothes, Santa?”

“Not now. I just want to sip this soup and gaze at the tree for a while.”

“What about that report?”

“The elves will take care of it. Come and sit beside me.”

We sat in the glow of the tree for a few minutes and then Barbara said, “Santa. do you know there’s a big tear in the seat of your pants?”

“Yes, I ran into a bit of trouble. I began jogging to keep warm and I was attacked by a shepherd.”

“A shepherd? Santa was attacked just before Christmas by a shepherd?”

“Yes, a German Shepherd.”

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