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Opinion: I have one wish this Christmas

A lit Christmas tree.
Charles Sykes
A lit Christmas tree.

We have a Christmas tree and a menorah in our multi-faith family; lights, candles and presents. But our daughters are older. I hadn't seen a trace of the guy with the sleigh in years until I came across a man of a certain age, white beard, red suit, and scuffed black boots, sitting outdoors over a reusable, holiday cup of cocoa.

"Is it... you?" I asked.

"Shush," he said. "Last thing I need is a crush of people saying, 'Hey, I need puffy-coat, Snoopy! Now!' "

"You look fit," I told him.

"Ozempic," he explained, then patted his belly, which no longer shakes like a bowl full of jelly — it's a washboard.

"And how are the elves?"

"WFH," he said. "I barely see them. Came in for the holiday party because we had free breadsticks. They packed it in, lemme tell you. Up to the bells on their stocking caps."

"I don't see your reindeer..."

"They're all gig workers now," he explained. "Donder, Blitzen. I order a sleigh on Slyft, and the screen flashes, 'Your closest reindeer are finishing a ride'."

"What about Rudolph?"

The man in the red suit shrugged.

"Don't need a 'nose so bright' to guide my sleigh now that I've got GPS," he said. "But Rudolph's got his own podcast now, called "You Sleigh Me." Let's just say, I'm not the hero."

"I miss leaving out cookies for you," I told the man.

"You apartment dwellers," he sighed. "No chimney. I have to come down the trash chute. Yuck. But I guess it's the life I chose."

I edged in a little closer to ask softly, "So am I on the Naughty or Nice List?"

"That list got lawyered out," he told me. "Now you download the app, fill out reviews." He looked down at his phone. "Mr. One-point-five star rating," he added. "But your daughters turned out well," he said. "Kind, curious, funny. The important stuff. So, you got a wish?" he asked.

I paused and told the bearded man in the red suit, "Give each child a chance. To be happy. Healthy. And to play. That's all."

The man took his hand off his warm cup and put it on my shoulder.

"Why don't we all work on that together?" he asked.

The bearded man's face then shone with a rosy glow. It was a soft red light from the screen of his cellphone.

"I gotta go," he told me. "Dancer and Prancer are a minute away."

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.