Santa and Santa's helpers have been taxed to the max in Howard County this year. It seems that every holiday season brings more opportunities to see the Man in Red. I can just imagine a staff meeting at the North Pole...
"Okay everybody, let's get this show on the road."
"Aw, c'mon man, it's only Halloweeeeeen!"
"You know the drill. It gets earlier every year. Gotta keep up with the times."
"Everybody have their calendar?"
iPads, phones, and Blackberries are pulled out. Santa himself clings to his beloved Day-Timer but his Head Administrative Elf double-checks everything and enters it into the Main Schedule on his MacBook.
"Herb, what are you doing? That's an Advent Calendar. You can't open that up yet!"
"It's last year's. Didn't eat all the chocolate yet."
The Head Administrative Elf sighs and hands him one of those nice glossy calendars that the North Pole Real Estate Agent sent over and a candy-cane ball-point pen.
"Alright! Howard County! Let's get this one in the books!"
"Breakfast with Santa?"
"Pizza with Santa?"
"Firefighters with Santa?"
Various hands are raised, dates written down.
"Brunch with Santa?"
"Happy Hour with Santa?"
Dead silence. Heads come up.
"What the heck is going on, man?"
The Head Administrative Elf looks over the tops of his glasses, down the long table.
"I beg your pardon?"
"What's up with all the extra gigs? I mean, we all love the regular rounds of doughnuts, pizza, milk and cookies, even those cold rides with the Fire Department. But every year in Howard County they're adding more, more, more!"
A rumble of assent goes round the table.
"Where will it end? Sauna with Santa? Dental cleanings with Santa? Dry-cleaning pickups with Santa?"
Another speaks up. "This has gotten out of hand. This county wants Santa at its beck and call from Halloween right through til Christmas Eve. Someone's got to draw the line."
"Yeah! Santa's Helpers need to get ready for Christmas, too!"
The meeting breaks down into general pandemonium.
In the midst of the chaos, Santa himself, the Man in Red, stands up slowly, looking at the scene before him. Feeling his gaze, the dissenters fall silent.
He clears his throat. He sighs.
"Must I remind you? Must I even speak of this?" His voice trembles a bit with anger.
"Once our children in Howard County had a place to go to visit with Santa and share their wishes. They knew once they saw the Poinsettia Tree that the time had come for Christmas joy." His face darkened. Santa's Helpers looked down at their hands, twiddled their pens, shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.
"But commercialism and greed have turned their tradition over to the Dark Side..." His voice trailed off. Everyone knew what he meant. He didn't have to go any further.
Exhorbitant photo fees. Requirements to buy large photo packages. Prohibition of parent-taken photographs. It was now Santa only for the well-to-do. It went against everything they all believed in.
Herb, wiping the last crumbs of chocolate from his mouth, raises his hand.
"Okay, I'm cool with the Brunch with Santa. Pencil me in."
The meeting continues peacefully. All the dates are filled.
The Head Assistant Elf stands, signalling the close of the meeting.
"Thanks, gentlemen. The children are fortunate that you are on their side. This Christmas will be the best ever."
Santa pats his arm. "Wait a minute. Did we ever schedule Happy Hour with Santa?"
The Head Administrative Elf smiles.
"Oh, that's the Office Party. Second Chance Saloon. Half price burger night. Happy hour prices all night. Uniform optional. Ugly Christmas sweater contest. Raffle, prizes, fruitcake tossing."
That's one date everyone happily fills in.
"That's a wrap, everyone."