Someday a smart kid's going to ask: What if Santa is gluten intolerant? What if the cookies made his tummy hurt?

A smart parent will parry the point with deft misdirection: "Why, Gluten is one of the reindeer. On Comet and Blixen and Dasher and Gluten!" Whew; he bought it.

But the next year the child is poised on that bittersweet cusp where childhood faith gives way to the cold satisfactions of heresy, and might wonder how Santa can possibly finish his job in one night.

I wondered that, too. Answer: He doesn't. Not always.

The day after Christmas I found something else in the bottom of my stocking and figured this could only mean that Kringle made a cleanup round.

Obviously, I'd missed it. But to a child's imagination, it opened the possibility of a second visit. Possibly Santa shook out his bag at the end of the night, frazzled to the bone, and to his dismay a lone item fell out.


One elf froze; his bowels seized, his throat closed: Oh man oh man oh man, I screwed that up!

No one came forward to admit the mistake; Santa had to make another trip. He woke up Rudolph, who said, You have got to be kidding me. I'm not on call. Union rules. Talk to Gluten.

To a kid, this opened up another possibility. If he could come back on Christmas night, why not the next?

This is dangerous thinking. Remember: The malls will be thick with shoppers tomorrow, exchanging that sweater that looked like someone dumped a 128-color box of crayons into a kaleidoscope.

Stores are keen to sell everything they can -- but no one in retail has ever suggested that we revise our traditions to include Santa's Second Trip. Think what they could do to us if they tried:

Millions of children would love to expect Santa to show up again, and you know indulgent parents hesitant to disappoint their little snowflake would go right along. It's a guaranteed bottom-line booster, but it's a line no one dares to cross.

There's hope for us yet. Merry Christmas! • 612-673-7858