News of a Sleighing

Sunday is Christmas Eve. It feels wrong to speak here of small and sentimental things such as politics. The most passionately committed Americans right now, and the most imaginative, are children waiting for a large laughing man with a full white beard. And so a newscast Brian Williams could give on Sunday evening:

Brian Williams: Good evening and welcome to “NBC Nightly News.” Reports this evening that that great symbol of Christmas, Santa Claus, has begun his amazing annual journey and is on his way to the home of every child in the world, bringing gifts, joy and cheer. Our full field report begins with NASA, and news of a successful liftoff.

NASA spokesman: Brian, it was all systems go and A-OK for Santa and his sleigh this morning. We can confirm a successful launch from the North Pole. We picked up, via audio sensors, a great whooshing sound, and then “Ho, ho, ho!” Santa entered the stratosphere just after dawn, did a waving flyby of the space station, and has now leveled off at some 2,000 feet.

Williams: And word also from Norad, in the mountains of Colorado.

Norad spokesman: Brian, Santa is now on our radar. We are tracking him also through satellite and infrared sensors. You can see here on the screen—that blip, or rather cluster, is the sleigh, and the reindeer. And I want to note here on the screen a curious red dot that seems to be both part of the blip and leading the blip.

Williams: Is the red dot sign of a problem or malfunction of some sort?

Norad spokesman: No. It’s Rudolph. Rudolph is once again guiding the sleigh. There had been concern—Santa is ageless, but Rudolph was getting old. However he’s here again this year. Gallant old deer.

Williams: It is well known that Santa comes only at night when the children are asleep. So let’s go to London, where it is just past midnight, and our correspondent Jim Macedo.

Macedo: Brian, a light snow is falling tonight, the skies clear and dark. I am standing here in front of 48 Doughty Street, near Bloomsbury Square. This was the home of Charles Dickens, the writer who as much as anyone made the symbols of Christmas famous with his story “A Christmas Carol.” Now as you look in the windows of homes nearby you can see, under the Christmas trees, many gifts, all wrapped in bright paper. So Santa has apparently been here. But I’ll tell you the most amazing thing we’ve seen—if the camera can move in—look here into the Dickens house. It’s a museum now, and an hour ago it was dark and closed. But in the past few minutes lights within began to glow, and people dressed in Victorian garb began to arrive, as if for a party. Suddenly a room lit up and we saw a tree, beautifully lit with candles and red bows. Then a little boy walked in, limping on a crutch. He was holding the hand of an old man with grim lines in his face, but a merry look in his eyes. And together they sat under the tree and began to open presents. We couldn’t hear their conversation, but from the house a moment ago we heard an old carol, and then someone said, “God bless us, every one.” There were cheers and laughter, and—

Williams: Jim, I must interrupt you. We have a report that Santa has been over the Atlantic, where he was seen by travelers on the Queen Elizabeth 2. The QE2 blew its great whistle in his honor, and Santa in response circled low over the ship, and dropped presents. And now I am told he has just flown over Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, where he dipped his sleigh back and forth. Apparently Santa also goes out of his way to show respect for whatever country whose airspace he’s entering. It is expected that Santa will at some point turn south, and enter the airspace of Washington D.C., where our own Tim Russert has been waiting. Tim, any sign, as dusk envelops our nation’s capital?

Santa Claus is coming to town!Russert: Thanks, Brian, and Merry Christmas. Dusk has turned to evening here, and just now a sound of laughter and sleigh bells seemed to come from the sky. Here at the Capitol itself, on the House side, the new speaker-designate, Nancy Pelosi, came and stood on the broad marble steps and seemed to search the sky. Then all of a sudden she pointed, and waved with great enthusiasm. I followed her eyes and looked up, but I’m afraid what she’d seen had passed. But children in a crowd nearby seemed to see what I could not. They began to point, and some burst into applause. I’m hearing Jim Miklaszewski has more from the White House.

Miklaszewski: Brian and Tim, Santa came by the White House too. And for our purposes most striking was what came from the Residence, the part of the White House where the president and first lady live. When the sleigh bells rang, the lights started going on and off in what appeared to be a pattern. We asked a military aide, and he said the president has been learning Morse code. The message he sent through the lights was, apparently, “Way to go, Big Nick.” Big Nick is the president’s nickname for Santa Claus, who is also called St. Nicholas.

Williams: All right, good reports all. And so we reach the end of our newscast. And we ask: What is the Santa phenomenon? I think Santa comes to remind us that kindness and generosity can be a surprising gift from someone you don’t even know. To remind us that something can be a gift even if it arrives awkwardly, such as tumbling down a chimney. Maybe Santa comes just to touch our hearts. It is also worth noting—and perhaps this was our lead this evening—that children seem to look forward to Santa not only with a feeling of expectation, but of love. And love is a very good thing.

That’s our show tonight. Oh—I am being told now that Santa has issued a statement. He said, “Don’t forget the cookies.” And we have, just now, the first ever audio tape. Air traffic control in Cleveland just recorded these words through the open mike of a Delta airliner en route to Los Angeles. It’s a man out of the darkness saying. “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”