A lot has changed since my last letter to you.
The red kickball you brought me long since deflated; the world faster-paced and less certain; the kids more self-absorbed, the parents more jaded.
Now, I have two children of my own, and, in case their names are on your Nice List this year, I'd like to get a few things straight.
First of all, I want to know what kind of safety standards you've got at your toy workshop. I'm sure you've heard about the thousands of toys recalled recently because of lead paint, small parts that fall off and even glue that turns into a toxic chemical when ingested.
I trust you're on top of this. After all, you're Santa Claus. You've got a state-of-the-art production facility, an army of jolly elves and enough magic to make reindeer fly, so supplying the children of the world with toys that won't fall apart or cause seizures, even when swallowed, should be easy.
Still, with so many toy recalls in the news these days, I thought I'd better double-check.
I've been noticing, too, that not all of the toys you bring say "Made at the North Pole," and that makes me wonder: What percentage of your toys is actually handcrafted by those hard-working elves, and how much of your labor do you outsource to subcontractors?
This raises another issue: How do you handle quality control? I've heard that, in response to concerns about toy recalls, some toymakers are implementing more-rigorous testing and quality-control procedures. Since you're the oldest and most trusted toymaker in the business, I'm counting on you to have the gold standard for safety, which means you've probably had to hire more elves to oversee the added testing.
If so, I hope you're paying them a fair wage and treating them well. I'd be very disappointed to hear that you tested Aqua Dots on an unsuspecting elf, or, worse, outsourced the testing to the Island of Misfit Toys. (Poor Charlie-in-the-Box has a tough life as it is. Lead poisoning is the last thing he needs.)
Though I have some concerns about your production process, I'm very pleased with your delivery system. Now more than ever, I'm thankful that your sleigh is powered by reindeer, because it would take a whole lot of carbon-trapping jet fuel to deliver all the toys today's kids want.
The fact that your annual deliveries aren't contributing to global warming restores a bit of my faith in you. But, of course, you probably know it's in your own best interest to be a green Santa. If the climate scientists are right, polar ice cap melting will flood your toy workshop within the next 50 years.
In the meantime, I've got a Christmas wish for you to consider: Could you ease up just a little on the sales pitch? It's bad enough that you're at every shopping mall asking kids what they want, want, want. You're also constantly supplying ideas.
When I was a kid, the only place to see new toys was the Sears Wishbook or the Saturday morning cartoon commercials. Now, I get catalogs and fliers every day. At least I can fast-forward the commercials when I watch the holiday TV specials _ but not without subjecting my kids to a blur of smiling children playing with colorful toys and gadgets.
Which brings me to the biggest question on my mind: Do you really give all those toys away for free every year? Or is it all just an elaborate product-placement scheme? I want to believe in you, but I'm afraid that, behind those rosy cheeks and that fluffy white beard, you're just a corporate puppet whose magic act and endless bag of toys are financed and manipulated by CEOs and shareholders.
So go ahead, Santa: Prove me wrong. Got any generic toys in your magic bag? Or how about donating half your toys to charity and holding a news conference urging children to limit their wish lists to one item apiece?
As a gesture of good faith, I'll leave you a plate of homemade cookies on Christmas Eve _ unless, of course, you've finally wised up to the dangers of obesity. I'll put out some celery sticks just in case.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.