Bruce Hetrick has the week off. Before he left, he updated this column that was first published Dec. 20, 2004.
Contrary to folklore perpetuated each December, Santa and Mrs. Claus don't live at the North Pole. Their heads aren't crowned with thick, white locks. Their clothes aren't predominantly crimson. And there's no sleigh in the garage, nor reindeer in the stable (in fact, there's no stable at all.)
The Clauses live, instead, on the north side of Indianapolis. As occasional purveyors of parcel, they prefer this central location, what with highways shooting off in every direction and warehouses at every intersection. (The Fed Ex hub is vital, too.)
Having raised their elves and watched them, long ago, abandon the nest; having parachuted, golden-like, from their one-time professional pursuits, the Clauses lead a quiet life.
They travel from time to time. Frolic with friends and grandkids. And while they cherish the bustle of the season as much as any of us, they delegate the ringing of bells and the posing with tots to mimics whose bearing more readily matches the myth.
And so, you ask, how I come to know that the Clauses are, indeed, the Clauses-and that the role doesn't rightly belong to Edmund Gwenn or some animated variation of Tom Hanks. And because you religiously read your IBJ from back to front, I'm going to tell you.
You see, Santa and Mrs. Claus have been good to me over the years. While I stopped believing for a time (between a skeptical age 7 and cynical adolescence), my faith has been restored by overwhelming evidence.
Upon visiting the Claus estate, for example, I've seen hundreds of Santa likenesses donned in traditional garb. There are wooden Santas and iron Santas, cloth Santas and tin. There are Santas sitting on the mantelpiece and Santas hanging from the walls. Surely none but an adoring Mrs. Claus would amass and display such a collection.
But it's generosity, not graven images, which give the Clauses away.
One day, a few years back, the Clauses were sitting in a restaurant, taking a breather from Christmas shopping and supping on the mild food that's proven gentler to Mrs. Claus' sensitive stomach.
Having checked their list twice to see what they'd bought and what they lacked, they spied a hard-working cook in the kitchen.
"I'll bet he never gets any tips," Mrs. Claus said.
"Not stuck in the kitchen like that," Santa said.
So Mrs. Claus pulled from her handbag a bill bearing the image of Andrew Jackson. She gave it to the waitress, who delivered it to the cook, who grinned and waved as Santa and Mrs. Claus headed back to the mall.
More often, the beneficiaries of the Claus' benevolence never know who helped.
One year, Mrs. Claus read in the newspaper about a smart young fellow. He and his family had suffered some hardship and couldn't afford the computer he needed to learn like the other kids.
So Santa and Mrs. Claus bought one of those newfangled machines and had it delivered to the young lad. There was no return address, just a card saying it was from Santa.
Another year, Santa heard that an elf he'd once worked with had had a bad year. He heard that she and her kids wouldn't have much of a Christmas.
So Santa and Mrs. Claus did some extra shopping, wrapped the packages in pretty paper, and sneaked them onto the doorstep Christmas Eve.
Then, Santa and Mrs. Claus outdid themselves. Just before the holidays, they learned that a man and woman-someone they'd known for years-were about to lose their home. The man had lost his job. The woman was disabled and could not work. They'd defaulted on their mortgage and a sheriff's sale was inevitable.
So Santa and Mrs. Claus traveled to the faraway city where these folks live, hired a real estate agent, took the couple homeshopping, and settled on a suitable place.
Then Santa and Mrs. Claus took out a second mortgage on their own home, bought the little bungalow outright, spent a week furnishing and decorating it, and handed the keys to the overwhelmed couple.
That there are such saints among us is one of many miracles of this season. That we each can be saintly is the greatest gift of all.
All around us, there are hard-working people for whom 20 surprise dollars would be a financial and emotional windfall.
All around us, struggling children and their caregivers would weep to find gifts on their doorsteps.
All around us, families would sing with glee at the prospect of a warm place to live.
At press time, United Way of Central Indiana reported that it's just 19 percent-or $7.7 million-away from the funds needed to reach its 2006 goal for addressing today's needs and reducing tomorrow's.
What a collective, year-round Christmas presence it would be if, by stirring the wings of a thousand angels, we each contributed just a little more and shared in the miracle of Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.