“Welcome, everyone, to the Yuletide planning meeting." Santa cleared his throat. "I know it's a couple of days early, so I’m glad everyone could make it.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for working so hard this past year.  We are right on schedule. Bernard, do you have the production report?" 

            “As you said, Santa, we are on schedule. Although it's a little early, most of the production sites are winding down. Everything will be completed before the Wonderland Parade,” Bernard said confidently.  “After Winter Wonderland, we will begin the business of moving all the things as close to the Sleigh Port as possible.  Many of the children expect their things to be wrapped, so we must take care of that also.”  Bernard sat down.

           “So, I'm going to make the Yuletide assignments,” Santa bellowed. "Most of you will begin immediately after Winter Wonderland, as usual. However, Phred, you are needed at the Forest Cabin right away."

           Phred nodded.  He knew Clancy and Farley would need help with the Christmas trees and Yule logs.  And, he was glad to go back to the Cabin for a bit. 

           The helpers listened intently as Santa made the new assignments.  “Jimbo, you will work with North Pole Phil again, this year.”

          Jimbo smiled broadly.  “That’s great!”

           "Bernard, when Winter Wonderland is over, you will assist at the Workshop with Santa’s list, and North Pole Phil, as usual, you will increase your daily trips to the Workshop.” 

Bernard clapped his hands and North Pole Phil just nodded, as usual. 

            “Did you say I start today?” Phred asked.

           “Yes, as soon as we’re finished here.  We have a lot of trees to gather.  Any other questions?”

            The helpers shook their heads in unison.  It didn’t matter where they were assigned.  They would have happily cooperated.   They were planning for their most important job, that of making Christmas magical for every child on Earth. 

            Santa spoke again.  “This is your annual pep talk.  We have a big job to do, and no one can do it for us.  The happiness of children everywhere depends on us, and we won’t let them down.  So, let’s work together to make this the happiest, most magical Christmas ever!"

           The helpers cheered.

          “But,” Santa said with a twinkle in his eye, “We'll have some fun first. In two weeks, at the regular time, close your shops and gather for the Wonderland Parade!”

***

           Phred packed his bag and headed for Frosty Corners.  He didn't bother to stop by the “Herald,” because Zann was at the meeting.  When Phred arrived at the train station, he found Brojo reading the paper, and Beblee sipping a mug of cocoa.

          “Taking it easy?” Phred said, grinning.

           “Yep,” Brojo said.  “We have an easy week, so we’re resting up for the Yuletide.”

           “There’ll be no rest for the weary, then,” Beblee said. 

           “I need a ticket for the Christmas Tree Forest.”

           “Sure thing,” Brojo said.

           “Are you looking forward to going back?” Beblee asked.

           “I am,” said Phred.  “I love my new job, but I sorta miss the fellows.”

         “The train will be leaving soon,” Brojo said, handing him the ticket.

          “See ya at the parade,” Phred said, and he boarded the train.  He rode in silence, lost in thought.

           “Christmas Tree Forest,” Willie shouted. 

           Phred grabbed his bag.  “See ya at the parade,” he said to Willie, and he hopped off the train. 

           Phred inhaled deeply.  “Ah,” he said out loud.  Then he made his way along the familiar path to the Forest Cabin.


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