It was the evening of December 24, Christmas Eve. The annual North Pole Christmas Party was in full swing. Elves and reindeer mingled, chatting about the crazy new toys kids asked for nowadays. Kids used to ask for invisibility cloaks and light sabers, but now they wanted anything with the letter "I" in front of it. The elves soon had to learn to make circuit boards and touch screens. I tried not to let the conversations ruin my Christmas spirit. I'm Santa Claus, for crying out loud! I'm supposed to be jolly! I can't let the kids down! Mrs. Claus saw how stressed I was. She frowned with concern. Sometimes I swear that woman has a sixth sense.

"I'll be fine," I assured her, taking another drink of eggnog. I felt lightheaded. It must be from the heat; the elves always turned up the radiator too high. The twinkling lights that covered the wooden walls didn't help either. The room felt like a sauna. But it was almost time to leave anyway. I checked the huge grandfather clock. It was 5 PM; time to get the sleigh ready. I stepped outside and my white beard blew in front of my face from the wind. Why did all the big storms happen on Christmas Eve?

I opened the stable doors and let the reindeer out. They obediently walked out in single file and lined up in their usual places. I counted heads.

"Dasher… Dancer… hey, did anyone see Prancer?"

"He went to the little reindeer's room," said Vixen.

"Okay. I'll give him three minutes before his substitute has to fill in. Now, where was I? Comet… Cupid's gone too? That's strange. I should really check where I get my corn from. Donner… Blitzen… Rudolph's also gone. Blitzen, I thought you were working on getting everybody ready on schedule."

Blitzen tossed his antlers angrily. "They must have slipped away while I wasn't looking." His gruff voice always reminded me of an army general.

"Okay, well they have three minutes to get back." As soon as I finished the sentence, three reindeer raced toward the sleigh, sending up a spray of snow in their wake.

"Sorry," said Prancer, who had arrived first. "I drank a little too much eggnog." She tripped over her feet as she went to where her elf assistant was waiting. He slipped the harness onto her with a jingle of bells. Cupid skidded to a halt, showering Donner with snow.

"Hey," he protested, shaking the white powder off, "I just groomed my coat!"

"Shut up, it's just water," Cupid snapped. She too took her place. That's strange. Cupid doesn't usually yell at people like that.

Finally, Rudolph arrived. He said nothing, but immediately slipped into his harness.

"Ready when you are," he announced at last, blinking his red nose. It was like a camera flash; I blinked a few times. Then I made my way to the sleigh. The ground seemed to tilt under me as I stepped on a patch of ice and slipped, landing on my bottom.

"Ho, ho, ho; I think I need new boots for Christmas," I joked, hauling myself into the shiny red sleigh. I noticed that Prancer was swaying. Vixen, who was next to her, nudged her side.

"Get your act together," she said. Prancer shook her head as if she were dizzy and stopped swaying.

"On Dancer, on Blitzen, on Dasher, on Cupid, on Comet, on Rudolph, on Prancer, on Vixen, on Donner," I called out. Mrs. Claus jumped into the passenger seat and shook her head as the sleigh lurched forward.

"You've been saying the same line for who knows how long, and you mess it up tonight?"

"No big deal. I got everyone's names right," I assured her. I was dimly aware of leaving the ground. Clouds enveloped us until all I could see was the point of light from Rudolph's nose. I soon lost all sense of direction. Mrs. Claus rolled her eyes and turned on the GPS. I followed the highlighted route and ended up in Paris. The Eiffel Tower loomed out of the fog.

"I wonder if I could fly through it," I thought out loud. I steered straight ahead and the reindeer began to panic. Well, all except for Prancer and Cupid. Prancer looked asleep on her hooves, and Cupid was ranting very loudly, using very un-Christmas-y words. The rungs of the sleigh caught in the bars and Rudolph got his antlers tangled. He looked so ridiculous, I grinned. The emergency release function on the harnesses went off, and the sleigh plummeted to the ground. It fell on its side, and Mrs. Claus, the elf, the huge sack of presents and I landed on the ground with a loud thud. Minutes later, I heard the sound of sirens. I laughed maniacally. That was fun! I got up, swaying on my feet.

"Sir… Santa… have you been drinking today," asked an astonished cop. I had an agreement with all the police forces in the world, pretty much. They allowed me to visit houses, deliver presents, and accept the gifts that children left out for me. But if so much as a picture frame was out of place, I wasn't allowed to visit that town anymore.

"Ho, ho, ho, just a bit of eggnog is all," I slurred.

"Alcoholic eggnog?"

"No! Why would I drink alcoholic eggnog on Christmas Eve, the one day of the year I work?"

"Well we'll know for sure when we get the results from the breathalyzer test."

I couldn't be drunk. I knew I wasn't drunk. But I obliged. The last thing I wanted to do was make a scene and wake the children.

The machine beeped. The cop frowned.

"Mr. Claus, you're definitely drunk. Get in the car."

Mrs. Claus gasped. "But what about the reindeer," she asked. I looked up and noticed that they were still stuck in the tower. Silly reindeer!

"We'll figure something out," the cop promised.

"And who will drive the sleigh? We're wasting precious time!" Mrs. Claus was frantic now. Her face was flushed so that her white hair stood out more than ever. She glared at me.

"Your brain is a bowl full of jelly," she shouted as I stepped into the police car and was driven to the station. Her comment sobered me up quickly. She never yelled at anybody like that!