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Hannah rides on Santa’s sleigh

Hannah filled her mug from the hot cocoa fountain that stood taller than she was, then grabbed a frosted snowman cookie from one of the trays attached to the large toy train that twisted through the room, carrying plates and trays piled high with thousands of cookies.

She’d just come back inside from watching a penguin race, which was apparently a popular party event at the North Pole. Max was sitting by a massive stone fireplace, and she sat next to him to warm up.

“I’ll be sad to see you go home tomorrow,” Max said. “We all will.”

“Me too,” she said. “But Mom says we can come back in the spring for a couple weeks.”

Max held his mug of cocoa up to hers for a toast. “To the future,” he declared.

Hannah glanced across the room where her mom was dancing with an elf in a pinstriped suit. Her dad was playing a game with Spriggy and a few others that looked like chess, but instead of the standard pieces there were different sized presents. With every move, the present piece would open up and reveal either a treat or a lump of coal, depending on whether or not the move was good.

Lastly, she looked to where her grandparents sat on a small sofa, content to hold hands and watch the party. Everywhere she looked, she was filled with love and excitement for the years to come. She clinked her glass with Max’s in return.

“To the future.”

Although she’d spent only a short time in the North Pole, it felt like home, so much so that even a week later, on Christmas Eve, it felt strange to be back in her house.

“Everything here is so normal,” she grumbled, kicking off the blanket that didn’t magically snuggle around her and smell of sugary marshmallows like the one at her grandparents’ house.

Charlotte pulled the blanket back up, pulling Hannah close. Adam sat next to Charlotte, holding her hand in his as they all watched “A Christmas Story.”

“Normal isn’t so bad,” he said, glancing over at the Christmas tree they’d bought and decorated the day they’d come back from the North Pole.

“I wonder what Grandpa is doing right now.” Hannah stared out the window at the snow falling from the night sky. A thud sounded from the roof, and a second later a knock came from the fireplace.

“Maybe you should ask him yourself,” Charlotte said with a smile. She gestured to the fireplace. “Go on, just call up.”

Hannah crouched down in front of the fireplace, feeling slightly silly as she talked into it. “Hello? Grandpa? Is that you?”

“Do you know anyone else who would be up on your rooftop on Christmas Eve?” Santa called back, and Hannah giggled. “I’ve come to collect you for your first sleigh ride.”

“My…sleigh ride?” Hannah looked at her parents, wide-eyed, and they nodded.

“We wanted to surprise you,” Charlotte said with a smile. “There’s absolutely nothing like it; riding in the sleigh is probably what I miss the most.”

“Well…” Hannah looked back at the chimney. “Grandpa, can we all go?”

“Of course,” he replied, and Hannah clapped happily while her mother gathered their coats and hats.

“Grandpa will help you up,” Charlotte said. “Just close your eyes and touch the fireplace.”

The instant Hannah touched the brick, her stomach dropped; it felt like she was on a slide, but going up. A moment later, she was wrapped in her grandfather’s warm hug.

She climbed into the front seat of the sleigh next to her grandfather, and her parents settled in behind them.

The sleigh’s dash was covered in monitors and dials. One monitor was flashing the weather for every city in the world, and another displayed an electronic version of Santa’s famous list, with pictures of every child next to their name.

“Will you help me?” Santa asked Hannah, and she nodded excitedly.

Santa sat up straight and picked up the reigns. “On Dasher on Dancer on Prancer on Vixen.”

He looked to Hannah, who cleared her throat. “On Comet on Cupid on Donner and Blitzen!” she said loud and clear.

“Lead us off Rudolph!” Santa called.

Rudolph’s cold-free nose glowed, and with two knocks of his front hooves they were off.

Hannah watched the world below fly by in waves of beautiful lights and trees and homes, where all the children slept dreaming of Santa Claus and Christmas morning.

Charlotte reached over and put her hand on Hannah’s shoulder. “What do you think?” she asked.

“This is perfect,” Hannah said. “I never want any presents again; this is all I could ever want!”

“To fly in my sleigh? Maybe even drive it one day?” Santa asked.

Hannah snuggled into his side. “I would love that. But it doesn’t matter if we’re up here or down there. I just want us to be together. All of us.”

He kissed the top of her head. “Merry Christmas, Hannah Banana.”

“Merry Christmas, Grandpa.” She smiled as a happy tear rolled down her cheek.

As they flew over the world below, Santa called out, “And into the snowy Christmas night we fly, hearts full of Christmas cheer. If you believe in the magic that Christmas brings, the spirit will last throughout the year.”

And Hannah knew that for the rest of her days, the Christmas spirit would be like a fire inside her that would always burn brightly.

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