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Hey, a business man's gotta do what he's gotta do

RUDOLPH'S EARS flicked. He was the first to hear them coming. Twenty-six darkened vans crunched menacingly through the newly fallen snow. The leaping dolphins painted on their sides glistened in the moonlight. Ice ran through his veins.

Ralph the Elf was right. The ideal went through. With the nod of his head, Santa was moving the operation to Florida -- lock, stock and icicle. Production schedules had been put on hold. So had dreams. Everyone in Santa's Village had missed this one.

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Santa announced the move at the morning hot-chocolate break. Mrs. Claus stood stoically at his side. "Boca Raton has offered us new opportunities. At last a state-of-the-art village. 'Kids For Claus' made it all possible." The news was received like a sack of coal. Not even visions of a dome, heated reindeer stalls or artificial tundra could warm the chill in their tiny elfin hearts. Stunned elves smiled bravely.

The next few days were a blizzard of activity. Rudolph wasn't buying it. Water landings were tricky. Local tots were inconsolable: How could Santa leave? North Pole postal workers were disgruntled. Their work was already seasonal. Woodcutters tried to stop it in the courts. The Sugarland Gazette was unforgiving. Seasonably incorrect cartoons began to appear. Across town Christmas lights blinked off.

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Meanwhile, in Boca . . .

In the southern breeze, plastic mistletoe rustled softly. Everything, including the flamingos, was flocked. The town was on a sugar high as candy enthusiasts debated whether canes ringed red-white-red, or, white-red-white. Cookie experts traded gingerbread recipes debating pecans "in" or "out." Across the town eggnog toasts were raised by "Personal Sleigh License" owners feeling both naughty and nice. Santa Claus was coming to town.

Pundits insist the effects of this move will jingle bells for a long NTC time. They recall ghosts of Christmas past. Seasons change. Just a little heat and the snow could melt again. Poor elf performance, a couple of "bad" seasons, a cookie freeze -- it could happen. Santa's making a list and Houston's checking it twice.

You better watch out!

John Burke, a professor of sociology, and Mary Burke, a corporate program manager, are a brother and sister writing team in St. Louis.



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