The Sikes Senter parking lot was nearly deserted—a rare sight this time of year. As I neared my pickup, I spotted a group of people nearby looking up at the night sky. I looked too and discovered the sky was dark and empty except for a single solitary star. It was brighter than any I’d ever seen. And more beautiful. I walked over.
    “Supernova,” I heard someone say. “Got to be a supernova, bright as it is.”
    “Not necessarily. Could be a pulsar. Never seen one, but I’ve read about them.”
    “I think it’s a comet,” a third person added.
    “No way. It would’ve been in the paper.”
    “What about a satellite? Might be that.”
    “Nope. It’d be moving.”
    There was a chuckle from the rear. We turned and spied an old man smiling and shaking his head. His hair and beard were white as fresh snow.
    “What’s with you, old man?” the supernova fellow asked.
    “Just wondering how something so simple can be so complicated,” he answered.
    “Oh, and I suppose you know what it is?”
    “I have an idea, that’s all. No more, no less than any of you.”
    “Well, let’s hear it.”
    “Yeah, what do you think it is?” someone added.
    He looked at us, then back up at the star.
    “Hope,” he said.
    It was quite for a moment. Then, “What kind of answer is that?”
    “And Peace,” he continued. “Understanding. Good Will toward men. And women,” he smiled.
    All eyes had shifted from him back to the star.
    “A symbol of what it Good. And what is Right and Fair. A shining reminder that Truth shall prevail. That Love is omnipotent. And lest we forget, that Miracles can happen.”
    He paused momentarily, then added, “I believe it to be no less than a beacon illuminating our direction home.”
    For a moment, no one spoke. Finally, someone did—the pulsar man, I think.
    “That doesn’t sound simple. In fact, that sounds pretty complicated to me.”
    “Well, maybe a little to some,” the old man replied.
    “And you can see all that in just a simple star?”
    ‘Oh, no, not just a star. I never said this was just any old star.”
    “It isn’t?”
    “Have you seen it before?”
    “Of course. As each of you have. Perhaps you’ve just forgotten. It is the Star of Bethlehem,” he said with eyes gleaming.
    The group grew silent, and our attention returned skyward. For a while, everyone just stood gazing at the star. Then, gradually, the others began to wander off, quietly going their separate ways.
    “I still think it’s a comet,” I heard one mutter as he walked away.
    I looked back at the old man and saw someone else had stayed behind. I hadn’t seen her earlier. It was easy to see why. She was tiny. I guessed her to be only six or seven. She wore tiny worn, faded jeans and a flannel shirt that was too big. She had dirty blonde hair and a smile that could rip your heart. I watched her tug at the old man’s trousers.
    “Yes, dear?” he said.
    “Are you Santa Claus?” she asked.
    “As a matter of fact I am. And whom might you be?”
    “My name is Lydia.”
             He reached down and picked her up. “Well, now, Lydia, what can I do for you?"
    “I have a Christmas wish,” she said.
    “You do?” he asked sniffing. And what else do you have?” he asked as he reached into her front shirt pocket. He pulled out a piece of fried fish. After examining it, he replaced it, took out a kerchief and wiped his fingers. “You must really like fish,” he said smiling.
    She nodded, embarrassed.
    “Now, I believe you were going to tell me what it is you want for Christmas.”
    She nodded again and leaned forward whispering in his ear.  
    “I see,” he said when she’d finished. “Well, now, darlin’, old Santa will do the best he can. That’s all he can do. Okay?”
    She gave him a hug. A long hard one. And he put her down.
    “Goodbye, Santa,” she said. She then turned and looked at me. “Goodbye, Mister.” And off she ran.
    We watched her go then looked at each other.
    “What did she wish for?” I asked.
    “That’s privileged information,” he replied.
    “I see. Well, do you think she’ll get it?”
    “I’d sure like to think so.” he said.
    I smiled and said, “Santa, I believe you’ve lost some weight.”
    “Ultra Slimfast,” he smiled back. “I tell you, I just can’t get enough of that Chocolate Royale.”
    “Dressing a big differently these days, too, I noticed.”
    “Oh, did the Dockers and rugby shirt throw you?
    “That and the pump-up Reeboks,” I said.
    “This is all so much more comfortable. And that darn red suit itches so. But don’t worry, I still wear it on occasion.”
    I laughed and then noticed his cap. “You a hockey fan?”
    “No,” he answered. “Never been to a game. Why?”
    “Well, I noticed your cap is a little outdated. It says Minnesota North Stars.”
    “Appropriate, don’t you think?” he smiled.
    “Yes. Except they’re in Dallas now. Have been for some years. Even won the Stanley Cup a while back”
    “You don’t say? Well, you never know.” He looked at his watch. “It’s getting late, I best be on my way.” He started to leave, then turned and said, “Oh, I almost forgot. What would you like for Christmas, young man?”
    “I’m fifty-two years old.” I said.
    “Son, I’m Santa Claus. Believe you me, fifty-two is young. Now, what is it you wish?”
    “Well, I thought I knew, but I believe I’ve changed my mind. I guess what I’d really like is that Lydia get her wish.”
    “That’s not bad. I don’t hear many wishes like that anymore. He smiled and said, “In fact, I like your wish so much, I’m going to give you another. Two Christmas wishes—you can’t beat that, son.”
    “Two wishes? That’ll take a second,” I said. I thought for a moment looking up at the star. "When I was eight, I asked Santa for an electric train. I awoke to find it chugging beneath our Christmas tree. That afternoon I moved it too my bedroom. It was there I found it. On the bottom of a single piece of track. Made In Japan. They tried, but my parents couldn’t explain it away. I was devastated. A few months later, my dad died in an automobile accident. It was a tough year, to say the least.” I paused.
    The old man watched and listened intently. 
    “My true Christmas wish has been the same every year since. To believe again. For I know if I can just believe in Santa again, I’ll have a small piece of my dad back.” I stared at the pavement and could feel the old man’s eyes on me. After a moment, he spoke.  
           “That’s it, huh—to believe again?”
    I nodded.
    “You know, I get some of these occasionally. But not often. Mostly, people just want to win the lottery.”
    I looked up and smiled. He smiled back and said, “I’ll see what I can do. But, Jim you must know this is more in your hands than mine.”
    My jaw dropped. “How did you know my name?”
    “I think you just need a little push, that’s all.”
    “How do you know me?” I asked again. I’d never met this old man in my before in my life.
    He smiled and looked at his watch. “Oh, my. It’s late. I have to be going!” Then he laughed—that genuine, unmistakable laugh of his—recalled from my childhood and memories that long lay dormant in my heart, but now were awakened.  
    I felt a tap on my shoulder.
    “You okay, Sir?”
    It was a mall security officer.
    “What?” I asked.
    “Are you all right? Anything I can do for you?”
    “No. I’m fine. Why?”
    “Sir, I’ve been watching you for some time now. Just standing out here alone. The mall closed hours ago.”
    “Alone?” I asked. I turned and saw the old man was gone.
    “No one here but you, sir.”
    “What about the old man? And the others? 
    He looked at me as if I were crazy.
    “The little girl,” I said. “Her name was Lydia. She thought the old man was Santa.”
    “I see.”
    “Why don’t you go on home?” And with that, he turned and walked away.  
    I watched him for a moment, then unlocked the door and climbed in my pickup. I started the engine and sat there letting it warm. Thinking. Then, smiling, I put it in gear and drove over to the security officer. He looked up, saw me, and rolled down his window.  
    “Did you know some of Santa’s toys are made in Japan? Other places, too. Taiwan. Italy. And Mexico? Did you know that?”
    He stared at me. “You don’t say.”
    “They sure are. Take my word for it. And Merry Christmas!”
    He said something as I drove away. I prefer to think it was Merry Christmas as well. Above me, the night sky was now suddenly full of stars. Something streaked across the horizon. A plane? Maybe. A meteor? Possibly. Most likely, though, it was a sleigh. 
           That’s what I believe.