The ghost arrives late. Three, even four full strokes after midnight and finally he shows up, a sack full of presents his excuse. He sets to handing out gifts immediately, without ceremony, without any introduction or segue, without any go-ahead from The Big Guy.
Everybody knows you can’t have a Christmas Party without a Christmas Ghost, so of course they all laugh it off and ignore the transgression.
But I can’t. It’s the worst part of my job, the sacking of ghosts. They have a habit of sticking around and haunting you. But Christmas Ghosts are notoriously bad at hauntings. They’ll pop an ornament off the tree and people blame the cat instead. They tend to think clinking chain sounds are scary, but the truth is: that’s very nineteenth century.
So I call him over. “Ralph,” I say, because it’s my job to know all the Christmas Ghosts by name, “we need to talk.”
Ralph doesn’t know how to do anything but smile, so he puts more effort into it and hands me a present box. “Merry Christmas,” he tells me.
“Ralph,” I say, putting a friendly arm around the Christmas Ghost’s shoulders. “You know the importance of spectacle and symbolism.”
“I do,” Ralph says. “You taught me that.”
He gives me too much credit. “And anticipation,” I add. “Expectation. Tradition.”
“It’s about the clock, isn’t it?”
“It’s about the clock.”
The Christmas Ghost asks, “Can I say two things in my defense?”
“First, you taught me anticipation, and it never hurts to let a thing like that stretch just a little bit longer, does it, boss?”
I don’t answer because, although he’s right, in this case he’s also wrong.
“Second,” the Christmas Ghost says, “our host’s magnificent grandfather clock is running almost a full four seconds fast.”
I check my precision-timed watch, then the grandfather clock, then my watch again. He’s right.
Which, for me, is a relief. “Merry Christmas, Ralph,” I say, and I pull a gift from my pocket and hand it to him. “You’re the best Christmas Ghost I know.”