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    When a naughty elf strikes, can this dad save Christmas?

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     (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-110283191/stock-photo-portrait-of-santa-claus-with-severe-look-all-on-white-background.html'>Sad Santa</a> image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    (Sad Santa image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    When Emily finds her poorly hidden Christmas presents, her dad blames it on an elf who Santa fired for stealing presents and hiding them in people’s houses. He pulls a few “naughty elf” pranks when his family is sleeping, but one night he goes too far. Can he save Christmas and his family?

    “What did you see in the basement, Emily? It’s okay, I won’t get upset.”

    “The Barbie Dream House,” she nervously replied.

    Luckily, I had prepared for this.

    “I am so glad you told me. There was a news report about a naughty elf that was fired from Santa’s workshop for stuffing up the toilet with candy canes. He left the North Pole with stolen presents and is hiding them all over the Delaware Valley. I will let Santa know that you have found presents, so he can make sure they go to right children.”

    My wife, Tracey, took the girls out and made it clear that, before I left for work, those presents had better be hidden.

    I did one better. When my kids came home, they went down to the basement. The presents were gone, and taped to the wall was a letter with stationery that read: “From the Desk of Santa Claus.”

    Dearest Emily,

    Thank you for your honesty. That naughty elf has been a thorn in my side, but I have put my best elves on the case. As a token of my appreciation, I would like you to know that you are on the “Nice List,” this year.

    Love,Santa Claus

    Emily was so excited about the letter; she was talking about it even as she went to bed. She asked, “Daddy, do you think they caught the naughty elf?”

    The next morning, they woke me out of bed. “Daddy, the naughty elf played another trick!”

    Walking downstairs, I saw the stockings, hung by the chimney with care, had been turned upside-down!

    The next morning, the girls were delighted to see their Barbie dolls hanging from the Christmas tree. Oh, that naughty elf!

    On the third morning, they did not discover any tricks.

    “Daddy, did Santa catch the naughty elf?”

    “I don’t know, Emily. It sounds like you and Maddie kind of like the naughty elf?”

    “Maybe a little.”

    I decided the naughty elf would go out with a bang. That night, I waited until my wife and daughters fell asleep. Flashlight in mouth, I began disassembling our tree so I could put it back together in my daughters’ shared bedroom. When they woke up the next day, they would know that the naughty elf was still on the loose!

    It took an hour in the dark to remove each section and take off our most precious, irreplaceable ornaments. I carried the base of the tree to the stairs. It didn’t fit. I took some bells off, turned it sideways, and dragged it up. After maneuvering it through the narrow doorway, I placed it in front of Emily’s bed.

    I couldn’t see where to connect the sections, because I couldn’t use the flashlight. I couldn’t even find an outlet to plug the tree into. Then, I heard a rustling from my bedroom.

    “Brad,” Tracey whispered, “what’s going on?”

    “Nothing. Don’t worry.”

    Tracey came into their room, and screamed through clenched teeth, “Brad, are you crazy? What are you doing?!”

    I tried to calm her down. I didn’t want the girls to wake up, but they did — and they freaked out. It turns out an unlit Christmas tree in a dark bedroom kind of looks like, you know, the guy who knows if you’ve been sleeping, and knows when you’re awake.

    I turned on the lights and said, “It was the naughty elf! I caught him!”

    Maddie cried, “Bad naughty elf! Make it go away!”

    I took down the tree, turned off the light, and promised them everything would be okay in the morning.

    It wasn’t. I stayed up until 4 a.m. putting it back together. The morning light revealed a disaster: tinsel everywhere, branches bent, ornaments broken.

    Tracey scowled, “You go to work, Bradley, and I’ll clean up the mess.”

    I came home with a pit in my stomach. The tree was beautiful again. I crept upstairs, poked my head into our bedroom, where my wife and kids were watching TV.

    “Daddy!” my girls screamed.

    Tracey ignored me.

    “The naughty elf played one more trick,” I said.

    “What,” said Tracey.

    I revealed a bouquet and handed it to her. She read the note:

    Dear Tracey,

    Sorry I ruined Christmas.

    Love,The Naughty Elf

    She tried not to smile.

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