Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas! I know that in a few days many of you expect me to be popping down your chimney, scaling your fire escape, or kicking down your front door, but unfortunately, for the first time ever, I’m sitting Christmas out.

Kids, it’s not that you haven’t been good. It’s not that I don’t have a warehouse full of toys that would entertain and delight you for at least half an hour before you throw them to the side and begin making plans to Scotch tape your youngest sibling to the ceiling fan. It’s not even that I’ve been living a Groundhog Day-esque nightmare every Christmas Eve for the past 2,000 years, and I’m ready to quit so I can stay home and stare dead-eyed at the fire while drinking mug after mug of peppermint schnapps.

No, the problem is that this year, every single last one of you is crawling with a diversity of germs so virulent that entering your homes even briefly would surely kill an old, out-of-shape geezer like me. Have you heard of high blood pressure? Well, Santa’s got it. I work ninety hours a week from Halloween until Christmas day. My only exercise is yelling at elves and designing reindeer games that incite extreme competition and bullying among the herd.

But despite my precarious health, I do not take the decision to skip my annual gift delivery lightly. I’ve corresponded extensively with your teachers, who told me that entering their classroom each day is like jumping into a swimming pool-sized petri dish of mystery microbes. They told me about something called “RSV,” which sounds like a mildly interesting Dick Wolf production that I could watch with Mrs. Claus while pounding back a whole cocktail shaker of Goldschläger and vodka, but it turns out that RSV is something much, much worse. “Please,” your teachers begged, “all we want for Christmas are Clorox wipes!”

I also called all of your parents, who explained that many of your families have been sick practically all year. They repeatedly invoked the metaphor of holding on by a thread and then something about the thread being frayed and fear over what would happen if the thread broke because daycare is closed this week and frankly, somewhere in there, I got kind of lost. But my big takeaway is that you kids are teeming with viruses and bacteria like never before. Strep, COVID, the flu, and something called Hand, Foot, and Mouth, which apparently transforms your family into plague-ridden extras from a Monty Python sketch and causes an itch so intense that it can’t be soothed even with a cheese grater.

I don’t think Santa’s immune system could take that. Santa is still recovering from shingles and also suffers from a persistent case of gout.

Of course, being Santa always involves some risk. Many years, I’ve contracted the common cold after working at the mall and allowing hundreds of adorable but filthy children to sit in my lap—at least half of whom think my beard is a suitable place to wipe their boogers. The common cold is, by the way, the reason my eyes sparkle and my nose is red like a cherry and not, as some people claim, because I like to have a whiskey straight up in the bath every morning.

But listen, there is some good news: you’re going to have a wonderful Christmas anyway. You may be worn out from coughing and sneezing and constantly having thermometers jabbed at your every orifice. Your parents may be sleep-deprived and overwhelmed and suffering from a cough that lingers like a weird smell in the fridge, but somehow all of you are still holding on. And the truth is, as awesome an idea as Santa is, the real magic of Christmas doesn’t come from a man in a red suit; it comes from the grown-ups who bust their asses to make it special for the little people they love. So Merry Christmas, kids, and see you next year!