SURELY Father Christmas has seen countless changes in the kinds of things we ask for?

When the old man laughs at the question, his eyes really do sparkle.

“People always ask me that! But you have to remember that what might seem a long time to you - a lifetime, even - is not very much at all to a person in my line of work. When a person’s working life runs into centuries, the things the clientele have in common tend to stand out more than their differences.”

So not a lot has changed, then?

“Oh, don’t get me wrong - we have to keep up with the times. When Mrs Christmas and I first opened the workshop all those years ago - more years ago than any of us can quite remember, in fact - the Elves didn’t have to make anything more complex than carved wooden animals and sailing boats, clay marbles and perhaps the odd doll stuffed with horse hair.

“Since then we’ve had to upgrade the facilities every year or so. I’m proud of the Elves. I could never be one of those bosses who accuses the workers of failing to embrace change, not when they’ve gone from assembling pull-along horses on wheels to building games consoles.

“Mind you, we we never throw any of the old machinery away. There might not be much demand for hoops and sticks, clockwork mice, Tamagotchis and thousands of other toys from years gone by, but if there’s a sudden demand for any of them we’ll be ready.

“Remember a few years ago when people who were children in the 1970s rediscovered the Space Hopper? We didn’t miss a single delivery. Having said that, I’d like to apologise to the NHS workers who had to deal with the consequences. The older a person gets, the harder the ground seems to become...

“As I said, though, as the years go by I tend to notice the things people have in common, and in many ways - the most important ways - nothing has really changed.

“Gifts are nice, but the best thing about this time of year is that people are more likely to think about those they love and who love them, and how much better every moment of their life is made by that love.

“This was true long before the last Millennium celebration but one, and it was true in 1123 and 1748 and 1989. It’s true in 2018 and it’ll be true a hundred and a thousand years from now.

“Now, is it time for you to ask me the question about how I manage to visit every house, even the ones with no chimneys, eat every mince pie left for me and drink every glass of something fortifying?”

Well, as a matter of fact it is.

“The precise details are known only to myself and the reindeer - and reindeer can always be relied on to keep a secret. Not many people know that about reindeer, because they keep it a secret.

“Let’s just say that time can do all sorts of strange and wonderful things if you approach it from the right angle. There’s no limit to the number of wheres and whens you can be once you get the hang of it.

“However, I still have some preparations to make for my annual outing, so I’m afraid there can only be one more question.”

What do you say to people who don’t believe in you?

“Ah, that old chestnut!

“It would be nice if everybody believed in me, or at least in what I try to stand for, but I can’t force them.

“All I will say about belief is that just because a person doesn’t believe in something, it doesn’t automatically mean that thing doesn’t exist.

“Try to remember how you felt on that perfect Christmas Day when you were a tiny child and it had never occurred to you that magic might not be real.

“That might seem a long time ago to you, but to me it was blink of an eye. I remember it well.

“I promise you that nothing has really changed. You can still make the joy real for yourself again, and rather a lot of other people to, if you care to put you put your mind to it.”