Playing Scrooge most of the year in these weekly explorations and in the more frequent in-house critiques makes an ombudsman a target for a staffer's scorn: "You're always criticizing something in the paper."

Today I plan to take a day off and instead join Post readers in hoping that Santa Claus has delivered some of the following:

For the National desk: Now that Sen. Ted Kennedy has taken himself out of the presidential sweepstakes, at least a half-dozen new or slightly used Democratic contenders so that the political junkies on the staff can again enjoy full employment.

For the Investigative Unit: A dozen more reports stamped "Secret" so reporters can demonstrate their ability to track down pieces, put them together and see if they spell "incompetency," "insight" or "intelligence" and then, despite the excitement of the hunt, print only those that reveal the first two.

For the Business department: Another year of massive mergers by makers and manipulators, stock market rises and falls and global oil and trade surges, but this time with more explanations for lesser folk on how each affects us -- a larger serving of micro from the macro.

For the Style section: Lots of space to house the big picture-big text pieces, but perhaps not so much as to accommodate such layouts as Friday's thumbs down verdict by Paul Attanasio on all four Christmas week movies. (Fortunately Rita Kempley managed to raise her thumb -- and reader spirits -- in her reviews in Friday's Weekend supplement.)

For the Metro staff: A bit more space to take note of conferences and demonstrations that sponsors complain go uncovered and timelier publication of local and national obituaries. (Recently, one funeral occurred before the obituary appeared.)

For the Sports department: Of course, a baseball franchise for Washington again, but in the meantime a cooling of the occasional macho outbursts and a better climate for women's sports.

For the foreign news service: Stories from the Middle East satisfactory to both sides -- complete enough to include information found by readers in scholarly journals or far-away papers yet intereting enough to achieve front-page display.

For the news editors: A little less resistance in acknowledging errors of ommission or commission and more information in corrections and clarifications, so readers know what is under discussion. Editors whose spirits soar when holding anyone to public account should be able to endure a clear view of their own shortcomings.

And now an aside to the advertising department: If ads for "Earl the Dead Cat" are barred, as the Friday Style story reported on this spoof of a toy, is there a real case for continued cigarette advertising? Dead cat ads are not forbidden by law, either. Also, isn't it strange to give 14 inches of publicity to an article deemed inappropriate for sale in the advertising columns?

If you detect a bit of Scrooge seeping through the Santa suit, remember how difficult it is to change roles, even on a holiday. But now that I have unloaded the bag, greetings to Post staffers working today to provide information from many parts of the globe and present it in a way that is not only understandable to the unhurried reader but also to the breakfast-gulping headline scanner. For 365 days a year, it's not an easy task.

Post readers get a lot for their 25 cents. Unfortunately for readers in many cities, the product is not of such high quality. In some there is only one paper and no ombudsman to take it to task. Of the nation's 80,000 cities and towns, there are now only 141 left with more than one daily newspaper, and the number keeps on slipping downward. Accountability is in short supply in monopoly situations. If Santa Claus happened to deliver an alternative daily paper or an ombudsman, or both, to readers of these papers, it would be an invaluable year-round gift.