By the time you read this, the enticing pile of packages under the tree will have been reduced to wrecked wrapping, battered boxes and remnants of ribbons. But, for the record, there are signs that your government was at work on the night before Christmas.

There is no requirement that federal agencies spend time, money and manpower on getting into the spirit of the season. But they do it anyway.

The Air Force usually gets into the act with a UFO sighting, and the weather bureau reports on flying weather for Santa and his sleigh. When astronauts were flying, NASA always reported an unidentified object leaving the North Pole.

Now U.S. Commissioner of Customs William von Raab has ordered officers at a remote northern border crossing "to release Santa Claus from detention so that he can speed on his way bringing toys to good little girls and boys."

Why was Santa detained in the first place?

"Customs officers found that Donner, Blitzen and Cupid had not had certain inoculations required for animal importations," said the U.S. Customs Service, an agency that does not easily succumb to humor.

"They discovered that Rudolph's nose wouldn't meet standards established by the Underwriters Laboratory for electrical safety. When they inspected the cargo, customs officers also found that Santa had listed the wrong weight on his entry form and had misdescribed some models as toys.

"There were a number of other minor violations that could have kept the jolly old elf tied up at the border for several hours. But the local district director of customs put in an emergency call to Washington, and von Raab waived the threatened penalty actions, telling the customs officers to speed Santa on his way."