For first lady Michelle Obama, a joyous Christmas Eve tradition briefly ran up against the harsh realities of a world where all is not calm and bright.
Mrs. Obama for the fourth year volunteered for the NORAD Tracks Santa program, whereby kids call in to check on Santa's progress on his annual journey delivering presents around the world. Mrs. Obama's turn to take calls Tuesday came as Santa's sleigh made its way across Africa — first over Egypt, where a bomb killed 15 people, then over South Sudan, where dozens of bodies were discovered in a mass grave amid ongoing civil conflict, and then on to South Africa, still mourning the death of Nelson Mandela.
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Mrs. Obama delicately avoided those grim facts as she wished the callers a merry holiday. "I see his sleigh with eight tiny reindeer and he is over Sudan — South Sudan. That's in Africa," she told a girl named Ella. "And right now, he's delivering some gifts. He's going down, swooping down to some little kids who are in South Sudan, OK? That's where he is right now. It's really, really very cool, don't you think?"
South Sudan has drawn more and more of President Barack Obama's attention recently, yet it was far from the mind of young Ella, who politely asked the first lady when Santa would be coming to her home in Kansas City.
"When you are fast asleep — that's how he works," Mrs. Obama replied.
The first lady also reported to youngsters calling in that Santa was over Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other African countries during nine calls she took during a half-hour period while vacationing with her husband and daughters in Hawaii.
Settling in to his vacation, the president kept a low profile on Christmas Eve, hitting the gym early in the morning on a military base near the family's upscale rental home, then golfing with friends and aides.
The Obamas arrived here Saturday and have remained mostly out of the public eye, except for a trip to a basketball tournament featuring a team coached by Mrs. Obama's brother and a dinner date at Morimoto Waikiki, a Japanese restaurant created by Masaharu Morimoto of "Iron Chef."
The Obamas have no public events scheduled during their 17-day stay in Honolulu.