Friday, December 29, 2006

Santa Claus Conquers the Martins

(Black Screen)
Narrator: Even though it is accepted almost as fact that modern day kids are usually more naughty than nice, this year many parents are demanding that Santa Claus explain his methodology in making up his famous Naughty and Nice Lists. (Stars come into view and a blur of red and white swooshes across the screen). Returning to his lair at the North Pole after making his annual Christmas Eve journey, Santa hoped to have a little rest and relaxation, but he got much more than he bargained for from these disgruntled parents and now must prepare for his greatest challenge of all.

Scene 1

(Sleigh descends to North Pole Village and Santa gets out smiling. Fade to black. “Several days later” flashes across the screen. A high-tech computer center becomes visible, with four elves wearing headsets feverishly handling calls and typing on keyboards.)

Elf 1: This is ridiculous, Hermie. I can’t keep up with these calls.

Elf 2: I know, Rolf. All the parents are calling and complaining.

Elf 3: It’s like the world has gone crazy.

Elf 4: They all want to know “why” Santa gave their kids coal.

Elf 2: Or didn’t give a bigger and better gift than he gave.

Elf 1: Their sense of entitlement is amazing this year.

(Mrs. Claus walks into the room wiping her hands on her apron).

Mrs. C: What is this I hear?

Elf 1: Oh, Mrs. Claus, it’s a terrible mess. Parents all over the globe are calling.

Elf 2: They’re angry with Santa giving their children coal.

Elf 3: Or they’re unhappy with the toys he did give the children.

Mrs. C: How dare they? Santa has done the same thing for the last seven hundred years.

Elf 3: Hey, you’re preaching to the choir, Mrs. C.

Elf 4: Yeah, we know Santa has a system and it’s always worked.

Mrs. C: Well, I don’t know about a system.

Elf 1: You mean he doesn’t have a system?

Mrs. C: I really don’t know how he does it.

Elf 3: Oh, great. Now she doesn’t know anything.

Mrs. C: I…I didn’t say that boys.

Elf 4: Sorry, Mrs. C, but we’re under lots of pressure here.

Mrs. C: Yes, of course you are, boys.

Elf 1: Mrs. C, how does Santa come up with his Naughty and Nice Lists?

Mrs. C: I have never asked him that question.

(The phones start ringing like mad and the elves busy themselves answering more calls. Mrs. C shakes her head and slowly walks out of the room.)

Scene 2

(Santa is relaxing in front of the fireplace; his red-stocking feet are propped up on a candy cane ottoman. He is sipping hot cocoa and takes a deep breath.)

Santa: Ah, it feels good to take some time off at the end of each year. It was another excellent Christmas. Yes indeed. I must give the elves a little bonus after the new year before we start working on next year. I know, I’ll give them each a quart of vodka. That’ll keep them singing elfin tunes while they work.

(Mrs. Claus enters the room slowly and with trepidation)

Mrs. C: Oh, Kris, you’re awake.

Santa: (sipping cocoa) Oh, yes, dear. I am just daydreaming.

Mrs. C: Kris, you know I usually like to let you relax these days after Christmas.

Santa: Well, of course.

Mrs. C: And I never ever bother you to do anything, even change the light bulb over the entrance to the reindeer stalls. The elves can’t reach it, nor can I, but I don’t want to disturb you as you recover from your difficult journey.

Santa: Yes, well, it’s hard work being Santa Claus, my dear. Very hard work.

Mrs. C: Well, yes it is, Kris. Unfortunately, something has come up.

Santa: (putting down his cocoa) What seems to be the problem, Martha?

Mrs. C: Well, the truth is that the elves are getting millions of complaints.

Santa: Complaints? About what?

Mrs. C: It seems parents all over the world are questioning your Naughty and Nice Lists?

Santa: (sitting upright) Questioning my lists?

Mrs. C: Yes, dear. Or they want to know why their kids didn’t get bigger and better toys.

Santa: (struggling to stand and adjusting his suspenders) How dare they. I…I have been doing this for centuries now without having my authority questioned.

Mrs. C: And remarkably well, my dear.

Santa: (ambles over to his desk where a huge book is open under a lamp) I’ve compiled these lists with painstaking….

Mrs. C: Painstaking what, dear?

Santa: Well, I use my powers to see them when they’re sleeping. I know when they’re awake. I know if they’ve been….

Mrs. C: Everyone’s heard the song, dear.

Santa: (deep sigh) Well, yes, of course, with those stupid stations playing Christmas music since Labor Day.

Mrs. C: Could so many parents be wrong, Kris. Don’t they know their children better than you?

Santa: Well, maybe they think they know them, but I…I am the one that knows better. Well,they always used to be with me on this matter. Parents accepted the coal or the small plastic toy without griping.

Mrs. C: Yes, those were the days, dear.

Santa: They’re either with me or against me. And if they’re against me, well, then, I know some parents who aren’t getting what they want next year either.

Mrs. C: But, Kris, what do we do about all these calls and e-mails?

Santa: (Santa rubs his bearded chin, snaps his white-gloved fingers, and turns on the computer next to the big book). I have an idea, Martha. (He quickly runs his fingers over the keyboard). I am doing a search just now.

Mrs. C: What are you looking for, my dear?

Santa: I remember that the President of the USA said something….something I think I could use now, but I can’t remember what it was.

Mrs. C: Oh, he is the Great Communicator, right?

Santa: (looking up from the screen) No, that was Reagan. I’m afraid he is dead now.

Mrs. C: Then he couldn’t say anything.

Santa: No, it’s the current president, my sweet.

Mrs. C: Is he the one who said he never had relations with that woman?

Santa: No, my sweet, that was Clinton.

Mrs. C: Is he dead now too, dear?

Santa: Well, he almost was when his wife found out (a little chuckle).

Mrs. C: Oh, Kris.

Santa: Let’s just say he was on my Naughty List for quite some time.

Mrs. C: Well, is this president the one who said “Read my lips,” dear?

Santa: No, that was his father.

Mrs. C: I must say I can’t keep track of the presidents very well.

Santa: The current president is W.

Mrs. C: Just a one letter name?

Santa: Well, I knew him as Georgie as a boy. Speaking of naughty lists….
(Santa claps his hands) I found it, dear. I found it.

Mrs. C: Oh, wonderful, Kris.

(Screen fades to black)

Scene 3

(The elves are all sitting at their computer terminals looking up at Santa Claus)

Santa: Okay, boys, you are going to type the following message. This is to be sent to all the parents who have complained and the ones who weren’t happy with the gifts their little darlings received. Understand?

Elves: Yes, Santa. (phone ringing)

ELf 1: (hand over headset) It's a Mr. and Mrs. Martin from Teaneck, New Jersey.

Santa: Excellent! Listen to what I say to them and copy it to send to everyone else. Okay?

Elves: Yes, Santa.

Santa: Mr. and Mrs Martin, this is Santa.

Mr. Martin: How dare you leave coal for our little Billy and Sandy.

Mrs. Martin: They aren't "naughty" kids, Santa.

Santa: Ho-ho-ho! I am sorry you do not like the way I handled the Naughty and Nice Lists this year. I understand you may want something different, but that cannot change what I have done. You see, I am the Decider. I decide what is right and wrong. I decide who is naughty and who is nice. Do you understand this? I decide; not you.

Mr. Martin: But that's not...fair.

Santa: Was it fair when you were five years old, William Martin, and you stole your brother's GI Joe?

Mr. Martin: Hey, well, that was....

Santa: You see, you parents didn't decide then and you don't decide now. I decide. I am the decider so I do the deciding. I know what I know and I do what I do and decide what I must. So, those kids who got coal this year got coal, and they and their parents are just going to have to live with it. The kids who received smaller toys than others, well they deserved that too. You can explain it to them as I have to you. The decider has spoken. It’s out of your hands. I decide; not you.

Mrs. Martin: This...this is an outrage.

Santa: Well, Sylvia, if you don't watch yourself, next year I won't even think of bringing you that diamond bracelet. (A moment of silence) Very good, Happy New Year to you. Bye-bye!

Elf 1: Santa, that was amazing!

Santa: Yes, if I do say so myself. Just add "Warm regards, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera."

Elf 2: Do you really think this is going to work with everyone, Santa?

Santa: If it worked for W, it will work for me. Now hit “send” boys and be lively about it. You have millions more letters to get out as soon a possible.

Mrs. C: Oh, Kris, you’re so handsome when you do your deciding.

Santa: (putting out his arm) Thank you, Martha. Now The Decider wants to take you to dinner. But this time, I’ll let you do the deciding.

Mrs. C: (takes his arm affectionately) How about that little place in Oslo?

Santa: Anything for you, dear. I will get the sleigh ready.

Mrs. C: And when we get back, do you think The Decider can change that light bulb by the reindeer stall?

Santa: Ho-ho-ho! Of course, my dear. Of course. Ho-ho-ho! (screen fades to black)


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Does Santa Claus Need a Makeover?

Does Santa Claus Need a Makeover?

I have been noticing something interesting this season as December 25th has been approaching: Santa Claus is seemingly more popular than ever. Of course, this is the jolly fat guy that most of us have grown up with and now our children are growing up with too. His image is legendary, burnished in our collective consciousness by advertisements, movies, TV shows, Christmas cards, and works of art. His iconic white beard, red suit, black boots and belt, and cherry nose are more identifiable to people around the world than just about any other person living or dead. So, in the face of such success, why should I propose that Santa needs a makeover?

In essence it’s because Santa is a victim of his own success. He is trapped in his role as jolly old elf. There is no room for him to branch out, try something new, become what he has always been meant to be perhaps. For in the ubiquitous nature of being Santa, he is caught in a steel trap that would cause most people to want to escape. Obviously, he must wear different clothing during the course of the year, but every Christmas he has to wear the red suit. Why? What if he took a chance and wore turquoise? Or yellow? And those boots have got to go. Yes, they are functional for crossing snow-covered rooftops and no doubt keep his feet warm in that open sleigh, but a pair of fur-lined moccasins might be more comfortable.

No, this isn’t my version of a “Straight Eye for the Fat Guy” concept, but rather a move toward remaking Santa’s image, getting him into the 21st century and, by doing so, make him even more relevant than he is. For example, when I take my daughter to see him at the mall (okay, we all know this is one of his “helpers” and not the real deal), there are so many nervous children and equally unsettled parents waiting on line for hours. Why does it take so damned long? Because “Santa” is still using 15th century technology.

My idea for “seeing Santa” is to have an elf sitting right next to Santa with a laptop at the ready. Parents could save time by placing their children’s lists on disc, thus the elf would need to type in the items the kid is asking for immediately. Elf could take the disk, click once, and send the list off to the newly computerized center at the North Pole, where the other elves could be getting right to the task of making that rocking horse, iPod, cellular phone, or video game. And, if they can’t find the materials, there is always eBay. I estimate the kid could sit on Santa’s lap, grab a candy cane, and be off with his parents in less than sixty seconds.

I think we are all locked into this old-time kind of Santa thing mostly because of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem. “The Night Before Christmas” (published in 1822) really established the image of Santa Claus that we use to the present day, and after that there was no escaping his bowl full of jelly physique or the red suit and white beard. Santa’s path was set before him for centuries to come, and I’ve got to wonder what the real guy felt about that.

The original Saint Nicholas was from Turkey (where he lived and supposedly “died”), so I doubt very much that he ever wore such warm clothing. During the Middle Ages, when he began to expand his operations to the northern countries like Holland and Norway, he may have needed that warm suit. But I’m sure as his sleigh moved south over the equator that Santa has always switched (there is a powder room on the sleigh if you didn’t know) to a pair of shorts, T-shirt, and a nice pair of sunglasses.

Also, I’ve always had a feeling that there was a darker edge to Santa Claus, one that has been suppressed by adults and the corporate world. Could a guy who “sees you when you’re sleeping” be really so nice? Just what gives him the right to make up a “naughty and nice list” and then leave coal for the naughty kids? Coal is kind of sinister and comes from a dark place akin to the underworld, and if you take the “saint” out of “Old Saint Nick” you get “Old Nick,“ which just happens to be a nickname for Satan (a word which by rearranging the letters gives us Santa).

I think that dark side is something the current Santa Claus needs to exploit. It worked for Billy Bob Thornton in the film Bad Santa, and I have a feeling that Santa with an edge could redefine the old guy and make him as cool and as rich as The Donald. Also, it might be a very good idea for Santa to change his name or hyphenate it. Perhaps something like S-Claus, Fifty Sant, or Ice-C could work, or maybe he could just take the Cher and Madonna route and go by one name. I’d say drop the Santa and go with Claus.

This reinventing or refreshing the Santa Claus image is not my idea alone and is nothing new. In Iceland there is the tradition of the 13 Yule Lads (Santa Clauses), and although they leave goodies in children’s shoes, they perform some kind of act of mischief as they do so. With names like Spoon Licker, Door Slammer, Sausage Swiper, and Window Peeper, it doesn’t take much imagination to associate the kind of trouble they would make as they went from house to house. This tradition has been handed down over the centuries, but it seems that in modern-day Iceland there are thirteen brothers who live in Dimmuborgir (Dark Castle) in Mývatn ( who carry on as the various personalities. Needless to say, parents must be thrilled to have someone like Window Peeper leaving goodies in their children’s shoes on the front porch and lingering for a look in the bedroom window.

Still, according to what I’ve read, this thrills the Icelandic children more than the standard “Ho-ho-ho” of the old jolly elf. No one knows when or where the Yule Lads will strike, thus making each night of the Twelve Days of Christmas exciting indeed. Our traditional Santa Claus doesn’t bring that kind of excitement, and even kids on the “naughty list” still seem to get gifts (according to my daughter who is in Kindergarten and says even her naughty friends do get presents). Santa needs to shake things up, change his image, and even go a little toward the dark side. People will not only like him then; they will positively love him.

A song like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” gives just a hint of how mischievous the old elf could be, but I imagine we could someday have a song like “I Saw Santa Stealing Daddy’s BMW Last Night.” Ah, and just think how jealous those Yule Lads of Iceland would be then.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

* For an English translation of the original Yule Lads story, check out