Once upon a time, Father Christmas was responsible for everything.
He kept the Naughty and Nice lists, read all the letters, decided what present each good child should get, and even planned out the route he would take on Christmas Eve to deliver the gifts. All the elves did back then was make the presents and look after the reindeer.
All that work was far too much for one man, and soon his wife insisted that he let the elves help out. First, he delegated the choice of presents- the elves kept up with modern toy-making far better than he did, and it made sense. Then he delegated the route, since the elves looked after the reindeer and knew their capabilities better than he.
The letters were next; since the elves were choosing the presents it made sense for them to take over the letters. Finally, he even gave over the Naughty and Nice lists, since they didn’t want to waste their time reading letters from naughty children.
All Father Christmas had to do now was sit on the sleigh on Christmas Eve and deliver the presents.
He had gone from far too much work to far too little, and although he enjoyed the leisure time for some years, eventually he felt left out of the loop. He wanted to do a little more again.
He went to visit the List Elves, to see if he could help with the Naughty and Nice lists. He found their hut full of blinking lights and gadgetry.
“What’s all this,” he asked, looking around.
“Oh, hello, Father,” said one of the elves, adjusting his glasses on his nose. “We upgraded our equipment so we could keep up with all the children. Let me show you!”
The elf led Father Christmas around the room, pointing to a series of monitors, each with an elf sat in front of it tapping at a keyboard.
“We monitor all the social sites, sir. Facebook, Twitter, Myspace…”
Father Christmas stared blankly at the elf. “What is a Face Book?”
The elf took a deep breath. “Um, it would take a while to explain. But, rest assured, we have it all under control, sir.”
Father Christmas nodded and left the room. He stood outside in the snow, shaking his head.
He went next to the maproom, expecting to see the same old room with the big map laid out in the middle, and all the little pins set out along the route.
Instead he found a single elf at a computer.
He listened politely as the elf tried to explain the new mapping system, with automatic route planning and real-time satellite updates. It didn’t make any sense to him.
“Well, good, good,” he said to the elf. “Carry on.”
He stood outside in the snow once again and sighed. At least there would be letters, he thought. It would be nice to settle down in front of the fire with a pile of letters and read through them at his leisure. He set off for the mailroom with a spring in his step.
By this time of year, he expected the mailroom to be stacked high. The letters always came in thick and fast throughout December as the kids started to get excited about Christmas. He expected to find the elves wading through paperwork and happy to hand some over.
Instead he found another room full of computers and elves.
“What’s this? Where are all the letters?”
One of the elves jumped up. “Father Christmas! What an unexpected pleasure. The letters, sir, they’re all on the computers here.”
Father Christmas looked at the tops of the monitors. There were no letters in sight.
“What do you mean? I don’t see them. Where are they?”
“Well,” said the elf, “When I say ‘on’ I mean more, inside. They’re e-mail, sir, mostly. The ones that come in by snail mail get scanned so we can access them on the computers in just the same way.”
“Yes, sir. Look here, on the screen.”
Father Christmas leaned over an elf’s shoulder and read the words on the screen.
“Dear Santa, I have been a very good boy and this year I would like an X-Box Kinect and a Playstation Three and a DSi and some games.”
He stood up and looked at the elf.
“What is an X-Box Kinect?”
The elf coughed. “It is a modern sort of toy, sir.”
“Do we make them?”
The elf looked shiftily at another room. “Well, sir, he won’t go without, let’s say.”
Father Christmas frowned at the elf, then pushed past him to the room beyond.
He found a room full of boxes and elves opening them, ferrying the contents across to a table covered in wrapping paper, and wrapping them up.
“What is this?”
Father Christmas grabbed at boxes. Invoices and receipts flew across the room as he threw them around angrily.
“Amazon? Play.com? What is this? What is the meaning of this?”
An elf, cowering in fear behind the wrapping table, spoke up.
“Online shopping, sir. We… we don’t have the facilities to make the things children want any more, so we order them in. It keeps the good children happy, sir.”
Father Christmas shouted and threw some more boxes around, then got a little dizzy from all the blood rushing to his head. Five elves guided him out into the cool air and took him back home, where his wife settled him down in front of the fire.
“I can’t do anything any more,” he muttered. “They’ve computerised everything. I’m just here to sit on the sleigh. What is the point?”
Mrs Christmas sighed and shook her head. “The point is to make the children happy. They don’t sit awake waiting for their electronic gadgets and gizmos. They sit awake waiting for you. Look.”
She opened a cupboard in the corner to reveal a television, turned it on and flipped through channels a couple of times before stopping. There was a man dressed as Father Christmas on the screen. She flipped again- there was another, and another, and another.
“The lists might be electronic and the gifts a little less hand-made, but the one thing that stays the same is you,” she told him. “It isn’t Christmas without Father Christmas.”
© Kari Fay
(Author’s Note- Very late today, since I stopped to wrap my presents first. And yes, I did remember to label them! )