It was a message that startled much of the world. A slim but stark press release from the North Pole: "Santa Inc.—as it turns out a subsidiary of the hedge fund Frozen Assets LLC—has threatened to cancel Christmas unless an immediate bailout can be arranged no later than... what part of immediately do you not understand?"
And at the North Pole, formerly jovial Saint Nick, looking rather uncharacteristically gaunt, hitched four of his eight tiny reindeer to a sleigh badly in need of a fresh coat of paint. "What am I going to do?" he implored.
"Now, now dear," Mrs. Claus said. "It'll all work out. Have a cookie and some milk."
"A cookie and some milk? Good grief, woman. I'm 200 pounds overweight, up to my eyeballs in stress, about to embark on a humiliating mission, still trying to work off the cookies and milk from last year's Christmas Eve jaunt and the sharks are circling! Are you trying to kill me off?"
Mrs. Claus gave Santa "the look," part understanding, part exasperation, part pull-up-your-socks-and-do-your-job, it was her most effective weapon.
Without further ado, Santa crawled into this sleigh, prodded the reindeer into action and came, red cap in hand, to the U.S. Senate pleading for emergency funds, having gotten nothing but a vague promise of infrastructure loans and sunny days ahead on his stop in Ottawa.
"I'm not asking for a bailout for myself," he told the senate finance committee, an old familiar twinkle in his eye. "What I need is an emergency loan of $12.6 billion dollars to ensure Christmas does indeed come this year for every boy and girl around the world who have, all things considered, been more nice than naughty."
The old man—flanked by lawyers and financial advisors—was near tears as he rattled off the litany of woes swirling around his workshop at the rapidly melting North Pole. Normally stoic and unmoved by such displays of "failed business plans," even many Senate Republicans were visibly moved as Santa educated them on the realities of bringing Christmas cheer to children around the globe. Many, but not all.
"You may not be aware of this," the old man said, hanging his head, "but reindeers, particularly at the North Pole, live quite a long time. Much longer than their strong little bodies can effectively pull a heavily-laden sleigh."
"Even though I still shout, 'Now, Dasher; now, Dancer; now, Prancer and Vixen; etc.,' the reality is this: the original Dasher, Dancer, et. al., have been dead for many, many years. Their children are no longer with us either. Ditto grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. But many of their progeny are still alive and eating me out of house and home. The legacy costs of pensions and healthcare for thousands of aging reindeer alone has added, on average, a 25-per-cent premium to the cost of every doll, every train set, every toy I deliver."
"Those so-called legacy costs," drawled Barney Bellicose (R. Georgia), "are the result of sweetheart deals you signed with the International Sleigh Haulers Union, are they not?"
"I had no choice," Santa replied. "A strike by the reindeer at Christmas would be game over. Besides, what would you have me do with the thousands of reindeer who poured their hearts into assuring children all over the world enjoyed Christmas?"
"Waaalll, offhand, ahh could suggest y'all might eat 'em," replied the senator. "Cheaper than mollycoddlin' 'em in their old age. That's how we handle things in mah neck of the woods."
Santa continued by describing how his legacy costs were further exacerbated by the staggeringly large number of retired elves. "You'd think there's such joy in making toys for children that the elves would be content to tinker away and die at their work benches. Alas, no. Even though we did away with mandatory retirement decades ago, wham, they hit 65 and it's off to Florida to lie in the sun and suck back cheap beer, the fat little bastards."
"If y'all 'ada been smarter," interjected senator Ronnie Rougechapeau (R. Louisiana), "y'all woulda outsourced their unionized asses a long time ago. Them elves in India don't even know what in blazes the word retirement means. Let the ungrateful sons a' bitches beg in the streets if they don't wanna work."
"If the senator will remember, I tried the outsourcing thing a few years back. Do the words 'Poisoned Chinese Toys' ring a bell?"
"Hells bells, Santa, there are other countries in the world besides China with large pools of slave, er, cheap labour."
"Look gentlemen, ladies, the fact is, Santa Inc. is too big to fail. If I go down, Christmas goes down. What's good for Santa is good for the country. We're not just talking about one old man, a couple hundred elves and several thousand aging reindeer. It is generally accepted that scores of millions of jobs worldwide depend on Christmas for a disproportionate percentage of their livelihood. You don't want to face the wrath of the world's children if there's nothing under the tree on Christmas morning. Nobody wants that. Nobody can afford that! You can't get re-elected on that record."
"With all due respect, Santa, I believe you're overplaying your hand here," piped in Senator Erstwhile Gauche (D. Washington). "I have it on good authority Amazon is capable and ready to pick up the slack should you go under. Utilizing drone delivery and an army of robots at fulfilment centres, Mr. Bezos is confident the company can promise around-the-world deliveries on time."
"Amazon? How romantic. Can't wait for the poetry and cartoons to pour forth," said Santa, dismissively.
Having made his case, Santa left with empty promises as the assembled senators returned to their troughs for their annual Christmas party.
Checking his phone, his hopes fell further when a text from Chancellor Angela Merkel informed him the EU could not help. "I don't see how we can bail out Christmas without causing great discord within the Muslim communities of Europe," it said.
And word from Tel Aviv that the Israeli government just passed a $2.3 billion bailout for Hanukkah only made the outlook for Christmas less than merry.
As he left Capitol Hill, reporters on the scene said Santa, climbing into his sleigh for the return trip to the North Pole, was heard to exclaim, as he drove out of sight, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all...to all...oh, screw it, I'm getting too old for this scene."
G.D. Maxwell is a long-time Pique columnist and all-around humbug.