Is this the year they stole Christmas?

<preform>Tidings from around the country suggest the 12 festive days will be the season of ill will rather than goodwill to our fellow man. Adrian Turpin </b></i>reports</preform>
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The Independent Online

Picture the scene. It is the night before Christmas. The wind caresses the arctic wastes, sneaks under the wood-cabin door and up Santa's robes. He feels every day of his age today. In the mirror his beard looks greyer. The rheumy eyes have lost their sparkle. For the first time ever, he contemplates his deliveries as a duty rather than a delight. The thought of fighting his way through the reindeer-rights protesters and past his little helpers waving placards about their "Scrooge-like" boss dampens his spirits like a layer of sleet. It is hardly his fault the office party was cancelled. Since that incident between two elves on the photocopier, his public liability cover has gone through the roof. No more joggling children on your knee, his lawyer says: too big an insurance risk. And lay off the mince pies and sherry, adds his doctor. Is it just an old man's nostalgia, he wonders, or were Christmases past simpler? When did his presents start to be wrapped with red tape, the sleigh need a licence? Pulli

Picture the scene. It is the night before Christmas. The wind caresses the arctic wastes, sneaks under the wood-cabin door and up Santa's robes. He feels every day of his age today. In the mirror his beard looks greyer. The rheumy eyes have lost their sparkle. For the first time ever, he contemplates his deliveries as a duty rather than a delight. The thought of fighting his way through the reindeer-rights protesters and past his little helpers waving placards about their "Scrooge-like" boss dampens his spirits like a layer of sleet. It is hardly his fault the office party was cancelled. Since that incident between two elves on the photocopier, his public liability cover has gone through the roof. No more joggling children on your knee, his lawyer says: too big an insurance risk. And lay off the mince pies and sherry, adds his doctor. Is it just an old man's nostalgia, he wonders, or were Christmases past simpler? When did his presents start to be wrapped with red tape, the sleigh need a licence? Pulling on his cap, he picks up his sack and begins to sing an old song. "On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me," he booms. But instead of pipers piping, his list goes like this...

12 Santas fighting...

This month's attempt to bring the world's largest number of Santas together - 4,000 - for a fun run in Newtown, Powys, ended in a street brawl. Police used CS gas to break up a fracas involving around more than a dozen men. "Many of those involved were still wearing their Santa outfits. It's the kind of behaviour that gives a well-organised event a bad name," said one officer. His name? PC Slaymaker.

11 chavs chucking...

Can it be long before Santas demand danger money? For 40 years, Father Christmas was a universally loved figure in Alloa, Clackmannanshire. "Santa toured around every single street saying hello to all the kids," says Mike Mulraney of the town's Round Table. "Every door was knocked and every child in Clackmannanshire got a visit from Santa." Then the abuse began. "As time went on, the situation changed from the odd egg being thrown to two years ago, when stones and bottles were thrown and there were threats of a physical nature." In 2003, the parade was cancelled. This year, though, Santa is back - flanked not by elves but police officers. Rumours that detectives are flying to the North Pole to help pack presents are unconfirmed.

10 poopers partying...

Want to make your office bash go with a swing? Just ask the TUC. Their recent advice is guaranteed to put the "no" in Nöel. Avoid balloons where possible (latex allergies) and be wary of Christmas trees (over 1,000 injuries in 2002). Workers are also advised not to photocopy bums or breasts (risk of broken glass). Sorting out the proposed Tube strike on Christmas Eve might have been more helpful.

9 grottos mothballed...

In response to child-abuse fears, the St Eli shopping centre in Llanelli has installed closed-circuit TV cameras. In Santa's grotto. "It is a sad sign of the times," the centre manager, Gilmour Jones, told reporters. "Setting up the webcam protects both Santa and the children from allegations of abuse. Usually we frost the windows, but this year they will be open so those outside can see everything going on inside." Knee-sitting is strongly discouraged and in keeping with standard industry practice Father Christmas is expected to keep his hands visible at all times. Understandably, the number of grottos is at a historic low.

8 conmen dialling...

Householders in Ripon, North Yorkshire, have been hit by a Santa phone scam. A recorded message purporting to be from Father Christmas promises children presents if they ring a premium-rate phone line. Coming soon: the Nigerian Santa e-mail scam: "Respectful sir, I am the ruler of a wintry northern kingdom. Although I have millions of dollars obtained from elf mining rights, I am unable to take it out of the country without using a Western bank account..."

7 pens poisoning...

In Redcar, a poison-pen letter writer has been abusing neighbours about their Christmas decorations. "Your house looks like a cross between a bingo hall and a brothel" exceeds the usual wit of suburban curtain-twitching. Meanwhile, in Gloucestershire, Carol Knapp's house-lights prompted an imperious broadside: "We welcome you to our village. Perhaps you have noticed that we enjoy a high level of civic pride. Unfortunately your dull, ugly front garden and tacky, tawdry lights fail to reflect our village image. Please do what you can to improve matters. Thank you." Margot Leadbetter couldn't have put it better.

6 whingers warning...

Feeding the words "Christmas", "warning" and "2004" into Google yields 3,370,000 results. It is difficult to know whether charities, academics or companies are worse at feeding public fears. Either way, anyone who hasn't been burgled, got into crippling debt, killed pets by letting them eat the decorations, choked on a toy, had their drink spiked, had a heart attack or caught a sexually transmitted disease has failed to enter fully into the spirit of the season. And researchers in Maastricht claimed recently that sitting in church was more toxic than breathing during a traffic jam. After nine hours' burning, the concentration of dangerous particulates from candles was 12 times more than the EU's legal limit.

5 banned songs...

Stephen Pound MP is never one to ignore the big issues of the moment. Without the "high hedges" Bill he championed, Britain would have disappeared under a forest of leylandii by now. Now he has won another chance to lodge a Private Member's Bill - and he is determined to use it to rid the country of "Mary's Boy Child" and "Winter Wonderland". "As soon as I heard where I was on the list, I rushed in to see if I could table a Bill on the prohibition of Christmas music," Mr Pound told Glasgow's Sunday Herald. "But I was told the only place I would get something like that passed is North Korea. It's really the only time I've felt any kind of admiration for North Korea." The MP added: "There may well be a place where playing 'Mistletoe and Wine' by Cliff Richard is acceptable but I don't know where that place is." Pembrokeshire Radio, meanwhile, has gone the vigilante route, banning its DJs from playing the new version of "Do They Know It's Christmas" after a flood of complaints from listeners.

4 nicked wreaths...

What could be as innocent and redolent of the traditional Christmas spirit than a wreath? Er, not if it has fallen off the back of a sleigh. According to Strathclyde Police, the demand for seasonal floral arrangements has come to the attention of criminal gangs, who have imported "work parties" of illegal immigrants to scour the Scottish countryside for moss. That's right, they come over here stealing our moss...

3 council lawyers...

In Glenrothes, Fife, carers have been warned that they are forbidden to accept any gifts from their charges. Councillors in Mottingham, south London, demanded £5m worth of insurance cover before putting Christmas lights up, while in Bury St Edmunds an illuminated Christmas tree was banned in case its low-voltage bulbs electrocuted passers-by.

2 holy Beckhams...

Madame Tussauds should have known that casting Victoria and David as Mary and Joseph in a nativity scene was asking for trouble. And portraying Bush as a wise man wasn't too smart either. But then someone's got to keep the religious end up; one in seven primary-school teachers surveyed said their school would not put on a nativity play, while a quarter said there would be no carol service.

... and one poisoned turkey

A professor at Aberdeen University says that up to two-thirds of the 7 million turkeys eaten this Christmas will be contaminated with the bug campylobacter, while a study shows that organically reared birds have higher infection rates than factory-farmed ones. Merry Christmas - and as they say on Crimewatch: "Don't have nightmares."

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