In these modern times, the pressure of the final build-up before the big 'un invariably casts a pallor on the rosy countenance of Father Christmas. One hesitates to imagine what words are in his mind as he wrestles with the complications of the next few days, but we can be sure that "Ho, Ho, Ho" are not among them.
What once he took in his black-wellingtoned stride, spreading joy throughout the world, has become a chore of bewildering difficulty. And, suddenly, has come the latest in a long line of problems - Rudolph has tested positive for a banned substance.
Rudolph has protested that he only used nasal inhalers to enhance the redness of his famous nose, but excuses like that don't wash with the all-powerful drug-police who patrol the world in search of transgressors. It was bad enough for FC to be blamed for fat kids. Was it his fault that they had lost interest in receiving footballs, roller-skates and bikes, and preferred to slob out all day in front of a PlayStation? They used to be happy with an orange and an apple in the foot of their stocking. Now they wolf through a selection box before they get out of bed. But to have his star reindeer involved in a drug scandal with Christmas Eve bearing down on him was too much.
What makes it worse is that he knows it is his own fault. If he hadn't been persuaded to franchise the Father Christmas idea worldwide, he would still be the one and only and there would be no such organisation as the Fédération Internationale de Father Christmas Associations. Like all privatisations, it turned out to be a disaster, and Fifca have become a bloody nuisance. He should have learned a lesson from the British. Once you start sharing good ideas with the rest of mankind it usually rebounds on you. He thought of football, rugby, cricket, tennis and many other activities over which an ungrateful world had gained control.
It seemed such a good idea at first: spreading the load of responsibility for the delivery of billions of presents. Populations were growing, and so were the number of gifts each received. Neither was Santa getting any younger, but how he wished that he had remained the sole provider.
It was tough, but he had proved over the years that he could handle the job and, moreover, he could please himself how he did it. At least you used to be able to take it easy between yuletides. But the breakdown of communism in eastern Europe had led to a revival of what had previously been condemned as a capitalist celebration. Now they're all at it. One Russian has come over to the Premiership and has been playing Father Christmas since the middle of the summer.
The trouble is that you cannot have a worldwide organisation without some smart-arse fighting his way to the top and seeking new ways to exercise his power. The Fifca have one such person. He is called, among other things, Santa Superior, and he is on Rudolph's case like a man possessed.
Left to himself, FC would have arranged a little tribunal made up of the chief elf, a few little helpers and a representative of the Professional Reindeers' Association - who would be Prancer, one of his original team - and a smiling Swede called Sven who needed Rudolph for his national squad. They would have come up with harsh words and a soft sentence: a small fine, six months' suspension (in the summer, of course) and the cancellation of Rudolph's contract with Vick.
But no. Santa Superior was taking a moral stand that was rich even by his standards, and was demanding that Rudolph be banned from sleigh duty and sent to the frozen tundra for at least 12 years, by which time his behind would be a lot redder than his nose. He had always had it in for Father Christmas, jealous of his role as originator of the whole yule concept. It was Santa Superior who had ensured that duplicate FCs were introduced all over the globe and then brought in rules that made it difficult for him to compete.
Having to announce your final reindeer line-up by midday on Christmas Eve was one. An even darker pall of gloom descended upon FC when he remembered the days when it was up to him when he selected the trusty team of reindeer who would power his loaded sleigh through the Christmas skies, and when he could deliver in the old-fashioned way.
He didn't have to care about any rivals, or what tricks they got up as they bent and twisted the rules of traditional present-delivery. Fifca didn't help by bringing in electronic timing and fudging the strict laws on chimney-descent and silence. They even did away with the red card for waking up the kids.
His competitors introduced fancy formations. While he stuck rigidly to a straight 2-2-2-2-2 of solidly muscled reindeers willing to put their antlers down and go like hell, others discovered cunning variations. The Italian, Santissimo Clausini, put in an extra reindeer at the back to form the now infamous Staganacio system. The twinkle-hooved Brazilians, under Santa Natale, discovered a new breed of deer called antelopele and set a new standard for rooftop nimbleness. The German, Gerd Giftflinger, brought in a more rapid way of depositing the presents at the foot of the bed.
Poor old FC was being outthought and outgunned. Then came Rudolph to the rescue one foggy Christmas Eve. What a gimmick that turned out to be. With the help of the glowing proboscis, the old FC recovered his place as Christmas top-dog. Rudolph had that streak of brilliance that could inspire any team of reindeers, and was soon a worldwide favourite. But being a star in one-off fog situations is one thing; maintaining high standards for a prolonged period is quite another. Sleighing is a cruel, demanding game and, when one mistake means that FC is stuck with 10,000 David Beckham jigsaws, you need more than a fairy-tale reputation.
Under all that pressure, it was not surprising that Rudolph spent too many nights on the wrong tiles. His nose began to lose its shine. Hence, the inhalers. FC pleaded with Santa Superior that this was not a case of performance enhancing, this was image-rights enhancing.
But SS was not to be put off the warpath. "I want Rudolph out of the game as an example to all others," he ranted. FC's renowned patience was close to exhaustion. Perhaps this was for the best. He had admitted to himself a long time ago that the dispersion of Christmas presents had lost its innocent fun. He feared also that he had lost touch with the meaning of his existence. His gifts seemed no longer to provide inspiration. He might even be partly responsible for the greed and petulance that dominates the sporting scene.
Did an extra handful of chocolate coins in a stocking set a boy off on the road to becoming a Premiership chairman? He was having to think twice about every little gift. For instance, all that he had been reading in the lurid tabloids about what players get up to had given a whole new meaning to Blow Football.
He dialled Santa Superior. "You win," he said down the telephone. "I'm sacking Rudolph forthwith, and I'm retiring with him."
"You cannot be serious," spluttered SS.
"I shall make one last run on Wednesday night, but each child will only get one present."
"What's that?" asked SS.
"My new book, entitled Why Father Christmas doesn't believe in himself any more."Reuse content