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A Christmas Fable

Wherein Dark Days Come to Santaland When the Holiday Falls Into Evil Hands

By George K. Sweetnam

Long ago and far away there was a land where it was always Christmas. It had not always been that way. Once there was only one day a year when people exchanged presents as we do. There was only one Santa Claus then, and it was all he could do to prepare presents for everyone and then distribute them all in one frantic night of frenzied, orgiastic gift-giving. It inevitably took a team of psychiatrists several months to rebuild the monomaniacal old man's psyche, and Santa inevitably spent the rest of the year following his recovery doing a slow build-up to that December night when he would once again rush his reindeer through the skies like some off-course Finnish astronaut on methedrine.

But then Santa sold out. More specifically, he sold the rights to his name and his holiday to a multinational business seeking to diversify. Amalgamated Widget Corporation got Santa's franchise for a song, because old Claus had no idea that his hobby was of any value, and besides, his doctors had been urging him for years to retire for his health. His job gave him ulcers. So Santa left Christmas behind to spend his last years breeding mutant strains of reindeer for high-speed sleigh competition, and Amalgamated Widget became The Santa Corporation.

Then the hype was on. One day a year of Christmas was not enough for the growth-minded executives in the upper echelons of The Santa Corporation. As Amalgamated Widget, they had used the company's formidable promotional muscle to expand July Fourth Weekend into July Fourth Week in order to boost the firm's Patriotism and Pyrotechnics Division. As The Santa Corporation, they now began taking out five-minute television spots and full-age ads in major daily newspapers to, as their ad men put it, "make that Christmas spirit last and last and last."

Old Santa Claus and many religious leaders objected at first when Christmas Day became Christmas Long Weekend, but The Santa Corporation created Claus Reindeer Raceway to mollify the jolly golden-age elf, and the company paid spiritual operatives to develop splinter sects for Christmas Reformists.

There was also some political opposition to the corporation's holiday inflation, but the company made heavy contributions to the campaigns of any Exalted Poobahs who would support a longer Christmas. And The Santa Corporation also had friends in the executive office of the Grand High Hoozie of the Land--friends who could make things very difficult for any dissident groups opposing the extension of Christmas. The Hoozie used his palace guard to infiltrate pro-Noel organizations; one Hoozie aide had a placard hanging on his office wall bearing the inscription, "When you've got them by the Christmas balls, their hearths and minds will follow."

The corporation's drive built momentum. Christmas Long Weekend expanded into Christmas Week, then Christmas Month. Instead of one jolly old elf, "Santa" came to mean a conglomerate of ambitious, clean-shaven young elves, each with a Masters in Business Administration. Old Santa, realizing that things had gotten out of hand, railed once again against the changes, and filed suit in Hoozie court, claiming that he still held certain key patent rights to aerial reindeer sleighs. But The Santa Corporation retained elves who specialized in festive law, and anyway, elf-scientists working at the corporation's North Pole South Building in one of the land's commercial centers had already advanced mystical sleigh technology beyond the rudimentary level old Claus had once achieved. In a last-ditch effort, wealthy holiday preservationists organized a Jolly Old Elf Legal Fund, but their $100-a-plate dinners helped only their consciences.

When the verdict came down, Santa had the rights to Rudolph the Reindeer's shiny red nose, and the corporation had everything else. It was an odious decision, but those were odious days. The corporation offered Rudolph a lucrative salary if he would remain with them. It posed a difficult decision for Rudolph, but the prospect of eating moss at chic restaurants and wearing all the latest antlers finally won him over. Santa was crushed. He died a broken and lonely old elf.

After Santa passed into the hereafter, The Santa Corporation's drive built speed. To feed its growing need for expertise, the company created a scholarship fund to train promising young elves in the ways of gift-making. Many a Ph.D. in Gift Wrap or Ribbon Tie owed his education to the corporation. These indebted techno-elves devised new gifts for the corporation to make to keep its volume of business high. They developed useless innovations that nobody needed but hordes wanted anyway. They came out with see-through lighters, scented candles, day-glo animal posters, holly-and-ivy neckties and cartons and cartons more.

The mobs of eager Christmas shoppers entered department store aisles as fast as The Santa Corporation's line of products expanded, and as the company grew and the ingenious elves kept finding better and more efficient ways of making presents, the land's standard of living grew, too. No citizen of Santaland, as it came to be known, ever needed to worry about food or shelter after The Santa Corporation hit its stride.

Finally, the company became so efficient that no one ever had to work, and it became Christmas every day of the year. The company's sales of metal-and-plastic Christmas trees then rose very high, because in a land where it was always Christmas living trees had a way of turning brown before the holiday was over.

The people of prosperous Santaland ate a lot and slept a lot and, gradually despairing of finding any use for their gifts from The Santa Corporation--gifts that began to fill their houses to over-flowing, for they had filled the whole year with Christmas and found they had no more days to expand to--began to drink a lot, too. They sat, dry of new ideas, among mounds of cuisinards, trash mashers, yogurt-makers, decorator cologne sets, soap-on-a-rope, leisure suits, pulsating shower heads, vibrabeds, three-dimensional chess sets, digital watches, coffee-table pictorial history books, pet rocks, ant farms, pastel toothpicks, statuettes inscribed "world's greatest mom" and world's greatest dad," incense holders, lava lamps, shampoos smelling like exotic fruit, toy rifles with plastic arsenals big enough to defeat plastic armies, desk organizers, and of course metal-and-plastic Christmas trees. And they had no idea what to do with it all.

In those days a cult arose among the most disaffected Santalanders--a cult centered around the now-mythic figure of the original Santa Claus. And as The Santa Corporation's plants continued to churn out gifts that would probably never be unwrapped, the Clausists' following grew.

Executives of The Santa Corporation became worried, afraid because those who believed in the ways of the old Claus wanted to return to the old ways, to one day of Christmas a year. And an end to year-round Christmas would mean ruin for the corporation, and an end to the modern Santaland way of life.

But the Clausists grew in number even though The Santa Corporation hired agents of the darkest, most venal kind to destroy the movement. The people had simply had too much festivity; they were sick of it; they wanted a break from the fun. The corporate agent's most heavy-handed tactics could not persuade the people to whoop it up one week more.

Although The Santa Corporation ignored everyone and kept on producing as though the holiday were not over, no one outside the company celebrated Christmas any more except on one day. And even then, they only exchanged presents--they would not take any from The Corporation.

The land became choked and glutted with the unwanted and untouched presents that kept coming out of The Santa Corporation's plants by the truckload. And while the company kept spewing out holiday paraphernalia like a merry-go-round with no brakes, the Clausists erected a tremendous monument outside the gates of the comapny's main factory. They built high and strong an image of Santa Claus, the long-dead manic sleigh jockey who had become their symbol. And on the pedestal of the figure, they inscribed a long-forgotten and poorly-understood poem that one of the ancients had written about their idol.

Millenia later, archaeologists would uncover the monument's base, minus the colossal figure, which had long since toppled after being worn down by the wind and the rain. Santaland had of course gone into decline, after The Santa Corporation slowed in its purposeless gyrations and finally stopped producing entirely.

Only the last two lines of the ancient poem were visible by the time the archaeologists unearthed the pedestal, and they would spend the rest of their careers trying to interpret the mysterious glyphs. The words carved in stone read: "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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