We still need Santa

ANTHONY BUTLER: If we stop believing in Santa, he will vanish

Father Christmas better not disappoint the boys and girls

First published in BL Premium

9 December 2021

Ho ho ho! We have reached that point in the year when all the little children dream about an overweight man in a red suit bearing a sack filled with Christmas gifts.

Santa has a tough job. He has to hire the reindeer who pull his sleigh, manage the elves’ workshop in which the toys are made, and deliver thousands of presents to a demanding schedule.

Eric Harvey’s handy management text, The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, famously advises Santa to “choose his reindeer wisely … hiring tough so you can manage easy”. But Santa Cyril’s ministerial reindeer have made a weakly team.

As the University of Alaska’s equally lucid Reindeer Health Aide Manual observes, the animals are vulnerable to warble flies, nasal bots, roundworms, tapeworms, and lungworms. They may not all be parasites themselves, in other words, but parasites often drain them of their energy.

The toy workshop itself is in great disarray. The elves complain that the head reindeer, Ebrahim “pointy ears” Patel, has made manufacture all but impossible. Gifts such as short-sleeved knit tops must be delivered with cardigans and knitwear. Crop bottoms must be packaged with boots and leggings.

Meanwhile, the venerable Pravin Goblin has kept Santa’s Aviation Authority (SAA) in the air — or rather on the ground. “We have a new pandemic business model,” he recently told investors. “So long as nobody is allowed to fly, the airline has plenty of capacity to meet demand.”

On another positive note, the goblin observed that the Passenger Rail Authority for Santa (Prasa) “now has no liabilities, such as tracks, electric cables, or trains. This means it will be far easier to operate at 100% capacity — within network constraints.”

There is also good news at Santa’s Automatic Reserve Bank (SARB), where egghead economists have with great fanfare announced a “nominal target for present delivery”. According to SARB modelling, this will by itself result in the delivery of more presents on December 25.

Meanwhile, renowned “alternative boffins”, including Gilad the Gnome and Mr Coleman’s Mustard, have released an Excel sheet ostensibly proving beyond doubt that “Santa is a sovereign issuer of presents”, and that he therefore faces no constraints whatsoever on his ability to deliver gifts to little boys and girls.

Unfortunately, almost everybody has forgotten about the little children themselves. Red Tellytubby Julius, and his cute friend Floydinia, got out their crayons many months ago, and asked “Doc” Mbuyiseni to write out their present lists. “We want the land! We want the land!”, they exclaimed, somewhat single-mindedly. But, in the end, it turned out they didn’t. What they really want is a blue light sleigh convoy — and a new Venda Piggy Bank (VBS) from which to borrow.

Will Santa Cyril stay on? You better hope so. Notorious political agitator “Herman the Hairman” insists that he should be Santa instead: “I got an overwhelming majority of 16% in the City of Gold,” he correctly observed, “so I should be in charge!”

As for Santa Cyril’s more serious rivals, a series of unfortunate events seem to have befallen all of them. Digital Zweli, Red DD, The Princess, and Perfect Paul: they have all been eating a lot, and for a long time, but they are still far too skinny to be Santa — even if Vlad the Impaler were to decide to befriend one of them.

Leadership Secrets reminds us that Santa exists because the little children say he does. If Father Christmas lets them down, the boys and girls across the land will stop believing in him, and he will simply vanish. Without a Good Santa, Christmas will come early every year, as it did this July in the magical kingdom by the sea. Then we will all be sorry.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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