Friday, December 6, 2019

Interview with Santa Claus


In his most in-depth and personal interview in years, Santa Claus reveals the trials and travails, the pressure and preoccupations surrounding this most hectic season.

Interview with Santa

Santa Claus breezes through the kitchen into the family room of his North Pole home, rosy-cheeked and jolly and looking very much like he might say “Ho, ho, ho.” No, he’s not rocking a bright red suit with white trim and a wide black belt, and he’s not as rotund as most pictures portray him, but it’s unmistakably Santa. He’s dressed casually in a comfy button-down shirt that turns out to be a Saturday Stretch Flannel from Lucky Brand. His wife bustles in the background, brewing coffee and baking cookies in honor of my visit. Other than the dark windows—there hasn’t been sunlight or even twilight here since October—and the near-chaos in the nearby workshop, we could be in any nice old couple’s cozy home.

Santa, thanks for having me up again … it’s been too long. You’re looking good—have you lost weight?
Well, yeah, I think I’ve dropped about twenty pounds, so I’m getting around a bit easier—but of course, I’m still as old as ever. Older, even!

Are you on some kind of diet? Paleo, maybe? Ketogenic?
Heavens no, I never dabble in that stuff. The main thing is, my contract with Coca-Cola came up for renewal and we just couldn’t agree on terms. Decades of partnership, up in smoke. So I’m not drinking that stuff anymore, which is the only change, but the pounds have just melted off!

Well, that’s good to hear. I’ve always wondered, frankly, how you can be as spry as you are, with millions of families leaving cookies out for you on Christmas Eve. Do you gain a lot of weight on the big night?
Not at all, I’m running around in a frenzy the whole time, and remember, I’m going back up those chimneys as well! And those cookies people leave me … not to sound ungrateful or anything, but I bring most of those back to my elves. They really dig that.

Speaking of the Christmas Eve frenzy, of course the holiday season is starting to build toward that crescendo. How are you holding up?
Well, it’s always kind of terrifying to think of how much has to happen between now and the 25th, but I’m used to it. In some ways I guess it’s actually getting easier.

How so?
Well, to be honest, business is falling off a bit. More and more, the kids are asking for digital products, and that’s never been my bailiwick. And these Gen-Z kids are all about “experiences” which means even less stuff for me to manufacture and deliver.

Does that bother you at all?
No, no … it’s never been my job to shape anybody’s tastes. I just need to make sure that what kids ask for, they get.

Provided they’ve been good, of course…
Oh, don’t get me started on that!

Actually, I was going to wait a bit for the uncomfortable question, but since we’ve stumbled into it, let’s just bash on. You’ve been under some pressure about privacy concerns … would you care to talk a bit about that?
Well, sure … everyone else has had their say, I don’t mind having mine. Look, it’s no secret I have a long tradition of making it my business which kids are naughty, which ones are nice, and so forth, and naturally I’ll leverage technology to do that efficiently. My business is all about scale—I mean, look at the population growth I have to deal with—so efficiency is always front and center. How could I not leverage the Internet for that? But I have never shared any of my customer data with third parties. In principle I collect and use personal data only to the extent necessary to determine which kids get gifts and which ones don’t. I do receive letters from kids via email but I have secure servers and a strict data retention policy around that. And to be honest, this might be the last year I even bother to try to differentiate among these kids anyway.

Wow—that’s kind of a bombshell actually. You’re talking about just giving gifts to everybody?
Yeah, the Santa Claus brand has really taken a beating because of the public’s growing—and, let’s face it, overdue—focus on privacy. There’s so much abuse of personal information by Facebook and Google and all these other platforms, I feel like the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. And don’t even get me started on achieving GDPR compliance … that was a complete nightmare. Honestly, the costs to my business are so high with these regulations, it’s almost not worth it. I can think of worse things than naughty kids getting gifts on Christmas morning. Maybe if I just throw out the surveillance completely, and give presents to everybody, those wayward kids will stop nicking their siblings’ stuff—and I’ll save a bundle on all the effort I’m no longer making, all that data I’m no longer sifting through!

That seems really magnanimous of you…
Hey, I’m Santa! What do you expect?

Since we’re already kind of in the muck here, can we talk about the scrutiny you’ve had around workplace conditions and labor concerns?
Wow, I was kind of expecting more softballs from you! But hey, it’s all good. Look, I run a fair operation here—it’s always been a union shop and I’ve never fought that. I pay these elves a solid living wage year-round despite the highly seasonal nature of our business. I invite you to walk out on the floor yourself and ask any of these elves if they’re happy here. Well, not right now, obviously—they’re busier than a cat burying crap on a marble floor—but hit them up after New Year’s and they’ll tell you how reasonable a guy I am to work for.

Well, I’m sure you’re aware some elves have been lighting you up on Twitter…
Look, any workforce will have disgruntled types … and remember, this is the North Pole. Epidemiologists have long studied how seasonal affective disorder worsens the farther north you get. How many negative tweets from my elves do you get in summer? Go check—I’ll bet you don’t find any. All summer these elves party like rock stars … they don’t even need to sleep!

Fair enough. Now, you have perhaps the most non-diverse workforce in the world … is this by design?
I’m an equal-opportunity employer and if Chris Hemsworth applied for a job I’d gladly grant him an interview. The fact is, I don’t get a lot of applicants and most of my employees are related to one another. You’ve got siblings, offspring, fathers, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and on and on, some of them third, fourth, fifth generation. Lots of companies talk about being like a family; we practically are. We’re like a family-run business times a thousand. And it works out because we’ve tailored the workshop to the elves’ size, so we’ve got a great ergonomic match there where Chris Hemsworth literally wouldn’t be a good fit.

Have you tried to diversify?
Back in the sixties I hired a lot of Oompa-Loompas, but they didn’t really integrate with our elves, and ultimately just couldn’t handle the conditions up here. The North Pole isn’t for everybody. But I never laid off a single one of those Oompa-Loompas. In fact, I’ve never laid off an elf either.

Let’s talk for a minute about Amazon. You’ve got kind of a love/hate thing going on there…
Well, yeah. It’s complicated. On the one hand, they’re eating into my business like anybody else’s, but since I’ve never had a single paying customer, this just eases my burden operationally. Of course I wonder if there’ll be a day when I become completely irrelevant, but I think the charm of a stuffed stocking and piles of beautifully wrapped presents left under the tree, instead of brown boxes left on the porch, will always have their cachet. And yes, it’s true I’ve partnered with Amazon for certain deliveries which has drawn some scrutiny.

Yes, if there’s an opposite of the halo effect you seem to be getting a bit of that…
Well, exactly. I’ve been delivering gifts to homes without fireplaces for centuries—I mean, think of all those New York and London apartments with radiators, or rural homes with propane tanks out back—but still people are shocked—shocked!—to learn that I don’t always slide down the chimney. So anything that challenges their Norman Rockwell sensibilities is suddenly a crime. The reality is, I’ve used a variety of courier services for ages, and a bunch of them have recently been bought up by Amazon. What am I gonna do, upset my whole system by changing providers on principle? The guy who schleps a hundred packages up the freight elevator on Christmas Eve doesn’t care that the company name on his pay stub has changed, nor does the doorman who knows to let him in. A million details go into delivering a billion packages on a single night and I can’t be reinventing the wheel every time Amazon buys someone. It’s not an ideal situation but in the final analysis, two billion gleeful children couldn’t care less.

At this point in the interview Mrs. Claus comes in with a large tray and serves us fresh-baked star-shaped cookies and hot coffee. She smiles demurely and, without a word, heads back toward the kitchen. “Thanks, Meg,” Santa says kindly, peering at her lovingly over his spectacles.

Wow … “Meg.” It’s funny, but I never knew Mrs. Claus’s first name. I didn’t really think about her even having a name.
It’s short for Margaret.

Would she … should we ask her to join us?
Oh, she has no use for journalists. And the way you’ve been grilling me, I can see why! (Laughs.) But seriously, she is a very private person, even more so than I, which is saying something. She’s perfectly happy to work behind the scenes, running the household and so forth. She’s very old-school.

Speaking of wives, and before I forget: my wife wanted me to ask you what you think of all these shopping mall Santas.
Well, historically I haven’t had any problem with them, as they’re fun for the kids and they mean well. There was always the worry that one would get drunk during his lunch break, then climb back in the chair and do something regrettable that would tarnish my image, but I can’t sweat all the what-ifs. But more recently I’ve started to worry about how skepticism is on the rise everywhere, what with fake news and Internet conspiracy theories and all that, and that kids will start putting two and two together—like, “Hey, I saw Santa at Macy’s last weekend, and then today I see him at Nordstrom and he’s like a foot shorter!”—and will stop believing in me as a result. I’m not a demanding person, I don’t seek a lot of attention or gratitude or anything, but the idea that a growing number of cynical kids are thinking the gifts I provided actually came from Mom and Dad … that really gets me down. So the white lie of mall Santas is starting to chafe a bit more these days, but in the end I just have to shrug it off with everything else.

Thanks Santa. And now I have just one more question. I know I’ve asked some tough ones today, so I’m going to lay off and instead turn it around to you: what’s the hands-down dumbest question any journalist has ever asked you?
That’s an easy one. Some dork said to me once, “Santa, you’re more than 1,700 years old. Almost nobody lives that long, the main exception being vampires. How can you convince me you’re not a vampire?”

I hope you put him in his place!
Of course I did.

Um … what exactly did you say?
Well, duh! I can’t be a vampire because vampires have to be invited in! There isn’t a soul on this planet who enters more homes without a spoken invitation. Didn’t that dickweed see “Let the Right One In”? Besides, I really only leave the North Pole once a year … whose blood am I supposed to drink all year? The elves’?

Wow, great points Santa. And thanks so much for sitting down with me today. And please thank Mrs. Claus for the goodies!
Thank you. And sorry a got a bit worked up just now … as you can imagine, I’m under a lot of stress these days. In fact, I’d better get back to work!

Original artwork by Lindsay Albert.
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