INFREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS #4.5: WORKING NIGHTS AT CHRISTMAS / OH COMELY

Due to a clerical error at the job centre you have been employed as the new Father Christmas. There is little on your CV to suggest that you would be the appropriate candidate to become the personification of Christmas, but perhaps they were swayed by your stated willingness to relocate, you think, or maybe you impressed someone with details of the winter you spent as a teenager working shifts in an Argos stockroom. In any case, at least it’s better than more admin work.

On the sleigh ride towards your first day at the job, you rub your mittens together and ponder the reasons why you’d traditionally be unsuitable for the gig. This, you remind yourself, is called imposter syndrome. Why shouldn’t you be the presiding spirit of Yuletide? The season holds many lessons, and one of the better ones is that Christmas can be anything you want it to be. Apparently that concept now includes your newfound career as festive gift-bringer. You enter the workshop with your head held high, until you realise you have a foot or two on your tallest colleague and that you might seem rude for the act.

The elves are unexpectedly spry given that they are each hundreds of years old, but you are disappointed to learn that their pay has barely risen over that time. This wage stagnation is despite the growing complexity of their work, as wooden toys have been supplanted by all manner of complicated electronic devices. One of your first acts is to encourage the elves to unionise, and although this is admittedly inspired by procrastination – much of your job involves reading thousands of letters and attempting not to nod off – it definitely feels like the right thing to do.

After months of diligent reindeer upkeep, the big day arrives. When you were younger and more sceptical you would occasionally ask your mother how Father Christmas was able to deliver presents to everyone across the world in a single night. She would always give the same gnomic, classic-mum response: time zones. It turns out that she was right. You have far longer than you were anticipating to complete your task, but it is still the most hectic night of your life. There is a certain thrill however in being so busy that you don’t have a moment to think about what you’re doing. You are all determination and instinct, or, more accurately, determination, instinct and an increasing quantity of mince pies.

Barring a few overenthusiastic canines the night is a success, and before you know it your sleigh is gliding onto the roof of your final house. As you swing your legs into the flue of the chimney you reflect on how excited everyone is going to be in a couple of hours. For some reason you’ve been thinking about Christmas more than usual this year. Your new job is partially responsible, but you’ve also been taken with the idea that everyone just needs Christmas a little more at the moment. It isn’t the presents or the food or the parties or the days off work: it’s about having the opportunity to be kind. A friend once told you that she liked Christmas because it was simple and tender, and you believe that’s exactly what we all need right now.

The first thing you notice on exiting the fireplace is that a plate hasn’t been left out for you. While you’ve certainly had more than enough mince pies at this point, it seems a shame that the reindeer don’t have one last carrot to share. At this moment you realise that the room’s furnishings look familiar. This should be unsurprising: it’s your house. You reach into your sack and find that there is one final present. It is red and green and gold, and is bedecked with enough ribbons that you could probably start your own haberdashery if the Father Christmas work eventually dries up. The writing on the tag says “Merry Christmas!”, and in smaller letters underneath this, “Thank you”. As you chuckle to yourself – you’ve gotten very good at chuckling lately – you place the present under the tree. You don’t even need to open it to know what’s inside. The present is, of course, the one thing you’ve always wanted.

What did the elves give you for Christmas?

Originally published in the Oh Comely 2016 Christmas newsletter.

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