They were an odd group, the delegates who attended the conference. Old and awkward, with a puzzling assortment of aides. They had travelled considerable distances to the isolated hotel, high up in the mountains. One gentleman insisted on stabling his six reindeer in the hotel garage while several had arrived on horseback, one on a pure white steed. All the hotel staff had been carefully vetted and were warned to be especially discreet. The Committee for Harmonisation of Christmas Cultural Operations, CHOCCO, had paid an exorbitant price for the sole use of the hotel and provided its own security guards who were dressed in purple with green epaulettes.
The room was prepared, equipment tested, and the interpreters were in their booths. The chairman of the meeting, Herr Jander, and his four staff members, all dressed in sober grey suits, placed themselves at the head of a rectangular oak polished table the size of an ice rink. The delegates in their flamboyant uniforms searched for their seats. A gigantic horned monster covered in long hair, clanging its chains and roaring, attempted to get into the room. His way was barred by several of the hefty purple clad security guards. Austria protested, his Krampus must be allowed in the room. Netherlands, an elderly, stately man with a long grey beard, red mitre and bishob’s alb, rose from his seat. He banged his crozier on the ground and shouted his Zwarte Piet had also been barred. Denmark complained loudly even his little Nisse had been refused entry. The bearded Czech gentleman waved his staff in the air and announced as his retinue of angels and devils had been excluded, it was only fair all their helpers were banned. Herr Jander reminded everyone the hotel basement had been especially prepared for their aides, with fast wifi, computer games and ample food and drink.
Eventually the delegates were settled and seated.
“Gentlemen, welcome,” Herr Jander flashed his shiny teeth around the gathering.
“‘We are meeting today to harmonise Christmas practices across Europe. Children receiving presents from a variety of different figures on different dates must be discontinued. It is highly confusing for them. Outdated and questionable practices must be curtailed. For example, a white person, blacked up with a curly wig and red lipstick, is totally unacceptable. Shocking in fact. No example to children.” Herr Jander thumped the table.
The tall, mitred figure from the Netherlands rose to his feet.
“How dare you. We in the Low Countries are the most tolerant of people. Each year, I sail from Spain to Amsterdam my ship laden with presents and my companion Zwarte Piet. He finds out if the children have been good or bad. He puts the bad ones in his sack and takes them back to Spain until the following year.”
There were cries of outrage, especially from the Scandinavian delegates. Although, one rotund figure was heard to mutter.
“Serves the little buggers right.”
Belgium piped up.
“The children know it’s a joke. Zwarte Pieten are black because they deliver presents down the chimney. It’s soot. Soot you nincompoops. They accompany us as we parade through the streets throwing sweets to the children.”
“Presents! Presents! That’s my job. Don’t you know,” spluttered Great Britain’s Father Christmas, as he staggered to his feet.
“You’re too fat, Rosbif,” said France. “Go back to sleep.”
“Can we continue please?” said Herr Jander. “We need to decide who is the present-giver at Christmas. St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Zwarte Piet, or the Three Kings. As St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, in Turkey, it seems inappropriate that he has the role of present-giver in Europe.”
Numerous St Nicholas’ rose to their feet protesting the Bishop was the actual originator of gift giving to children at Christmas. He instigated covert present distribution, the original Secret Santa.
“Rubbish. Poppycock,” shouted Great Britain, a red-faced fellow with tufts of white hair protruding from his red hat.
“The Mid-Winter festival originated long before Christianity and St. Nick. Before Europe even existed. Saturnalia was celebrated in Rome, centuries before bishops strutted around. This became Yuletide in Ancient Britain and it’s personification is ME, the true Father Christmas.” He then clambered unsteadily onto his chair, his arms raised in exultation.
“Oh shut up Great Britain,” yelled the entire room in harmonic unison.
The imposing figure of Sfantul Nicolae held up his hand for silence.
“In Romania, the Saint’s Day is separate from Christmas celebrations. What we are being asked to do here is absolute nonsense. This meeting is a farce.”
“A farce. A farce. A farce,” they all shouted, stamping their feet. The struggling voice of Herr Jander could no longer be heard.
“Gentlemen. We are well prepared,” boomed Netherlands, holding up his phone.
“Phones are not allowed in the conference room.” Herr Janer said, his voice rising an octave.
Within moments all the delegates had their phones out and were speed dialling. The doors smashed open. Zwarte Pieten, the angels, devils, little elves and Krampus had overpowered the guards. Gnome-like Nisse tucked his long beard into his tunic and scrambled under the confusion of legs and arms and jumped onto the table. Herr Jander and his four suited aides were bundled into sacks and carried away. It took only twenty two minutes for all the reindeers, horses, elderly men and their retinue of colourful assistants to leave the hotel.
Above the noise of hooves and sleigh bells, the refrain. “I said I’d get it done. I said I’d get it done,” was heard across the valley, over and over again.
Herr Jander and his four suited aides were never seen again. The Committee for Harmonisation of Christmas Cultural Operations was placed on the ‘back burner’ for another year.
Sometimes on a cloudless night you can see the light of the International Space Station traversing the sky. If you look carefully, you might just see a faint speck of light being trailed behind.