A modern Christmas story:
‘The outsourcing of hope’

As an investigative re-porter for Channel 3 News, I was sent to the North Pole for an in depth reports on Santa’s workshop. I excitedly packed my warmest sweaters and socks, knowing that in early November I would find Santa’s helpers in full swing, preparing for the holiday season. I was going to see the magic of Christmas being born.

After my plane landed, a dog sled carried me across the ice toward Santa’s workshop. I could hardly sit still in anticipation. My eyes searched the winter wonderland for the first sign of the twinkling lights that would welcome me. But the snow globe scene of my imagination was a far cry from reality.

I saw elves in the streets, but they were not cheerfully busy and rosy-cheeked. They were starving and cold, begging and homeless. Some huddled together for warmth; their tattered outfits a murky, faded green. Some of them had lost the tips of their pointed ears to frostbite. Tears rolled down my cheeks and froze while a dark building came into view beyond some slums. The building had once been bright red and white, but now the paint was peeling and one shutter swung from a single screw.

A few twinkling colored lights flickered across the roofline, but most of the bulbs had burned out. Candy canes that once lined the path to the front door were now knocked over. I had arrived at Santa’s workshop.

Even though my heart was as heavy as the weather-beaten door I slowly opened, I was still hoping for the wondrous scene of my childhood dreams. Instead of Santa’s workshop I found a spacious, empty room filled with dust and discarded rusty tools.
On the far side a single elf stood before an old-fashioned switchboard, frantically plugging in circuits and speaking into a hands-free receiver.

“I already told you, all dolls are now made in Bangladesh. You’re going to have to call … what was that? An elephant trunk nose? I’ll connect you.”

“Santa’s Workshop, how can I help you? Yes … yes ... I understand that black and- white candy canes aren’t quite as festive, but really, ma’am, I can’t help. I’ll connect you to the Thailand factory.”

Suddenly the elf noticed me. “Who are you?” he barked, not waiting for an answer. “Oh, you must be my replacement. Well, come on over here and get to work.Don’t let the grass grow under your feet.”

While he answered another call, he thrust a handful of mail at me. “What was that? Your Christmas lights don’t work? 220-volt? Yes…yes…well I suppose they have different electricity in the Philippines…or is it Honduras? Oh, for pity’s sake, how can I remember?” he muttered, disconnecting and going on to the next call.

I looked down at the batch of letters in my hands at the childish handwriting on envelopes addressed to Santa Claus at the North Pole. “But what do you want me to do?” I sputtered.

“Answer them?” “Answer them?” boomed the little elf. “Of course not, you silly girl. Why, we haven’t answered Santa’s letters here in…well, I don’t know how long,” he exclaimed.

“Answering letters are outsourced to the processing center in India.” The elf tossed a forwarding stamp to me and continued answering endless complaints of the most absurd nature.

Between calls, I began to tentatively question the little man in green. “I imagine Santa’s very busy these days … and, um … where might he be today?” “Santa?” the elf shot me an incredulous look. “Why the South Pole, of course. And not a moment too soon, I might add.
It really was quite sad to see. The poor man had lost so much weight. Why, Mrs. Claus spent all her time trying to fatten him up, flittering here and there, all in a dither. But with NIPTA, he spent 322 days a year flying across the globe, picking up toys from Thailand and China and Mexico …?
“NIPTA?” I asked.

“Oh, North Pole Free Trade Agreement or some such nonsense,” he spit out, flicking his wrist. The switchboard lit up again. “No, I’m sorry, Miss. All fruitcakes are now made in Paraguay. I’ll connect you.”

“Now I knew from the start that NIPTA idea was no good. But that big business conglomerate, Flor-Mart, got their fingers in our pie. Just a little help from investors Santa thought, and well, you see where that landed us.”

With a sigh, the elf slid off his headphones. “I know we’re not allowed breaks anymore, but I’m getting old and since they took away our lunch, well, I’m sure you understand,” he smiled at me sadly, patting my hand. “But at least I don’t have to fly to Taiwan to train you, my dear, because here you are. I can’t get my three weeks unemployment unless I train my replacement, you know.”

And so I found myself explaining to the elf the truth of why I was there. I saw a profound sadness in his face. It was not so much that it was the end of his hopes and dreams, but the hopes of all the innocents who needed something to believe in.
I knew what I had to do.

“This is Elaine Bradford of Channel 3 News, Tuscaloosa. It was what every child dreams of on Christmas Eve. Santa preparing for his busiest night of the year, the elves happily putting the finishing touches on the toys, the smell of sugarplums in the air.”

Kelly Santiman

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