The 618th North Pole Christmas Conference closed yesterday, leaving Santa and his helpers deeply divided, and exposing ugly rifts within the organisation.
The three day conference, which took place in a secret grotto in the far north of Canada’s Quttinirpaaq National Park, attracted delegates from all major regions of the North Pole.
The trouble began on the second day of the conference, as delegates debated proposed changes to voting rules that would make it potentially easier to replace Santa with one of his helpers.
The rule changes, which delegates voted in favour of, are seen by many as a direct challenge by Ping-Pong the elf to Santa’s control of Christmas.
Supporters of Santa took to the conference floor to voice their opposition to any change.
“We all know what is really going on here” Mrs Claus told the conference. “This is about some elves not knowing their place in the world. Their role is to work and toil until the job is done, not question their betters. Now who wants some cake and a cup of tea?”
Ping-Pong was asked several times during the conference whether he would support Santa in any leadership vote, but avoided answering the question. His behaviour drew the ire of many of Santa’s closest supporters.
“He’s gone too far this time” said one senior delegate, Rudolph. “This conference was intended to focus on organising for next year’s Christmas, but instead everyone’s talking about who will be in charge of the sleigh.”
While plans for this year’s Christmas are not believed to be under threat, one insider said there was a very real possibility that Ping-Pong would challenge for the top job when Santa and his council of elves met to hold a leadership vote in February.
Others, however, were dismissive of Ping-Pong’s challenge, and expressed confidence that the February vote would be a mere formality.
“Santa rules the North Pole with an iron fist,” said one reindeer. “There won’t be any challenge in February. Anyone who dares to challenge the established order of things will be turned into a Christmas pudding.”
On the last day of the conference delegates voted on a number of policy matters, before Santa gave his closing address to the conference.
A move to add a thirteenth day to the twelve days of Christmas was narrowly defeated by the combined votes of the elves’ unions, but those unions were successful in pushing through other changes to the Christmas calendar.
From 2014 onwards Santa’s workers will receive double pay and a day in lieu if either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day fall on a Sunday.
Free trade rules were also debated, with a number of delegates fiercely opposed to a proposed free trade agreement that would make it cheaper to obtain toys from China.
“We used to have the biggest toy workshop on Earth,” Prancer the reindeer told the conference. “We were the envy of the world, but today we buy almost everything from China. Cheap Chinese imports are destroying our manufacturing sector.”
There were numerous grumbles and squeaks from the floor, but delegates voted narrowly to ratify the free trade agreement signed by Mr Claus last September.
The conference closed with the traditional leader’s speech. “Ho ho ho” said Santa. His speech drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
But Santa’s strong performance at the conference is unlikely to silence critics of his leadership for very long.
Doubts about his ability to handle the challenges of Christmas have been gradually growing, after a series of poor poll results.
The most recent Roy Morgan poll shows that belief in Santa among children has dropped by three percentage points, continuing a slow downward trend in belief.
“If we held Christmas tomorrow we would be in trouble” said one delegate. “I just don’t see how Santa can turn it around.”
Critics of Santa say he needs to work harder to secure the support of existing recipients of Christmas cheer.
Some of his opponents say he is trying too hard to reach out to families that have different festive season rituals, at the expense of existing supporters.
“He’s losing his base,” said one senior reindeer. “His attempt to secure support from Jewish and Muslim families has been a disaster. If we can’t hold onto our base then we’re in big trouble come next Christmas.
“Christmas just won’t be the same if kids aren’t leaving milk and cookies out for Santa.”
A large number of bloggers and commentators have accused Mr Claus of dragging Christmas too far to the right.
They claim Santa’s insistence on deciding who is naughty and who is nice is excessively punitive, and fails to take into consideration the socio-economic causes of naughtiness in children, such as poverty and deprivation.
“How can it be fair to deprive a struggling but naughty child of any Christmas cheer?” wrote one blogger on The Christmas Standard. “Those are not the values we supporters of Christmas signed up for.”
Others critics point to Santa’s inability to say much more than “ho ho ho, merry Christmas!” whenever interviewed, as well as his generally shabby appearance.
“He’s fat, he’s old, he’s got an enormously scruffy beard, and he appears to have only one change of clothes,” said communications strategist Dr Phil Warbles.
“He’s an utter disaster. He needs to lose some weight, buy a few decent suits, and put on a tie. And the beard absolutely has to go. People don’t respond well to beards.”
“I’m not sure there’s much you can do with him, to be perfectly honest” said media trainer and Christmas supporter Dr Edward Bryan.
“I have watched Santa for years now, and I doubt he has the capacity or willingness to improve. It’s time for a change in the leadership of Christmas. Ping-Pong’s time has come.”