Claus and effect
Despite the supply chain crisis, the after-effects of COVID and the threat to coal as an energy source, Santa was determined to make Christmas happen.
Christmas used to be easy.
The kid mail poured in. Santa made the call who was naughty or nice. Elves made the toys, loaded the sleigh and hitched up a team of reindeer. Then Santa took off on Dec. 24 to make the deliveries, following midnight westward from Siberia to Alaska.
The entire team was focused on Christmas. You were not just making toys. You were creating delight — and delivering it, too. When the same kid wrote Santa for another gift a year later, you had a repeat customer. This only worked if Santa delivered Christmas on time, every year.
Well, COVID-19 pretty much destroyed that business model. The last two years of Christmas have been hell on Santa.
The COVID outbreak of 2020 forced Santa and his reindeer to fly masked. Covering Rudolph’s red nose robbed the reindeer team of its navigational beacon. Several near misses with airliners followed, along with by some directional errors, leaving some kids with no gifts on Christmas morning. Santa still dropped off goodies on the day after, but it was not the same — for the kids or for him. Warm milk and cold cookies were a meager reward.
Things did not improve in 2021. Supply chain disruptions persisted, shredding the “just-in-time” inventory system at Santa’s workshop. If toy parts can’t get to the North Pole, well, then gifts can’t get to kids by deadline, either. Elves worked overtime past New Years. Fed-up, overworked reindeer refused to fly after January 2. Santa had to outsource deliveries to FedEx and UPS, who were already swamped by returns from pre-Christmas online shopping.
But 2022 was going to be different. Christmas must be fixed at all costs. Santa did not expect such a simple goal would be so hard to accomplish. It sorely tested his patience.
Santa vs. insanity
COVID crashed demand, so supply shriveled. Then COVID passed, to an extent anyway, and demand returned — exceeding supply, which, in turn, messed everything up. Santa had to diversify his supply chain in a hurry to handle Christmas 2022. He was never picky about who he sourced toy parts from, since Christmas was for everyone.
Well, geopolitics does not believe in Santa Claus. The U.S. imposed sanctions on companies doing business with China, then extended those sanctions to Russia after they invaded Ukraine in February. The last thing Santa needed was for the U.S. State Dept. to label him a sanctions evader. He could retaliate by leaving a load of coal for the diplomats, but that would not fix things.
There are obscure, near-criminal firms that specialize in evading sanctions using front companies in other countries. Ebenezer Scrooge knew a few shady operators who could move goods to Russia and China, as well as Iran and North Korea. Santa looked the other way. Deals were made. Toys would be delivered. The media was kept in the dark.
Sourcing parts from other countries that don’t believe in Christmas was also “challenging”. Explaining Christmas to suppliers in some remote parts of the world took too long, so Santa just ordered the damn parts. Money helped.
Santa was feeling the strain. It was only May.
There is power in a union
Just-in-time delivery was dead. Maintaining inventories and building resilience was the plan. By June, 2022, the newly formed North Pole LLC had branches on every continent, running a network of warehouses and workshops, some in places that had no snow year-round.
But for the North Pole elves, this was taking things too far. The understanding was that only elves could do Christmas work. The guy who organized the Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island was seen nosing around Santa’s workshop. Yes, the elves formed a union. (Coincidence?) The reindeer, not be to be outdone, formed one too.
Labor talks were tense. But a deal was worked out by September. Elves and reindeer could unionize at the North Pole. Outsourced locations could hire humans, but they must be supervised by unionized elves. UPS and FedEx would do 40 percent of the deliveries, so long as the reindeer handled remaining North Pole traffic. Elves still handled e-mail.
So far, so good. But things took a turn for the worse in September. North Pole business practices conflicted with EU regulatory protocols protecting the data privacy of minors. Santa hired trade lawyers to go to Brussels to “work something out.” The deal went down as follows: minors could message the North Pole with their toy requests, provided their parents checked a permission box on the landing page of the Santa Workshop web page.
Elves, however, lacked the technical know-how to run the IT systems needed to store, sort and parse the data rising from gift requests. Here the union president of the Local Elvish Christmas North Pole Workshop Local 01 conceded, allowing outsourced IT operated by humans to run the marketing tech stack. AWS was allowed to accommodate any sudden spike in demand by adding more servers.
Santa thought the elves and reindeer were on his side. He gritted his teeth, signed the papers that needed signing, and got on with it. Christmas was more important than worrying about problems.
Are we there yet?
Good kids would still get toys for Christmas. Bad kids would still get coal in their stockings, of course. Things were just hanging together by a thread at the workshop when the next problem arose in November.
That’s when the U.N. held its COP 27 Conference in Egypt. There, the nations of the world pledged to take concrete steps to reduce carbon emissions. That meant getting rid of coal, since burning the stuff put out a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, raising global temperature.
Now Santa had a meltdown. How dare those national leaders outlaw coal right before Christmas? Those kids deserved it after being naughty the entire year! Was COP 27 really about climate change?
Santa was NOT going to let those naughty boys and girls get away with this, even if they were grown-ups! He must transition to greener forms of deadbeat gifts if he was going to stay in business. Santa switched from coal to seaweed. (Where do we source seaweed?) Japan obliged. They were even nice enough to throw in some Pokemon cards for free, just for the elves.
With that last problem solved, a very exasperated Santa Claus supervised the loading of the sleigh. He double-checked his manifest of gifts for the naughty and the nice. He taxied the sleigh to Runway 27 (West), shook the reigns, and took off into a brisk headwind, with Rudolph’s red nose blinking.
Just get through this and there will be a mug of rum-spiked hot chocolate waiting at journey’s end., Santa thought.
Hopefully the next Christmas will be better.
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