There is a man who lives in the frozen arctic north.
Despite all reports regarding shrinking polar ice, his home remains standing in one of the most remote places on Earth. Literally, no one – aside from he and his immediate associates – have ever traveled there. It exists in a place which is scientifically proven to be the farthest point from civilization, above water, on the planet.
Originally, this man lived in a village far south of his current domicile. During the early winter – the darkest days of the year – he would cheer people up by bringing hand-fashioned toys for the children and necessities for those with more responsibilities. His tradition was beloved by the public and he was a very giving man. His philosophy was that he should share the warmth in his heart with others in order to make the winter that much more bearable.
Seeing his success in the small snowy village, he thought about expanding his operation. He used his sleigh and some of the indigenous reindeer to deliver his heart-warming goods to other nearby areas to help them through those dark, cold times. As his delivery radius grew year after year, he found himself in need of help. He recruited the people of his home village to help him fashion toys and gifts, enough that everyone in his region would get one thing they needed or wanted to help cure the winter blues. He was himself a jack-of-all-trades but, by teaching his workers the basics, they became masters of their own.
As his workforce grew and his range continued to expand, he found himself creating a grand design. If he could bring this kind of cheer to one region of the world, why not bring it to the entire world? It remained a pipe dream until one night he spoke of his ambitions to one of the village elders. The elder revealed that he was familiar with the Ars Arcanum of the older world and that there were ancient incantations which could help him achieve his goals.
Through the use of forgotten ley lines, the elder and the man cast a spell found in a dusty grimoire which would re-position their village to a hidden place of power – this most remote part of the world, away from the prying eyes of the ever-advancing world of man. A place where their use of this magic could remain secret. Their intentions were noble and they knew if any of these powers got into the wrong hands, they would be misused.
They enchanted his sleigh next. As the distance was now vast between his home and those to whom he brought cheer, it made sense that his conveyance should fly. The trick to the spell, however, was that the sleigh would need constant forward momentum in order to stay aloft, which meant the work of his already famous reindeer would continue.
With his village and workforce now operating in secret and the ability to range further than ever, he began to visit every village he could on the night of December 25th. The cheer he brought helped to retain the magic he had been granted. His gift giving was close to a holiday mentioned in the grimoire but far enough away to allay suspicion of any true magic being used. It wasn’t until much later during the Reformation that this would, coincidentally, be officially recognized as the birthday of Jesus and therefore named Christmas. That is another story altogether.
Though his range was larger than it had ever been, he still felt it wasn’t enough. There were people out there who were in need. There were those who required something to sustain them through the frigid winter to come.
He and the elder enchanted more sleighs. They gathered more reindeer. They trained some of the burlier men in his employ (he being a mountain of one himself) in his gifting procedures. They broke the world up into regions for his self-made doppelgangers.
Over time, these gift-givers grew their own style, name, and reputation based on their region. None of them would ever top the original who, despite having accrued quite an burgeoning empire over the years, still made his own rounds personally. The idea of gift-giving grew so much that people began giving each other gifts and creating their own winter cheer. His idea was spreading. The time of year became the season for giving.
He liked this so much that he decided to add a bit more mystique to his routine and that of his compatriots. They would only come while people were sleeping. They could continue to give gifts, but their visits would no longer be the center of attention. The holiday he had fashioned would become about celebration with family and friends – togetherness in the face of the bleak season to come – rather than concentrating on the arrival of him or one of his lieutenants.
Time pressed on and population expanded. Considering the workload and the facts, he decided that adults were providing their own cheer through togetherness and the gifts they gave to each other. He decided to turn his efforts fully to children and the village, which had now become nearly a factory, switched exclusively to toy production.
This was done for a secondary reason, as described by the grimoire. While the magical energies of a younger world put the spells in place, belief in those magics was what kept them empowered. Adults, with a more concrete and cynical view on the world, had no time for what came to be told as legends or fairy tales. If he could retain the belief of at least the children – more powerful in its nature due to their innocence – he could continue his operation indefinitely.
This was important as he came to rely on magic. An enchantment kept his camp hidden. Spells kept himself, his workers, and his lieutenants from aging. He possessed flying sleighs and what would become known by fantasy gamers everywhere as the original bag of holding. Unless he was able to pay the upkeep through belief, everything he treasured would fall apart.
The legends used to spread belief in he and his cause began to homogenize and pool together. He was starting to be recognized as one man with different names who circled the globe in one night, giving presents to all who deserved them. Building on this, he decided to make his lieutenants a bit more uniform. Belief would remain strong if it was in one entity. He had no personal thirst for power or worship, it was done only to retain a strong belief in what he and his compatriots were doing.
As the centuries pushed on, things grew more difficult. More lieutenants were required. Different magics were scavenged from the grimoire allowing the gift-givers to enter through tight open spaces, mostly chimneys or other ventilation systems, to get where they needed to be. These were feats of individual magic, however, and tended to exhaust the user. Rumor was spread of this (and it spread fast), sparking a tradition of milk and cookies being left as a snack along with the occasional carrot for the well-known reindeer.
The legends continued to unify and eventually the most recognized name given to what was still believed to be the solitary gift-giver was Santa Claus. The visage of the original had been seen and passed down through the ages for so long that, in the early decades of the 20th century, it was brought into prominence by a rather ambitious soft drink company via their advertisements. This put belief at an all-time high.
This was both a blessing and a curse for the gift-givers. They were now busier than ever. Consumerism was kicking in. Children were no longer happy with handcrafted toys and they wanted things which, logistically, couldn’t be made at Santa’s factory. Things made from plastic and cardboard. Things with motorization and circuitry and, eventually, advanced electronics. Much to the dismay of the big man, if he wanted to maintain belief, he would have to buy into it.
He sent some of his best off to college to learn about marketing techniques and trend tracking among other business acumen. His staff, once expert craftsmen, were being moved from manufacturing to import/export. The icy village in the middle of nowhere became a business hub, the grimoire continuing to provide all the magic they needed to gain access to phone lines and internet connections without the need of bringing in people from the outside. They would buy the toys they needed to meet demand.
Santa himself became less like the foreman of the holiday and more like the CEO of an idea.
He had since given up his personal sleigh route. Mechanical forms of propulsion were now powering technologically upgraded sleighs bearing his trusted lieutenant. They flew out at Christmas in droves of thousands, continuing his legacy. His job was now an executive position.
Years prior, he had taken advantage of part of his legend created by his adoring public: the naughty/nice theorem. While he originally felt that everyone should get something at Christmas, he could see the point parents were making by invoking his name to bring their children to order. As all the other work was being done by his subordinates, he decided to make it a real thing and started a new department of his operation.
He didn’t use the ancient magics to accomplish this. Instead, he created a spy network which rivals any currently in the world today. His representatives are everywhere. They watch the entire year. A report is eventually given off to the Naughty/Nice Department for evaluation with Santa himself handling the cases under heaviest dispute. The NND tends to keep their paperwork off his desk as much as possible, but there are some cases which require his personal touch. He trusts his staff to make the right decisions most of the time. After all, they’ve been with him for centuries thanks to magic.
He also trusts his marketing staff to do the right thing. They’ve not been wrong once in targeting the hot toy of the season. They use a combination of trend analytics and department store Santas (their ear to the ground) to make their determination. They give an annual presentation to the big man himself, send the results to acquisitions, and they order as many units as they can, To this day, this is how children wind up getting that impossible gift – the one that is constantly out of stock.
Sure, sometimes their parents battle it out with other people to get the last one on the shelf and lose yet, somehow, one still winds up under the tree. This is thanks to the NND. Upon naughty/nice determination, the NND can inform the warehouse who then places an item and contacts the parents regarding a pickup.
Strangely, these “it-toys” can be recursive. Once acquisitions places a huge order before the season, it can cause a massive shortage in that particular item and, through media – both traditional and social – can cause a run on the market making Santa first the cause and then the solution of the big toy rush. This is easily overlooked and forgiven as the warehouse is always emptied of the “it-toys” by the end of the season and the manufacturing backlash always guarantees that the kids who didn’t get a pass from the NND will get one after the holidays.
Perhaps the most interesting transition that has occurred within the last thirty or so years is that neither Santa nor his lieutenants make personal deliveries anymore. With the advent of security devices and the rise in home defense, it was safer to allow himself to become a legend rather than remain a fact. He and his staff continue to reinforce the myth with random acts of holiday magic here and there, just to let the world know that he is still around. He leaves the spread of belief and the true perpetuation of his legacy up to parents. Sometimes they don’t realize how real he actually is. Still, every year he mounts up on his old-fashioned reindeer-driven sleigh and makes a few laps around the world. You might spot him if you look closely. When you’re the figurehead of an operation this big that has been going on for as long as it has, you have to make at least one real appearance.
In closing, remember the big man this Christmas. He may have ancient magic at his disposal, but he can’t give you world peace or any other conceptual gift, as much as he would like to. Ask him for something tactile, though, and chances are he’ll either make one available to someone you know or he’ll find a way to get you one himself. Belief is down more and more every year and he needs that to keep things going so he’s willing to overlook the fact that you are a 35 year-old looking for a NES Retro (please help, Santa!) in exchange for a little extra help in the magic department.
You may not see him in person, kids, but that’s just because he has a pretty big corporation to run.
Also, if you’re looking for a couple of signed first editions under your tree, I know a guy.