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  • My dinner with Santa. An exclusive interview.

    My dinner with Santa. An exclusive interview.

    Laurie Campbell

    I would like to thank a colourful, wee elf named Undlin Neldth for arranging dinner last week between me and Father Christmas himself, St. Nicholas Claus (aka Santa).

    Undlin, who is in charge of Santa’s publicity department, recommended me to his boss for an interview after surfing the Net and chancing upon a blog I wrote recently, which cast Santa in a good light as an adept giver of financial wisdom.

    Said Undlin: “As you know Laurie, our CEO here at North Pole Inc. is a very busy man. He does not grant many interviews. Indeed, most bloggers and journalists must settle for interviews with Santa’s stand-ins – many of whom smell of gin and nicotine – and of course few media people are happy about that.

    “In your case, though, Laurie, I will be glad to set up an interview, provided we have an understanding between us. You can talk to the chief about anything you like, except his weight and his penchant for judging the behaviour of children. Am I clear on this?”

    “You’re clear,” I replied in my slippery way, and it seemed to comfort the tiny, pointy-eared publicist.

    Days later Santa and I met at Odin’s Hut, a quaint Toronto eatery specializing in delicious Scandinavian food at very reasonable prices. To my surprise, Santa arrived by helicopter. He was lowered onto the restaurant’s roof by wire in the dark of night.

    “Sorry about all this,” Santa said, his flaring mop-top and massive beard swirling as he struggled to free himself from a bulky leather harness. “I need to take special precautions meeting with select members of the press. Tempers are bound to flare when I show favour.”

    He added: “You’re a lucky lady, you know. I’m a tough chestnut to crack - ho, ho, ho.”

    On that lyrical note, I took stock of the celebrity saint. He was not attired in his usual red and white suit. Instead, he wore an oversized, navy Armani jacket, tan turtleneck, and black trousers with perfectly tailored cuffs over a shiny pair of Cole Haan brogues. Otherwise, he looked exactly like the image portrayed in those cheery Coca Cola posters from the 1930s – huge in the waist, rosy cheeked, and with an iron-cast squint that doubled as a smile behind dainty, wire-rimmed spectacles.

    I took a shot at breaking the ice.

    “You remind me of someone I greatly admire, the late Robertson Davies.”

    Santa blinked deadpan. “Who’s Robertson Davies?”

    The remark took me aback, then I saw a big smile take shape and heard the signature laugh again. “Ho, ho, ho – just kidding young lady. I’m quite familiar with the late, great Canadian novelist. Why, I must have delivered hundreds of thousands of his books as gifts over the years. His Deptford Trilogy was just wonderful.  I thank you for the compliment.”

    Relieved that I was dealing with a literate, albeit mischievous, soul, I looked forward to the interview I was about to conduct. It unfolded in a quiet corner of Odin’s Hut where piles of food were delivered to our table over a period of a couple of hours.

    I was sated after a delicious plate of poached cod in the form of Torsk. But Santa was ravenous, downing everything from Surslid (pickled herring) and Kjottboller (meatballs) to Gravet elg (sweet and salt-cured moose). Following the appetizers and main courses came Danish pastries - lots and lots of them.

    “Got to bulk up for the gruelling work ahead in freezing temperatures,” Santa told me. “Most importantly, though, I love food as much as I love the Mrs. – maybe even more so at my age … ho, ho, ho.”

    Suddenly, he stopped laughing, and paused to think. “That bit about the Mrs. is off the record. Am I clear on this?”

    “You’re clear,” I said in my slippery way, and that seemed to comfort the porcine, white-haired legend.

    So it was that between bites Santa engaged me in lively conversation. He enthralled me with stories about the daunting challenges he faces each Christmas.

    “I deliver gifts to 388 million kids in 31 hours,” he said proudly
    “Thirty-one hours?” I said. “How’s that possible on Christmas eve?”

    “Well,” he said, “you have to take into account the different time zones and the rotation of the earth while moving east to west. I’m talking about moving fast, too, with a payload of 350,000 tons. Rudolph and his fellow reindeer haul butt pulling this weight at 650 miles per second in order for us to hit our mark of 822.6 visits per second.”

    “Amazing,” I said.

    “And get this,” he went on, leaning toward me for emphasis. “For each household I visit, I have about one one-thousandth of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill stockings, distribute gifts under the tree, eat whatever snacks I’ve been provided, get back up the chimney, hop back into the sleigh, and move on to the next house.”

    “Wow,” I exclaimed. “That’s supernatural!”

    “It ain’t no cake walk kid, ho, ho, ho. Of course, having mythical powers makes it all possible.”

    Soon I steered the conversation to matters that interest us here at Credit Canada. Given all the knowledge and wisdom Santa has gathered over the years, I asked him what kind of advice he could provide to Canadians at large regarding personal money management come Christmas time.

    “Well, you know, I don’t spend a great deal on gifts myself. Virtually all my outlays go to unionized elf and reindeer labour, and they go to building material, sleigh maintenance and what have you. I just take orders from people – parents mostly  - and of course I take guidelines from all the correspondence I receive, including more than a million letters and emails from kids across Canada each year,” Santa said.

    “Concerning money matters, though, I see a lot in my travels. If there is one bit of advice I would offer all Canadians, it is this: don’t spend beyond your means at Christmas. Above all, don’t panic and rack up debt that you will later be sorry for. The spirit of the holidays is defined by giving, true, but giving is not restricted to material things.

    “Giving of one’s heart and time are the best gifts anyone can receive.”

    Santa went on to say that among the millions of families he observes each year who don’t have much Christmas coin, the happiest are those who prioritize spending on events and activities that bring people together.

    “Sumptuous feasts, roasting marsh mellows or chestnuts ‘round a fireplace or bonfire, sleigh rides, caroling with friends, snowman building, bobbing for apples, getting out to free carnivals, events, and concerts – these are the kinds of things that make Christmas special, and they can be enjoyed without digging a deep debt hole,” Santa said.

    He added there are endless economical ways for families to enjoy themselves at Christmas no matter what the location. In places like the City of Toronto, for example, there are more ways to get together and have fun than can be readily listed, he noted.

    “During the holiday season, as I fly over cities, towns and communities across Canada, I see families enjoying an endless array of activities. Nowadays, joining in on the fun is as easy as visiting the Internet and Googling free, local holiday events and activities,” he explained.

    “Such things should be kept in mind when planning for Christmas. And speaking of planning for the holidays – of which I am acutely aware – if you’re an individual or a family who has not prepared a Christmas budget in writing, then when I’m making my list and checking it twice, you can be sure I’ll put you in my ‘naughty’ category.”

    The note about naughtiness reminded me of elf Undlin Neldth’s warning that some issues remained off limits for anyone interviewing Santa. As dinner drew to a close, I couldn’t curb the urge to test those limits.

    “Santa,” I said, “I have just two more questions I’d like to ask: The first is, what are the criteria you use for judging the behaviour of children; and the second is, how much do you weigh?”

    Santa’s eyes widened suddenly, then his brow furrowed, and his face took on an angry cast.

    “No comment!” he snapped.

    But just as quickly, he beamed a big fat smile and winked.

    “Ho, ho, ho,” he bellowed.

    Then I heard the whoop, whoop, whoop of an approaching helicopter.

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