The Brothers' Christmas
London Portrait Magazine 12-1983
This time last year Portrait's editor Peter Carvell, scooped a world exclusive interview with Father Christmas. He was so impressed that this year Portrait was invited to attend the Reindeer, Toy-Makers & Allied Christmas Operatives annual conference on Bear Island. CHRISTOPHER LONG reports.
As union delegates gathered in the permanent darkness of Arctic Bear Island, fears were already growing that the Christmas Spirit industry was due for a severe winter of discontent. For several days prior to the conference, due to take place in a converted whaling station, fringe groups had declared their intention to cause maximum disruption in order to air their grievances. As expected, Christmas Fairies, the Reindeer and the militant Oxen, Asses and Shepherds were most vocal.
All depended, it seemed, on whether the 83 year-old life president of the union could control the extremists and win the support of large block-vote moderates. But it was left to general secretary Jack Frost to test the mood of the shivering delegates before Father Christmas made his presidential address.
Last year's conference on tropical Christmas Island (considered by all, except the Snowmen and Jack Frost, to be a far better venue for the annual junket) was much concerned with job insecurity and equal opportunities. This year started similarly with a Christmas fairy shop-steward accusing "sexist Woodmen" of cutting the trees far too long.
"Surely it's a Fairy's right not to have to tolerate the leers of men looking up our dresses," Miss Chrissie Cracker appealed.
"Every Christmas we suffer the indignity of having children and parents giggling about whether we've got anything on underneath. If a Fairy chooses to wear a revealing dress that's not an invitation to molestation at work.
"Brothers and sisters, we've had it up to here," Miss Cracker indicated.
Observers were quick to note that she skilfully avoided the equal opportunities issue, raised last year, when some men had called for the right to be Fairies too. Fairy members successfully skirted the threat to their own job security, while protecting their position at the top of the tree in terms of pay differentials. But Miss Cracker congratulated the industry on the almost total abolition of Christmas Tree candles. Safety-at-work legislation had at last eradicated this dangerous and exploitative Victorian practice. There were loud cheers from the Gold Balls and Chocolate Mice but not a sound from the Christmas Tree Lights. As always they were failing in their attempts to get 'lit up' in the conference bar-room.
The next speaker was Mr Fellthat Tree, branch secretary of the Scandinavian Christmas Tree union. Father Christmas looked worried as he saw the ever-green issue of wood versus plastic was coming up for debate.
"For too long we've seen our jobs threatened by new technology," said the spruce-looking delegate. "Claims that plastic is more economic, cleaner and less trouble have sapped the will of my members to survive. We're talking about real, live Trees Trees that have saplings to maintain and the right to the dignity of a job.
"Throwing us on an industrial compost-heap in favour of plastic robots is in-humane," he added.
Violent interruption from the Plastic Trees was howled down by the Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe who had long been needled by the way new technology had chipped away at their own industrial muscle. Bristling with anger they waved their arms, shouted and jeered at each other. From the floor a Yule Log reminded the conference that fir trees had been used to adorn Roman Saturnalia long before the Christmas Spirit movement had been formed, and their late great protagonist, Prince Albert, would have been appalled by the present redundancy rates.
In a skilful move Jack Frost was able to rally the conference by pointing out that everyone's job was threatened in repressive regimes behind the Iron Curtain. Pandemonium broke out with cheers, boos and protests on points of order.
Father Christmas had a casting vote in his capacity as St Nicholas, patron saint of Russia. The point of order was over-ruled and a resolution passed offering fraternal greetings to all freedom-loving Russian bears.
Nevertheless there was an overwhelming atmosphere of dissent as delegates left the centre for fringe meetings and the usual attractions of Bear Island's night-life at the end of the first day.
Father Christmas himself was a guest of honour at a mid-conference dinner arranged by the Snowmen, who were anxious to achieve a behind-the-scenes deal to get Christmas Day put back to January 6. They felt that White Christmasses were so rare that they would have a better chance of a role in the Festive Season if the early Christian date were used instead.
The subtle lobbying came at the end of the banquet held in the Winter Gardens ballroom. A cabaret featuring slinky local seals dressed in polar bear G-strings with gannet-feather boas was followed by a pipe-smoking Snowman singing I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas. Whether Father Christmas took the hint was not clear. By this stage he had fallen under the influence of a lot of pre-Christmas spirit as well as the charms of a bevy of Turkeys and Geese.
The Turkeys, considered to be on the extreme wings of the movement, have been described as a militant threat from within. Some even believe that they would like to see Christmas abolished altogether.
Day two of the conference was mostly taken up with routine issues concerning the Reindeer and Toy-Makers. The atmosphere of bitter disharmony raged on. The Reindeer claimed that anti-social hours and ever-increasing compulsory over-time would result in industrial action unless they got improved incentives from management.
"Until we see more carrots on the table there's absolutely no point in my members opening discussions", shouted Mr 'Rednose' Rudolph to cheers from his supporters.
"In this day the age, grass-roots opinion is unanimous that this totally unacceptable situation cannot be allowed to continue!" Another speaker, a twelve-point shop steward told the conference: "If management got their way, they'd have fawns and does hauling heavy sleighs round the world on derisory pay. We refute absolutely that we've been laying down on the job, or that better work practices would achieve improved efficiency.
"The last thing my members want is to inconvenience the public by taking industrial action but, if it results in broken-hearted children getting nothing in their stockings this Christmas, that's the fault of the management."
The management have long claimed that Reindeer were deliberately delivering all down one side of a street, and then all down the other side, rather than making a single, cost-effective trip down the middle delivering to odd then even numbers alternately.
They also said that some Reindeer (some of whom have forged CVs to obscure their high qualifications) have deliberately sabotaged sleighs and cast their harnesses to frustrate management objectives.
The Reindeer called for recognition of their traditional harnessing-up and brushing-down period before and after work on full carrots.
The more moderate Toy-Makers reported a busy year. They were now making equal numbers of white dolls and black dolls and offering a full range of 'guns for girls.'
The Christmas Fairies immediately protested. Guns were violent and dangerous symbols of a destructive male-dominated society, they said. They should be abolished, and dolls only should be given to boys in a programme of positive discrimination that would eradicate social conditioning.
One blonde, blue-eyed and very pretty Fairy said that she thought guns were lovely. Other Fairies dragged her to the ground by the wings as she said she would adore to have a gun "a pretty pink one with a twisty barrel and a sweet little ivory handle". She was dragged bodily into the Fairies rest-room where plans were already being laid for a peaceful protest involving the wholesale destruction of the Toy-makers' workshops.
Other Fairies were busy making a huge, colourful Christmas paper-chain to encircle the entire conference centre.
As chaos broke out on the conference floor Jack Frost appealed for calm. He managed to dissuade the Robins from joining the fray. He agreed with them that there were far too many dead pheasants, partridges, quail and grouse on Christmas Cards each year.
"And Turkeys!" screamed the Turkeys.
Mr Frost also proposed that the Robins should approach their father-of-the-chapel, Mr Cock Robin, concerning their bid to get improved royalties for their appearances on Christmas cards. Eventually silence was restored and only faint cries of "We Want Mother Christmas!" could be heard coming from the rest-room.
The moment had come for Father Christmas to rise and make his closing address.
"Brothers and sisters," he said in a deep, rich voice that percolated through a snowy beard. "Christmas comes but once a year. This year I would like to say this: the trials and tribulations we have seen here are the healthy opinions of free members of a great movement. It is right that we should air our grievances, speak our minds and fight for the best interests of ourselves and our fellow members.
"But, as I have to remind you each year, in a few days' time it will be Christmas a very important and special time for everyone. Most will be very happy some will not" audible groans from the Geese and Turkeys "but I appeal to you all to forget your differences and unite to help me make Christmas 1983 as happy as possible for as many as possible."
There was a hush throughout the hall. Then slowly the clapping began and the delegates rose for a standing ovation. Father Christmas had triumphed again.
Everyone linked arms and, in time-honoured tradition, their united voices took up the strains of the movement's timeless hymn. Across the frozen wastes and up into the starlit Arctic sky filtered the universal message of good-will "We Wish You a Merry Christmas, We Wish You a Merry Christmas; We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year".
See also All I Want For Christmas
© (1983) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.