A familiar figure in Christmas folklore, Santa Claus brings toys and joy to children throughout the world and, miraculously, accomplishes it all in one crazy night.
As you might imagine, that kind of extensive, concentrated traveling can be a logistical nightmare, so the organization behind it must be whip-smart and letter-perfect to ensure that it goes off without a hitch. We spoke with the CEO of North Pole Enterprises, Santa Claus, about the business end of his Christmas Eve spectacular and all the folklore attached to it, and learned that pulling off this incredible feat is even more challenging than it sounds.
Bankrate: Let's talk about the economics of your job. The whole Christmas Eve enterprise seems like an impossibly complicated and costly venture. What are some of your greatest expenses?
Santa Claus: Elves. We have several thousand elves working for us, and we pay them a living wage and then some. We give full benefits, pension, 401(k) and free shoe lifts for life. Plus, the uniform is free.
Bankrate: Is your disability insurance higher than average?
Santa Claus: Ever see an elf crushed by an Xbox? It gets hairy up there. Plus, tools are flying in a relatively small space. We try to give everyone enough room, but accidents will happen. Luckily the elves are small, so if a wrench goes flying, it's only half as likely to hit one as it would a normal-sized person.
Bankrate: Insurance seems to be getting steeper by the day for businesses.
Santa Claus: My health insurance premiums are the worst. My HMO claims I'm "too fat," so they raised my rate 75 percent. Plus, the way I fly, I had to make all these modifications to my sled to get it covered. Seat belt harnesses, padded interiors. It takes a lot of the fun out of flying. The danger was part of the thrill. Now, I'm like a kid in a womb in that thing. I'm a grown man, for crying out loud. Let me take my own risks.
Bankrate: Any other special insurance you need?
Santa Claus: Dung insurance.
Bankrate: Excuse me?
Santa Claus: If reindeer droppings hit a house or car -- or person -- they could sue. I'm insured.
Bankrate: Good point. The elves tried to unionize a few years back, and it didn't go well. What happened?
Santa Claus: Look, I didn't know a lot about the unions then. I just knew that people who knew nothing about my business were trying to interfere.
Bankrate: There was talk of goons...
Santa Claus: Untrue. They weren't goons. They were polar bears. Locals. They live here.
Bankrate: Let's talk about the Village itself.
Santa Claus: I own the property that Santa's Village rests on, as well as the buildings themselves. I was lucky. I bought early -- around 1700. Got a solid deal from Peter The Great, who was in the process of moving on. The value of the property is up around 15,000 percent. It was a good deal.
Bankrate: That's the best case of getting in early I've ever heard.
Santa Claus: Sure, if you ignore that I had been renting for 1,000 years before that. Renting! What an idiot! I could have been so much wealthier. Oh well, be grateful for what you have.
Bankrate: Is it an expensive property to maintain?
Santa Claus: Heating bills. You can't imagine.
Bankrate: Gas heat?
Santa Claus: Whale blubber.
Bankrate: Gotcha. Let's talk travel expenses.
Santa Claus: Good topic. Business-wise, the smartest thing I ever did was move from ocean-based, rowing propulsion to air-based, reindeer-propulsion.
Bankrate: You used to travel by ship?
Santa Claus: Can you believe it? But that's business. You make your mistakes early and you learn.
Bankrate: So what's involved in maintaining reindeer?
Santa Claus: Not that much, thankfully. It's surprising how much they eat of what's just laying around the woods.
Bankrate: How do you get the reindeer to fly?
Santa Claus: Proprietary technology. Can't really talk about it.
Bankrate: Because there have been rumors ...
Santa Claus: Yeah, I know. (Sigh.) Look, I can't give away all my industry secrets to address every crackpot theory that comes down the pike. But I promise you and all your readers that steroids NEVER came into play here. Not now, not ever.
Bankrate: So that whole Rudolph controversy...
Santa Claus: He had a cold! Let it go!
Bankrate: Any other expenses involved in the travel?
Santa Claus: Dry cleaning bills and suit storage get very costly. People don't realize I'm sliding down chimneys all night. I go through about 750 suits in one night. The soot cakes up really fast. Funny story -- I had this accountant once who tried to convince me that I should bill the families with the worst chimneys for "chimney sweeping services." Needless to say, he wasn't with me long. That's clearly not in the spirit of what I do.
Bankrate: So there's cost in maintaining your image?
Santa Claus: Isn't there always? Beard care alone costs me in the thousands every year. If I wasn't so busy, I'd invest in that.
Bankrate: Is Mrs. Claus an employee of your company?
Santa Claus: She's an officer, actually. VP of Human Resources. She spends her days interviewing elves.
Bankrate: Are they tough to hire?
Santa Claus: We've learned some things over the years. Many of them are showbiz refugees -- got into Hollywood claiming they were midgets or dwarves. Everyone lies about something in Hollywood. We've found that if they've been in movies or TV, their work ethic generally stinks here. Not that they're bad people, they're just used to a different environment. I once had to fire about 40 at once after finding out they all lied on their applications. "The Munchkin Incident" ... That was a rough week.
Bankrate: How did they take it?
Santa Claus: Ran around destroying things. Got drunk on eggnog and ginger ale and had chicken fights all over the workshop. Nothing worse than an angry, drunk elf. Bad news.
Bankrate: We've talked about your expenses. What about income?
Santa Claus: Residuals, residuals, residuals. I get money from every Santa-related item in the world. All the shows -- "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Year without a Santa Claus" ...
Bankrate: "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"?
Santa Claus: You bet. Everything. Santa-related Christmas tree ornaments, cookies. Plus, I get ancillary rights to Rudolph and Frosty. Frosty's still hot about that. He let himself melt one year just to spite me.
Bankrate: And you allowed them to do "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." Hmm. Do you stop anything?
Santa Claus: On the Web, I saw a site that had "Disco Dancing Santa." Yeah, right. Didn't even think about it -- just sent a cease and desist. Like I'd be caught dead dancing to disco.
Bankrate: You've had a few legal entanglements. What was the story with the class-action suit?
Santa Claus: I keep a list of every kid in the world, breaking them down into two categories -- "naughty" and "nice." Some kids' rights organization threatened a class action suit, alleging discrimination, emotional distress and even damage to future profits on behalf of kids branded "naughty." They called it a stigma. So, I had to come up with a whole objective justification for the "naughty" designation until I just said, "forget it." Now, every kid gets a Talking Elmo and we're done.
Bankrate: Seems to take all the fun out of it.
Santa Claus: Blame the lawyers.
Bankrate: You've had a few nuisance suits too.
Santa Claus: I actually gave some kid a PlayStation, and I got sued because he wanted an Xbox. What kind of garbage is that? I snuck back in before New Year's and took it back. Now you get nothing. Brat.
Bankrate: And you've had other controversy. Some point to you as the prime example of how Christmas has become so commercialized.
Santa Claus: Unfair. And, inaccurate. Remember, I give toys away for free. If anything, I'm surprised they don't call me a socialist.
Bankrate: Let's talk about your history. You started as St. Nicholas around the fourth century. Word has it you actually left gold for people back then. Is that true?
Santa Claus: It is. I left gold. Now, most things I leave are made of plastic. Times have changed.
Bankrate: You used to be St. Nicholas, and some people call you Kriss Kringle. Any other aliases?
Santa Claus: In the late '60s, I experimented with one I don't talk about much, a weird flight of fancy on my part. Jack Tripper.
Bankrate: Hmmm ... that would seem somewhat inappropriate.
Santa Claus: It was. Not sure what I was thinking -- the '60s turned everyone's head around. I ditched it two years later and gave it to John Ritter. I always liked Ritter.
Bankrate: What's your take on "The Night Before Christmas"?
Santa Claus: That's actually the only story out there that's fully sanctioned. My agency worked out a very generous royalty deal for me on that one.
Bankrate: That was in 1823. They had agencies then?
Santa Claus: Yup. Earlier versions of what we have now. I was with the Kansas City Railroad Profitry Generation and Blacksmithing Company. They eventually became CAA.
Bankrate: What's your take on Christmas music?
Santa Claus: I have a policy. Anyone who plays it before Thanksgiving gets nothing. And even afterward, please, use it sparingly. It's like wallpaper already.
Bankrate: What about that song, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer?"
Santa Claus: Completely untrue. The reindeers have a 100 percent safety record. That song was really bad for their morale, by the way. A rumor spread that Blitzen did it. He was getting some awful letters, and we barely avoided a boycott from AARP. If you do business in America, don't mess with the Grandma lobby.
Bankrate: What about, "I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus?"
Santa Claus: No comment.
Santa Claus: Next question.
Bankrate: In your opinion, what has been the worst use of your image?
Santa Claus: Worst attempted use -- The Star Wars Holiday special. I had to sue to keep myself out of that one. Sure, I wear a big suit, but can we keep Chewbacca out of it, please? What an awful show. Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, Ewoks, AND the Jefferson Starship. If I ever wanted to kill Christmas, that's sure as heck the fastest way I can think of to do it.
Bankrate: Politically, this nation seems more divided than ever, especially after this year ...
Santa Claus: I'll stop you there. I stay away from all that red state/blue state malarkey. Whether you're the son of an Iowa farmer or the daughter of a Hollywood executive, if you've been good, you're getting a toy. Period.
Bankrate: What are your feelings on the Grinch?
Santa Claus: How did no one realize that having your heart grow three sizes in one day isn't exactly healthy? He was a good man. He'll be missed.
Bankrate: What is the most surprising thing about you that people don't know?
Santa Claus: The Santa suits: Cashmere. Santa travels in style.
Bankrate: Anything new to look forward to in the years to come?
Santa Claus: One word -- Santapalooza!
Bankrate: You're kidding.
Santa Claus: Can't say much, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers are already on board.
Bankrate: Any last advice or requests for the children out there?
Santa Claus: Yeah. If your greatest Christmas desire is Girls Gone Wild tapes, you're officially too old for Santa. Stop writing me.
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