The stockings are hung and the tree is lit. Children everywhere are saying their yes ma'ams and no sirs, making their beds and tidying up their rooms in hopes of making Santa Claus' nice list. It may seem like a typical holiday season, but the general public remains in the dark about the current perils at the North Pole.
Normally aglow with the twinkling of Christmas lights, the only light in Santa's Village tonight comes from trash barrel fires. Elves huddle around them in a feeble attempt to keep warm, their shadows dancing against the snowy ground as they think back to the "good old days" when chestnuts were bountiful and times were merry. The fire light reflects off the shattered ornaments that litter the streets. Only a fool would describe the mood of the North Pole as jolly.
This time of year, the workshops are generally bustling with activity, but this year is different. The workshops are silent, filled with dusty work benches and cobwebs. Unbeknownst to most, Santa decided after last Christmas to outsource nearly all of the jobs to the South Pole.
With the enticingly low taxes of Antarctica and a steady supply of cheap penguin labor, it was a logical move. The last several years in the North Pole had been plagued by tensions between Santa and labor unions including the now infamous "Strike of the Sugar Plum Fairies." Santa had had his fill.
Elves everywhere are feeling the pinch as many have fallen on hard times since the workshops closed. The North Pole economy has relied on the steady work for years.
Several former Santa employees picket on behalf of the Elf Labor Union outside of the old workshop, its windows boarded shut. Jingle Jangle, a longtime employee and former quality control supervisor was among them.
"I don't know what to do," says Jangle as he puffs on a candy cigarette. "I mean I have mouths to feed. The bank called yesterday. They're about to foreclose on my igloo. How do I explain that to my wife and kids?"
The North Pole economy can barely keep up with the demand for unemployment checks as the unemployment rate saw a major spike in the wake of the layoffs. Santaland officials fear that the once proud nation may have to declare bankruptcy. Few hints remain that the country was thriving less than a decade ago.
"We had tons of money," says Frosty the Snowman. "I don't know what happened but something has to change. I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared. Not just about the economy but global warming. I mean, come on. I'm made of snow. My AC unit is Energy Star compliant, but what good is that when you can't afford the power bill?"
The North Pole has seen a huge decline in population as the tough job market has spawned a mass exodus. Refugees of the North Pole's war on the working class have scattered to nearly every corner of the earth in the quest for employment. Several have found work with Keebler and several more as extras in the Broadway production of Wicked.
It's not just the elves and snowmen feeling the strain. The traditional fleet of eight reindeer was cut to four after Santa opted to power his sled with more efficient hybrid technology.
"There's only so many jobs a reindeer can do," says a newly unemployed Blitzen. "Stupid Rudolph. Big stupid glowing nose. But at least I haven't ended up like Donner. Now, there was a great guy. Tasty, but great."
The economy isn't the only thing depressed. So are the people. Some have turned to eggnog to lift their spirits. "I had been on the sleigh for nine years," says Jingle Jangle. "Don't tell my wife. She thinks I've been working on the next J.R.R. Tolkien movie."
Others turn to even more deadly drugs — like crack snowcaine.
"It's an epidemic. Its nuts." says the Nutcracker as he scratches nervously. "What? Why does everyone laugh when I say that? This is serious."
Several attempts were made to contact Santa Claus, but he was unavailable for comment.