Father Christmas had the flu.
He felt terrible.
His big, shiny nose was blocked. His body ached, and he felt both hot and cold, all at the same time.
He lay in his bed at Lapland House, with a thermometer under his tongue. Doctor Bilzi stood beside the bed, and held Father Christmas’s wrist. He tutted, shook his head, and removed the thermometer from Father Christmas’s mouth. He examined the thermometer, and tutted again.
“You mustn’t move from here, Father Christmas,” he said. “You’ve got a very high temperature, and your body needs lots of rest.”
Father Christmas groaned.
“But it’s the twenty-second of December,” he said. “ In two days time I have to fly around the world and give toys to all the children.”
Doctor Bilzi shook his head.
“You won’t be well enough to do that,” he said. “You’ll just have to cancel Christmas this year.”
Father Christmas sat up in bed. He was very angry.
“That’s impossible,” he cried. He held his hand up to his head, groaned, and slumped back onto the pillow.
“Oh, I feel terrible.” He closed his eyes. “What am I to do?”
That night, Father Christmas could not sleep. He tossed and turned as he fretted about what to do. Just after three o’clock in the morning, he sat bolt upright in bed.
“That’s it,” he said out loud. “That’s what I’ll do.”
He lay back on the pillow, and slept soundly until morning.
News that Father Christmas was ill spread quickly through the Lapland toy factory. It was next door to Lapland House, and on the next morning a great crowd gathered outside the house, keeping watch in silence.
Hundreds of elves who worked in the factory, grooms who worked in the reindeer stables, and packers who worked in parcel despatch stood waiting for news.
“Perhaps we can delay Christmas until he’s better,” whispered the ribbon and wrapping supervisor, a tall elf with a green pointed hat topped with a white pompom. “My team needs a couple of extra days to get everything finished.”
“But think of the scandal if we do,” said the groom standing next to him. “Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer will be so unpopular if the children have to wait for their toys. They must be delivered by Christmas morning.”
“Shh,” said a soft toy stuffer behind them. “Look. He’s coming out on to the balcony.”
The crowd looked up as two heavy wooden doors on the first floor of Lapland House opened. Father Christmas walked slowly onto the balcony. He was wrapped in two large white duvets, and he had a big red hat on his head. He shuffled forward, and grasped the rail of the balcony with his plump red hands.
Father Christmas started to speak, but no one in the crowd could hear him. His voice was very weak, and he was too far away.
There was a commotion behind him, and an elf in a bright yellow suit scurried out onto the balcony. He carried a chair in one hand, and a large plastic megaphone in the other.
He set the chair down next to Father Christmas, climbed on to it, and held the megaphone in front of Father Christmas’s mouth.
“My friends.” Father Christmas’s voice boomed across the courtyard in front of Lapland House. Now, everybody could hear him.
“As you probably know,” he continued. “I have the flu. I feel terrible. And Doctor Bilzi has told me I must stay in bed. But tomorrow night, I should fly around the world to deliver presents to all the children.”
Father Christmas paused, and let out a very loud sneeze. Everybody in the courtyard covered their ears, as the sound bounced off the walls.
“Doctor Bilzi has told me I must cancel Christmas this year. And that’s what I’ve decided to do.”
A puff of frozen breath rose above the heads of the crowd, as all the elves in the courtyard gasped. The noise of excited chatter grew louder and louder. Father Christmas held up his hands for silence.
“Christmas has gone wrong,” he continued. “It sends the wrong message to children. It brainwashes them to become part of the capitalist consumer society. It fuels greed and envy. We all know that Marx’s dialectical materialism tells us that any attempt to reconcile materialism with idealism must result in confusion and inconsistency.”
He gestured around the courtyard.
“And that’s what we’ve all done. Even though we meant well.”
Father Christmas paused to sneeze again, loudly.
“What’s to become of us?” cried a voice from the crowd.
“My friends,” Father Christmas held out his arms in supplication to the crowd. “Don’t worry. I have a new plan. We’ll start again. I’ll look after you all. Christmas must send a message of generosity. From today, all children will make presents for each other. We’ll become the distribution house for their gifts. Every child can give a gift. Even if it’s the gift of love.”
He shivered, and pulled the duvets tighter around him.
“And the first thing we’ll do is move away from Lapland. I’m not spending another winter in this cold and ice.”
“But where will we go?” asked the elf holding the megaphone.
“We’ll go to South America,” replied Father Christmas. “It’s much warmer there. And I’ll set up the children’s gifts exchange there. In the Amazon.”