Saint Nicholas was sitting in his study in Lapland, having returned from his annual trip to his old diocese in Asia Minor. On his way back, he decided to visit other countries to learn how they had changed over the years. As he sat smoking his rosewood pipe, one eye glancing at a snifter of brandy, he thought about the naughtiness and niceness of the people of the world. Some elves entered his study, disturbing his meditations.

“In accordance with EU Directive 2018/600891, the wood suppliers will be charging us value added tax of 35%, Santa. We’re worried that the income generated from your Anti-Arian investment fund won’t be enough to cover the costs this year. Especially as the national government has decided to increase income tax to 45% on dividends and interest payments from corporate bonds this year. It’s a great shame: we had hoped to provide the children with wooden crosses this year – before they’re banned as gifts to under-18-year-olds. Christmas is about the birth of Christ, after all.”

“Well, we all knew the game would be up one day. By the grace of God, I have performed many miracles in my time, but no one fights with powers of taxation and survives. This time they’ll have my crosier and mitre, for sure. No doubt I’d be forced to carry a staff made from recycled steel, sculpted in an abstract, post-modern fashion. As for the mitre, they’d probably stick me with some polyester affair, embroidered with rainbow edging and the emblazoned with “CO-EXIST”, spelt using religious symbols. No – I don’t fancy that outcome. It’s bad enough I can’t smoke my pipe in the workshop since they brought in that anti-smoking legislation. It’s really taken the twinkle out of my eye.”

Another group entered his study, this one carrying placards that read: “Animal Welfare: Say no to reindeer-drawn sleds”. These people did not show the melancholy and respect with which the obedient elves’ faces were lined. Their features were contorted with rage, spittle and froth streaming from their mouths and noses – unlike the reindeer, which had never shown such signs of exhaustion and rabidity.

“May I help you, my children? What seems to be the matter? Perhaps a nice tankard of mead and some ginger biscuits would calm your anxious hearts…”

“No platform for animal abusers! End the patriarchy! Reject the male and Christian domination of Yuletide!”

“Ah my children, you grieve me. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are about Christ, not about our selfish perspectives and desires. This is a time to acknowledge that the Creator Himself took on flesh and was born in a stable in Judea to redeem all of Adam’s helpless race. Nevertheless, I doubt I shall convince you…”

As the elves quietly ushered the protestors off what was still designated private property – but for how long? – Father Christmas decided to warm his troubled heart by reading a few letters from children. The first one, sent by one Harmony Unicorn Jones, read as follows:

Dear Yuletide Caregiver,

Thank you for your gift of toy soldiers and chocolate last year. Unfortunately, our pacifist commune refuses to endorse the concepts of private property and just war. Regarding the chocolate, my parents, who are vegans, were dismayed to find it had been made using milk, and insisted that I sell the chocolate and use the proceeds to buy placard materials for our march on Washington DC in February. They informed me that if you get your friend Saint Valentine to send me chocolate during our campaign, they will report you and him to social services and the DC police, followed by a suit alleging interference with the separation of church and state – though on what grounds, I am not sure.

Tears streaming from his eyes, the old bishop turned to another letter, in the hope that it would offer some comfort.

Dear Father Christmas,

Thank you for your wonderful gifts last year. I really appreciated the thought and care that went into them and I thank you for your prayers for me and my family. This year, if it is not too much trouble, I would like to ask for things on behalf of my parents, rather than myself: if they are happy, I shall be happy.

My father would like you to bring him an annual subscription for a newspaper that reports real news and lets him decide what to make of it. My mother would like a t-shirt that says, “Being a full-time mother is not oppression: it is service to mankind”. My uncle would like membership in the “Obnoxious Cigar Smokers’ Club”, and my aunt would like an extra large rolling pin – she says big cigars call for big pins…

“Well, that’s enough for today.” Taking a sip of his brandy, the tired old man went to bed, but not before kneeling down to say his prayers.

“…and bless all your people in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Armenia, and Lebanon, Father. May your Son bring peace to this troubled world. Amen.”