The magnetic North Pole is moving, at 34 miles a year, from Canada to Russia…
Santa rose in the dark, though since it was December at the North Pole that tells us very little about what time it was. It was early, though, as it was Christmas Eve and he had the busiest day of his year ahead of him. He got out of his Santa onesie, pulled on his Santa suit, and trudged yawning across the ice to his grotto. He opened the door, switched on the light, and started, startled.
Vladimir Putin was sitting silently in an armchair, one ankle crossed over one knee. Though his face was expressionless Santa had the impression that he was regretting not having brought a cat to stroke.
“Ah, there you are, Santa,” said Putin.
“And here you are,” said Santa. “It’s finally happened then, has it?”
“It has indeed,” said Putin. “As of this morning the magnetic North Pole has passed into Russian territory. Santa Claus has literally come to town.”
Santa smiled. “It makes no difference to me,” he said.
“Oh, but it does,” said Putin. “You are now a Russian citizen. I would like you to act as an – ambassador, shall we say, of our ways.”
“What would you like me to do?” snorted Santa. “Cossack dance on each rooftop?”
“Nothing so vulgar,” said Putin. “I’d simply like you to make a few changes to your repertoire of toys.”
He reached into a bag and took out an Action Man. It had the same amazing pecs and six-pack as always, but now had Putin’s head. Santa fought down the urge to laugh, though his belly shook, just briefly, like a bowlful of jelly.
“He comes with accessories,” said Putin. “There’s a horse he can ride bareback, a bear he can wrestle, a voting system he can hack.”
“I see,” said Santa levelly. “And for the girls?”
Putin produced some female dolls and spread them out on the floor.
“Ah, Barbies,” said Santa.
“Barbeniyas,” corrected Putin. “There are lots of outfits – Ushanka Hat Barbeniya, Military Service Barbeniya, Drug Testing Lab Barbeniya.”
“You don’t seem to have any of those last ones,” said Santa, looking at the dolls.
“без разницы“, said Putin, the Russian for “whatever.”
“But that’s not all,” he went on. He reached into the bag again and took out a silver can about the size of a baked beans tin. “Give each child one of these.”
Santa took the can and shook it. There was a thick gloopy sound from inside.
“What is it?” he asked.
Putin looked embarrassed. “Crude oil,” he said. “We literally can’t give it away. But you can.”
Santa sighed, but Putin hadn’t finished. “And when you get to the States,” he said, “give every kid one of these.”
He handed Santa a Trump 2020 baseball hat.
Santa frowned. “I thought you could hack voting systems,” he said.
Putin shrugged. “This will have Santa’s endorsement,” he said. “That’s even better.”
Santa shook his head. “I can’t deliver all this junk,” he said.
Putin stood and smiled thinly. “Your home is still moving,” he said pointedly. “It’s only a matter of time before it reaches Siberia.”
The two eyed each other in silence.
Putin walked to the door and left. Santa stared after him for a long time. Then he went to his bench set to work.
He covered the whole world that night, as always. He delivered Tiger King Action Men and Influencer Barbies. He also delivered Elsas, Peppa Pigs, train sets, scooters, chocolate coins, satsumas, colouring books and those weird sweets shaped like walking-sticks.
He delivered Christmas.
He left Putin’s house until last. He gave him a Pussy Riot DVD, a Rasputin babushka doll and a Barbeniya dressed as one of the Russian Grannies from the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
The following night, although it was Christmas and he was off, he let himself again into his grotto. As he’d expected Putin was sitting waiting for him. The Russian leader angrily threw his gifts onto the floor.
“What is the meaning of this?” he said, icily.
Santa stood over him, and Putin suddenly realised how big he was, how all-embracing. How powerful.
“Oh come on,” said Santa. “Did you really think I’d deliver all your propaganda crap? When the North Pole was part of Canada did everyone get maple leaves and bears? Of course not, because I’m above all of that. I’ve been here since the beginning of time, and no matter where I am I belong to everyone.”
He glared at Putin. “I see you when you’re sleeping, and know when you’re awake,” he said. “So cop yourself on, or next year you’re getting coal.”