As the person who assumes the role of the beleaguered present giver, and writes the replies to their letters (something they are well aware of, although we do not discuss it) I was rather caught off guard by their eleventh-hour about face. I briefly toyed with the idea of writing them a letter, allegedly from Richard Dawkins, informing them that the universe is a black amoral void where all your hopes and dreams die.
Instead though I wrote this:
Dear Beth, Jack & Stellan,
The reindeer have been selling clippings from my beard on Ebay. This has been going on since July apparently. I have been too preoccupied with the business of getting everything ready for Christmas Eve to notice.
My new workshop lies along a route to the North Pole that is popular with Arctic explorers. Only the other day a party of Norwegians knocked on my door and asked whether they could borrow some milk. I gave them some of Donner's. She insists that all reindeer milk is green. I think that she may have a cold.
It was my wife (who is called Deborah Claus – not Mary Christmas as many seem to think ) who first remarked on my mysteriously shrinking beard and complimented me on how youthful it made me look.
When I confronted the reindeer on this matter they were all adamant that my beard was the same size that it had always been, and that I was imagining things. As they very seldom agree on anything, this immediately roused my suspicions.
It was Dancer who proved to be the weak link, blurting out “It was all Rudolph's idea!” and confessing that they had spent most of the money they had made on moisturising antler glitter.
“You can use it too if you want,” said Blitzen weakly, as I stormed out of the shed.
Tonight, as I take a five minute break from my deliveries, and put my feet up on your uncle Tom, who is snoring soundly on the spare bed in your front room, I feel a great sense of nostalgia for a more innocent time, long before you were all born. Back then the worst that would happen on my rounds would be a child awake long past his or her bedtime, catching a brief glimpse of me through bleary half-closed eyes.
These days it is common for families to lay out Santa traps: Cameras disguised as Christmas baubles, triggered by tripwires and light sensors; their intention is to catch me in the act of delivering presents and sell the incriminating photographs to Hello! Magazine. I suppose if I were to trip and fall over, as I sometimes do, video footage of the event would invariably appear on You've Been Framed.
In the last hour, I have been forced to cut my way out of a weighted net that dropped down from the ceiling after I picked up a mince pie that was positioned suspiciously in the centre of an otherwise empty room (A handwritten sign on the door read: Please put presents in here). I don't know what these people imagine they would do if they were to successfully capture me. Maybe they want me to entertain their children while they watch Eastenders and the Queen's speech.
Your street is particularly bad when it comes to this kind of behaviour. I have been left with no option other than to issue stern written warnings at many of the houses. The attempts by one family (I won't say which one) to trap me made me so angry that I instructed Rudolph to lick all the icing off their Christmas cake.
It comes as a great relief that you have welcomed me into your home as an honoured guest. I drank the milk and ate the food that you left out, and shared the carrot with the reindeer, who, I must admit, do look rather splendid in their antler glitter.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas.
Dictated but not read
Santa Claus (Father Christmas)