Santa Tax

Sounds Draconian, doesn’t it?

Every good lie (for the greater good, reasons of magic, and Christmas morning squeals) needs an element of the truth. We needed a story they could believe. Magic is reserved for Santa, so it begs a lot of questions in our household – how does it all work? Remembering that kids scope for time and distance is somewhat limited, that there’s a fine line between the idea of magic being digestible and impossible, and to them, expectations of human ingenuity are rather high.. I cooked up Santa tax.

We’re fairly straightforward with our kids on the monetary systems that we rely on – and as working parents it’s helped us to provide some concept of the economy and why mummy is always the last person running up the hill after work in heels to the school to more often than not, to be sang at. Literally, sang at, a bit like being shouted at, but in song. (See also: Black Sabbath concert.)

So how to explain Operation: Christmas Eve? By involving a global community of  kind grown-ups, pragmatic about the logistical strains on Santa and mindful of Elfish welfare.  Mind you, magic still plays a very important part in all of this.

Book reference: The Harry Potter series. Photo: fanpop.cpm
Book reference: The Harry Potter series. Photo credit: fanpop.cpm

Before I get ahead of myself. Let’s start with the main components of Operation: Christmas Eve.

The Naughty and Nice list

Sorry, Orwell. For the purposes of controlling small children and otherwise encouraging good behaviour only for personal gain  incentivizing good behaviour we’ve decided that big brother watching you is OK. When we’re out in public this is done through CCTV – very omnipresent in Hong Kong. Just to make sure there is no funny business, a panel of adults close to said child –  aunts, uncles, grown-up friends of mummy and daddy’s, teachers, doctors and the shopping mall Santa’s are asked for a review. The Elves ask us to do a survey, like the census people. This is what much of the 11 other months of the year are spent on, with a review close to Christmas time. Diabolical. This is all of course conducted on email (still a novel concept to my two). Email is ‘other’ and boring and probably best left to adults who know how to be boring and ‘other’ .  So now we have the incentive piece locked down – to the reward.

The History of Santa Tax

Before I explain this bit, it helps to imagine every government, toy shop, children’s brand licensee, and toy multinational as this guy. This will probably require a lot of imagination:

Movie:  Home Alone, 2: Lost in New York. Photo credit: Google.
Movie: Home Alone, 2: Lost in New York. Photo credit: Google.

Where do the toys come from?

You see back in the old days when mummy was young, The Elves made the toys for all the children in the world.

Movie: Buddy the Elf. Photo credit: Google.

But with billions more people around the world today than 1 BM (Before Mummy), the elves were being overworked and the poor reindeer were under a lot of strain, the sleigh was getting slower and slower and Santa had to start using fuel towards the end of the journey, giving him, for the very first time – a carbon footprint. Enough was enough. This was starting to feel like a job. Santa needed help – big time. He went to the United Nations and all the countries passed a unanimous resolution (see, told you magic played an important role) for all the governments in the world to set up a Toy tax to support him. Now, Elves love to make toys. Next to their excellent organizational skills, this is their most favourite thing to do. Toy tax meant that they could have better working conditions, and now all the toys that the elves make go to charities around the world to children that may have otherwise not gotten anything for Christmas (which Amazon ship free from their North Pole office, of course.)  For all the other children, like you, who are lucky enough to have mummy’s and daddy’s that pay tax, a portion of this goes towards the Santa tax, alongside the other things that we enjoy like utilities, education, health care, and transportation. A little bit of this money goes to all the toy shop’s to help them cover their costs – because they, of course live in our world where they still need to pay rent.

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

So on Christmas eve, what Santa does is, he travels to the pick up point which is usually the biggest toy shop in the country and loads up all the presents and delivers them to all the children in that country. Because this is just one country’s worth, he and the reindeer do this in no time! Much faster than before when he had to lug a sack of the whole world’s toys to each and every country. He then goes to the next country and does the same thing, over and over again until all the countries in the world have houses with presents for the children. He of course, decides on the final naughty or nice list and chooses the present he thinks you should get beforehand. The rest is magic.

So this breaks tradition and it’s by no means a perfect explanation. Some would argue this is far too thought out and would all have been better left to be imagined on it’s own. Perhaps. For us though, it’s been a fun story to spin, and my kids listen to every word. It makes me feel like Danny’s dad in Danny the Champion of the World. And I know we’ll be laughing about it one day – always sooner than I think.

This also helped me answer some of the more obvious plot holes:

Why you see the same present under your tree as at the toy shop?
That’s where they toys are from.

Why do some kids not get presents? Their parent’s probably don’t pay Santa tax for their own reasons. These kids probably get presents at other times of the year. Or you know, coal.

And trickier ones I would have dug deeper with my famous shovel if I hadn’t thought of the response in advance:

Billy Snotface III at school said that Santa isn’t real and that his mummy and daddy buy all his presents. Well, this one is obvious isn’t it? Sharon Boogerbreath and Harvey Toejam probably do buy all of Billy’s presents. Everyone knows that all the people in the house needs to believe in Santa for his magic key to work. If even one person doesn’t believe in him, then it would be wrong for him to enter a house where he wouldn’t be expected or welcome wouldn’t it?

What about all the other Santa’s that we see in shopping malls and parties? They work with Santa on the ground – and they need to answer the survey about you too. Besides, don’t you like dressing up as your favourite super hero?

In our house, Santa only gets one present (we need some credit, right?) He doesn’t always get the kids what they want –  for practical reasons usually – (‘Santa, I want a magnetic telescope.’ You what?). He sometimes goes bigger, sometimes smaller. It usually ends up being just right.

And my final disclaimer, this is all just background, white noise, a story that comes out when a question is asked. Everything my kids still value about Santa are the magic bits. The flying reindeer, the cookies half eaten, the presents( ‘how did he know!), the deep Ho Ho Ho’s,  – in short the magic. Deceptive as it is, giving them some semblance of real world context to Santa folklore I hope helps it stay magic for just that bit longer.

#TagPotpourri On Beaches, Art, Connectivity and Innovation

We’re back in the swing of things with back to school, something that my colleagues could have attested to at the beginning of this week to those that watched me scream obscenities – albeit telepathically – at the fax machine.

We ended summer with a final happy day at the beach. The littler of the two wee Gallaghers, on several occasions attempted to walk into the ocean. I tried to get her to help me collect shells but she was more interested in standing at the shoreline and taking it all in. I can’t say I blame her. Her older brother dug a hole, mostly – not wholly unexpected behaviour for your average four year old. As we’re technically in China, I was looking forward to see where the hole would lead to before remembering that we were on a man-made beach and the prospect of more concrete wasn’t very exciting at all – to either of us.


We’ll definitely be going back soon, for more shells and sand and walks across water and holes to the other side of the world. I did end up with a few choice shells and as I was checking them to make sure there weren’t any sea squishes I was about to accidentally re-home it struck me that mother nature’s been recycling well before we ever identified a need to. Nature innovates. (More on that later)

I was surprised with the below drawings in my inbox from my friend Keon Lee.  I had a vague desire to get the Gallagher family cartoon-i-fied which I casually  mentioned on Facebook only to be surprised with these caricatures of Me, Angus, and the kids. Which do you think captures us best?

The Gallaghers - Simpsons Style
The Gallaghers – Simpsons Style By Keon Lee
The Gallaghers - Muppet Style
The Gallaghers – Muppet Style By Keon Lee

I should start using Facebook like a magic lamp more often.

The only thing better than having awesome friends is having multi-talented awesome friends like the same Mr. Keon Lee who is also in My Big Gay Italian Wedding From 25-29 September @ The Fringe Club. Angus and I will be going – Tickets sold at HK Ticketing.

I’ve decided to give the WordPress iPhone app a go in an attempt to get this post out before the weekend, so thanks to rapidly changing user expectations, I am finishing this post via my commute home. The pollution has thinned thankfully after Tuesday’s midnight thundering (responsible in part for the fun hump-day exhaustion) and it hangs over Tsing Ma bridge  for the first time this week like gauze. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I am no stranger to poor air quality given the pros and cons of living here, this issue is of tater-tot proportions within the small potato category —  (#FirstWorldProblems anyone?) and it’s pretty easy to forget that we all share a part in the bigger, spuddy issues of modern living . Hasn’t pollution always been a negative externality on the road to development?

Tsing Ma Bridge on one of her better days

I was at a fascinating talk a couple of months ago by Vijay Vaitheeswaran, Global correspondent to The Economist and author of Need, Speed and Greed –How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness and Tame the World’s Most Wicked Problems.

This interview goes into some aspects of his talk: Innovation in the age of Globalization and Googlization.To paraphrase poorly, Vijay defines innovation as an action that addresses a need that goes on to create good, he gave some great examples from the Industrial Revolution to Kiva.  He argues that in the wake of a population crisis, a failing global economy and climate change that the conditions are primed for the next big revolution, or at least to create innovation ‘clusters’ (think Silicon Valley). Of the many interesting points he made during his talk, I liked what he had to say about mobile and how mobile technology enables disruptive innovations from the bottom up. To quote the article; ‘a school child in Africa with a cell phone has more information at her fingertips than an American President did in 1970.’

After the talk and the Q&A I asked him how would he condense his talk (aimed at a room full of entrepreneurs which I was crashing) so my four year old would understand it. This was his advice:

  • Look for information and ask questions
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Sound advice. I’m getting his book.

I’ve always been a big believer that when it comes to connectivity on the web, that the platform doesn’t matter. Platforms are the product of innovation in their own way. Innovation in the digital age has a lot to do with higher levels of connectivity and fresh ground to collaborate on. So platforms that respond to  user behaviour are the ones that tend to make an impact. In my late teens DeviantART answered the need I had to create, consume and share poetry which eventually lead me  to (c0)set up Poetry on Peel Street at Joyce is Not Here Artist Bar and Cafe  And how without Joyce is Not Here I would not have met my husband or know many of the incredible people we do.

Perhaps DeviantART or Joyce is Not Here isn’t everyone’s definition of ‘innovation’ but I think it’s made of the same stock as the big social hubs. They both addressed a need and with time transformed into their versions of an innovation cluster.

Much like the day those caricatures dropped in my inbox,  a few years ago I logged onto DeviantArt and was surprised  by this painting of a 17 year old me with words of a poem I wrote aged 17 by the artist Sam Raffa. This remains one of the best presents I’ve ever received by someone whose path I would have never crossed otherwise. I’ll say it again – it’s not about the platform. Places, real or virtual come and go, but their value lies in the connections they enable. So far, that’s whats changed my world, and forgive the pun – but it’s been a pretty great ride.