GLOBETROTTER

From the office of Santa Claus

Start, Monaco GP 2002

Start, Monaco GP 2002 

 © The Cahier Archive

Some people do not believe in Santa Claus. Some think he comes from the North Pole. But, to let you into a secret, I can tell you that Santa Claus comes from Turkey. That may seem a little odd given the diet of most folk in Europe on Christmas Day but there you are.

If he had been an Italian we would probably all be eating spaghetti for our Christmas dinner.

I have just taken over the job of being Santa Claus and I was reading up on all the stuff I have to know. The name Santa Claus comes from Sinta Klaas, which is the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas. He was a bishop who lived in Myra (in Turkey) and was famous for his generosity. In the Middle Ages he became the patron saint of children. He died on December 6, 310. As a result St. Nicholas's Day takes place on that date and in Europe many children get gifts. This is great news for Santa and his helpers because it spreads out the delivery period of gifts.

But here are at the United Nation's Mission for Christmas, we think of the Americans as the people who really put Santa Claus on the map. In the 17th century large numbers of Dutchmen took off to America and established a territory called New Netherlands. Their major town was called New Amsterdam, which was the basis of what is today New York City, and a man called Peter Stuyvesant (later famous as a cigarette) became the governor.

In the end the Dutch were subdued by the British but the Dutch Americans went on celebrating Sinta Klaas and in the finest tradition of American vocabulary the spelling was changed as the years slipped by. Sinta Klaas joined the doughnut in the American linguistic trash-can and Santa Claus was born.

In 1821 Clement Clarke Moore wrote a Christmas story for his children and Santa Claus was truly born and 39 years later he was given his modern appearance by the illustrator Thomas Nast. Ever since then he has stomped the globe in a jolly red costume edged with white fur with a wide leather belt and boots. He has a big white beard which hides a ruddy but cheerful face.

The reason I know all this is that I am Santa Claus - and have been for the last few months. It is not a widely advertised job because officially the UN Mission for Christmas does not exist and is housed in an obscure building behind the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris.

It is a job for a bureaucrat and requires an enormous amount of time and energy because of all the letters that arrive and so we employ a small army of vertically-challenged helpers (we are the biggest employer of dwarves in the world) who read through the mountains of mail and weed out letters which we believe have come from grown-ups.

There may not be many adults who believe in Santa Claus but there are some who figure that there is no harm in trying to get something for nothing. We have all been known to buy the occasional lottery ticket just in case we win and writing to Santa is no different.

The funny thing is that each year my helpers receive around a dozen letters which are judged to have come from adults and are specifically related to Formula 1 motor racing. There is a man from Princes Gate in London who writes every year and says: "Dear Santa, I want more money." We never send him any but I am told he does rather well by sending similar letters to TV companies and governments all over the world.

We get the usual letters about people wanting to be Formula 1 team owners and in general we refer them to the F1 team which is in the biggest trouble at that given moment. This year we have forwarded a number of letters to Arrows.

We received a letter from Woking in Surrey, written on silver-grey notepaper which said: "Dear Mr. Claus, We are looking to maximize the window of opportunity and interface in a more positive way with our partners to develop the envelope of the potential of our technical package. We can offer you a full range of fringe benefits and cross-marketing concepts if Claus Industries is willing to invest $20m in a sponsorship deal with this team. We believe that we can leverage that involvement to an impressive extent and generate peripheral income for your business."

There was another from Milton Keynes which asked whether or not Santa Claus might be able to find someone who "could remain a team principal for more than nine months". It was signed by someone but that name had been crossed out and another name had been written beneath it. And there was rubber stamp with a date and the words "Dearborn, Michigan". The small people in the Request Department concluded that this had probably come from Jaguar Racing.

There was another rather odd letter from "a promotional agency" in Panama which said: "Dear Santa, we represent a major corporation involved in a global sport and we were wondering if there is any book that we might be able to buy (in Japanese if possible) about how to cope with the second year of a Formula 1 project. We would, of course, be willing to pay a considerable sum of money if this was available but would be very grateful if this request could be treated with the utmost discretion."

There was a letter written in Swiss-German which none of the elves understood but because of this problem we recently had one of those automatic translation devices installed.

We put the Swiss-German letter into the machine and the translation we received was as follows: "We are passionate about receiving a power unit of corporational support which could be bolted to the fishpaste chariot of our design."

We were rather confused by the reference to fishpaste but as the results of these automatic translation systems are usually rather less than 100% correct we were not surprised. Still, we got the gist of the message. Incidentally, we had the FIA on the phone the other day asking about the automatic translation system and it seems that next year they are going to use one of these devices to translate the F1 press conferences from English into English.

The most obvious F1 letter we received came from Williams F1 in Grove (on headed notepaper). It was clear and to the point and suggested that the Claus empire should invest in a large number of Lego models of the Formula 1 Williams car, priced at around $150 a pop, as this would be most helpful in helping the team raise money for its new windtunnel. There was also a request to try to find out whether or not anyone from Bavaria had written in asking if Santa had a quick guide to how to build F1 chassis.

Alas, we sent out the last of those some time ago to a company called British American Racewear, which had an address which looked suspiciously like the same address as the BAR-Honda team.

There was another letter about F1 from a place called Chipping Norton which said that they were a motor racing company with a long pedigree but were in some difficulties because the engine they had for the 2003 season was "an underpowered and unreliable lump" and wanted to know if Santa knew of any good engine designers who might be available for lucrative, long-term employment in the Paris area. We did ask around but no-one could think of anyone other than those who had worked at Asiatech and they did not fit the description required.

There was another rather odd letter which went on and on about Formula 1 and then asked for a biography of the escapologist Harry Houdini. In the end we concluded that it must have come from someone who is not an F1 team boss - or at least not any longer.

There was one rather endearing little note which turned up from a place called Faenza in Italy, asking if Santa could, by any chance, locate two talented racing drivers each with a superlicence and a budget of $10m.

"If not," added the letter, "if there is any chance of another result like Melbourne this year, it would be really helpful."

The funniest letter of them all came on yellow paper from the Silverstone area. All the sponsors had been crossed out and the letter began: "Santa, you old fart. Have you got any f***ing magic dust that I can sprinkle on my f***ing racing team? If you haven't I'll take a pile of your f***ing money instead. We'd paint the car red with white fur on the sidepods if you could do that. Do you play golf?"

The last letter positively identified as having come from a Formula 1 team came from Italy and bore the crest of a prancing horse.

"Dear Santa," it said, "is there any small chance that we might get some opposition in 2003?"

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