“Last year I took my grandchildren to a Birmingham department store to meet Santa, only to find the grotto occupied by ‘Rasta Christmas’. I stared open-mouthed in disbelief as a large Afro-Carribean man with dreadlocks, multi-coloured woolly hat and false beard, sipping a can of Red Stripe, offered my grandson a joint, before saying “Ho, ho, ho”. At this cue, three scantily clad prostitutes appeared and offered me oral sex for twenty pounds or a handjob for ten,” says Raymond Barrowby, General Secretary of the Father Christmas and Festive Characters Union (FCFCU), explaining why his union has called the nation’s Santa out on strike this Christmas. “I was shocked and stunned – where is the true spirit of Christmas in all this? Quite apart from the fact that I can get the same services far cheaper in Wolverhampton all year round, this just typifies the way in which the traditional seasonal values my members stand for are being undermined both by political correctness, and unscrupulous employers trying to exploit the Christmas festival to sell highly unsuitable products!” With official Santas manning picket lines and holding protest marches in Whitehall, businesses up and down the country have been forced to turn to ‘scabs ‘and ‘blacklegs’ to run their grottoes. “The kind of people they are using are highly unsuitable and a danger to the public,” claims Barrowby. “That’s one of the reasons we formed the union in the first place – to ensure that the public would only be exposed to Santas who met our exacting standards. Now we’re back to the bad old days, with parents running the risk of their kiddies being molested whilst sitting on the lap of a registered sex-offender!”

Indeed, customer complaints against department store Santas have soared this year, with allegations of drunkenness, violence and sexual harassment. “After my son had got his present, this jolly fat Santa asked me to stay behind while he got my present,” says housewife Angela Boulter, describing her ordeal at the hands of a Lewisham shopping centre’s non-union Santa. “He vanished behind a curtain at the back of his grotto, only to return two minutes later, stark naked apart from his beard hat and boots! He had his penis wrapped in Christmas paper, with a pink bow on the end!” With a cry of “Have I got a surprise for you!”, the bewhiskered miscreant attempted to bend her over his sleigh and sexually assault her with his Christmas package. Luckily Boulter was able to defend herself with a handy sprig of holly. “I knew I should have listened to those striking Santas out on the picket line,” she reflects. “They tried to tell me he was an old perv, but I just wouldn’t listen!” It subsequently transpire that the over-amourous Father Christmas had been recruited from the local park, where he was well known for exposing himself to passing women. “He was very impressive at the interview”, recalls the shopping centre’s personnel manager. “He was so jovial and ruddy cheeked – and he didn’t need a false beard! Best of all, he accepted payment in methylated spirits!”

However, much of the public support for the strike engendered by such incidents, has largely been dissipated by the outbreaks of violence which have recently marred the dispute. Only last week mounted police had to be called to disperse an angry mob of Father Christmases from outside a Grotto in Canterbury’s main shopping centre. Christmas shoppers, including many children, were shocked to see more than forty battered and bleeding Santas led away in handcuffs following the pitched battle, in which the police deployed not only horses, but also CS gas, rubber bullets and riot batons. “The force they used was quite excessive – they even smashed up our sleighs in the car park as we tried to get away – two reindeer had to be destroyed as the result of their injuries! There were kiddies screaming as the poor beasts were shot on the spot to put them out of their misery,” a furious Barrowby, told The Sleaze. “Our members were merely exercising their right to peacefully picket the grotto in protest at the centre’s decision to employ a non-union Santa. I think it outrageous that the police should attempt to undermine our attempt to secure proper union recognition, and consequently better terms and conditions, from employers by withdrawing our labour, through the use of extreme violence!”

Kent police have been quick to defend their actions, claiming that they were merely acting to protect the public and local businesses from a group of drunk and violent hooligans. “We were left with no choice,” explains police Superintendent Barry Clackford, who supervised the operation. “Over a hundred striking Santas had congregated in the shopping complex to try and prevent shoppers and their children from visiting the grotto. It was clear that many had been drinking and their antics, including hanging an effigy of the unfortunate non-union Santa from a lamp-post, and inviting young women to come and sit on their laps, were intimidating shoppers. When they refused to disperse and instead continued to harass both innocent members of the public and my officers, I was forced to give the order to deploy riot squads!”

Barrowby angrily rejects police claims that the picketers were drunk or violent, or that they had in any way harassed or intimidated either shoppers or the police. “Those bastards were just looking for an excuse to start some aggro,” he claims. “It all kicked off when they tried to arrest one of our boys for ‘aggressively shaking his hand-bell at a police officer’! It was hardly a fair fight, either: they had riot sticks and horses while we had bells and sacks of presents! The average age of our members is sixty two, for God’s sake! Those white beards aren’t fake you know!” For their part, the police maintain that they merely responded to the strikers’ use of violence, with Clackford citing several cases of striking Santas wrecking to grottoes of strike-breakers, fights breaking out in public between rival Father Christmases, and even incidents of non-union Santas having their beards set on fire in their grottoes by union elves disguised as children. “Whilst I don’t condone the use of violence, you’ve got to understand that our members can only work for four weeks a year, and that these scab Santas are taking the bread from our mouths,” says Barrowby. “Feelings are running very high and I’m not surprised that sometimes things get a bit out of hand! Don’t forget, we’re just trying to protect the public by insisting on higher standards for Santas!”

However, employers dispute union claims that the strike is primarily about preserving the traditional role and image of Santa Claus in Christmas celebrations. “The only reason this business has dragged on so long is because of the unreasonable demands they’re making,” claims an employers’ spokesperson. “They’re expecting us to give them virtually a year’s salary for a month’s work! Why can’t the idle bastards just go and work in Asda or B&Q like all the other pensioners for the other forty-eight weeks of the year? To pay the kind of money they’re expecting we’d have to be starting Christmas in bloody July!” Nevertheless, Barrowby remains adamant that the union won’t back down. “They might think they can win if they can get to Christmas day without meeting our perfectly reasonable demands,” he says. “But we’ll just be back next Christmas, picketing their grottoes! They’ll have to give in sooner or later!”