February 7, 9:00 a.m.
Cupid’s arrows were hard at work. With only one week until Valentine’s Day, plenty of matches had yet to be made.
Anxiety was high as the love-tipped sticks gathered round the conference table to start the morning meeting and debrief their boss.
The tiny God of Desire, puffing on a Marlboro Red, paused to hoist up his Pamper and take a swig of coffee.
“Alright. What do we got?”
They had little. It had been a year of unrest. Unemployment was high. National morale was low. The country’s leaders spent their time bickering and quite frankly, this type of stress left very little room for all things warm and fuzzy. Cupid’s workshop might be in the air, but romance was not.
Cupid looked over the latest matchmaker proposals before crumpling them up and throwing them across the room.
“Pathetic!” he yelled. “I don’t want what will translate as pity dates or desperate pleas for media attention! We want to make people believe in true love, even if it’s at our direction! I want lovesick puppies! I want bedroom eyes! I want a land of flowers and sunshine and big bubble letters that say ‘Happy’ and ‘Joy!’ Have we lost our inspiration?”
He grabbed a nearby attentive stick and snapped it in half across his knee.
“Where’d our inspiration go!”
Several of the arrows started to quiver while one in the back reached for the remote and turned on Channel 5 News, a source of information when ideas were sparse. What they heard stopped Cupid in his tracks.
(The television shows a stern-looking Tom Fields, lead anchor)
TOM: “We interrupt this program for breaking news: It appears that Santa Claus has again come to town, this time bringing his entire workforce with him. America’s favorite man in the big red suit has sent Times Square in a tizzy as he, his elves and a slew of reindeer stage their own peaceful protest, now being referred to as ‘Occupy Valentine’s Day.’ Let’s go live with Dianne.”
(The screen flashes to a pretty blond in a trench coat, struggling to speak over the roar of a large crowd.)
DIANNE: “Thanks, Tom. Folks, the rumors are true. As you can see happening behind me, people of all ages and backgrounds are crawling over each other to get within sight of the famous Saint Nicholas. Details as to when and why he’s come have yet to be revealed, but sources say he plans to address the crowd in just a few moments. Judging from the signs the elves are holding, it appears Santa Claus is pushing for an extended Christmas season.”
TOM: “An extended Christmas season, Dianne? Just what exactly will that mean?”
DIANNE: “I don’t know, Tom. I don’t know. But from the looks of things, Santa isn’t having any trouble persuading the crowd. (She pauses to stop a man and his young son who are hurrying forward. She thrusts a microphone in their faces.) Excuse me, sir. Dianne Brookman, Channel 5 News. Can you and your son share your reaction to this incredible morning? Are you in favor of a longer Christmas season? “
BOY: (Bouncing up and down) “Heck yeah I’m in favor of a longer Christmas season! That way I might actually get everything on my Christmas list next year! I can’t believe Santa just outright ignored items 72 through 164. He musta just not had time and all, cause I know I’ve been really really good. In fact, with all this extra time I could probably make my list even longer…”
DIANNE: (Cuts to a disheveled father who is looking around, stunned) “And you, sir?”
MAN: “He’s real. Sweet Jesus, I can’t believe he’s real. All those presents I got….all those years….and my evil mother taking all of the credit. I knew she lied! (Pauses, realizing more) And my own kid! All that money I spent….I knew he was a little brat! No wonder it was up to me to give him gifts! He was on the naughty list this whole time! Santa knew! Oh my gosh, I gotta get back on his good side! (The man turns from Dianne and throws his arms up, waving to Santa.) We’ll do whatever you say, Santa! You know best! You always know best!”
DIANNE: “And there you have it Tom.” (A sudden roar of applause.) “Tom – Tom, it appears Santa Claus is finally taking the stage!” (There’s a flurry of commotion as the camera crew turns and repositions. Finally, a closeup on Santa’s face)
SANTA: (Spends a long moment smiling and nodding, motioning to calm the crowd) “Thank you, America. Thank you. I stand before you today in the name of everything that makes your country so very special; of everything that makes those precious weeks at the end of the year so much better than the rest; of everything that, on the morning of December 26, leaves you wanting and wishing for a little more. My friends, I’m talking about the Christmas Spirit.”
(“Oohs” and “ahhhs” from the crowd)
“America, I appeal to you with what can only be called simple logic. As you and your families pack up your lawn ornaments and stare at the space where your Christmas tree once was, I ask you this: ‘Does it have to be so?’ For as far back as we can remember, the month of January means cashing in silver bells and Kenny G Christmas albums for the return of the regular work week and biting, mid-winter air. Yet soon, before our wounds are healed, store shelves are filled again with giant balloons and sugar-laden sweets. And all for what? A 24-hour holiday – not a season – that for many serves as a reminder that love has yet to be found. Well, today I ask you to remember another kind of love. The love of shopping! And of eating! Of carolers and fruit cakes and holiday sweaters! My friends, I tell you! It doesn’t have to end! Why must we sacrifice seasonal cookies and flowing booze for a day far less popular in the eyes of young and old? Adults, do you want the pleasures of Christmas parties or the pain of finding a date? Children, do you want a bow-adorned gift under the tree or a small, red, cardboard heart in the mail? Businessmen, from which holiday do you profit more?”
(“Holly Jolly Christmas” begins to play over the sound system as Santa’s voice rises)
“So you see, my friends, it is time for a change. And on this day I propose to you that change be the simple elimination of the very day we’ve all been unconsciously fighting against. I propose to you that we do away with Valentine’s Day altogether! I propose to you that February 14 henceforth be known as… (Pauses as two reindeer swoop down above the crowd holding a large banner) …’Christmas Day 2: The After Party!’(The audience erupts into cheers) This is America, after all, and America loves sequels. Ho ho ho!”
February 11, 5:00 p.m.
Cupid toddled over to his mini bar and poured himself a scotch.
The last few days had proved harder than he imagined. “Christmas Day 2″ had taken the country by storm. It had holiday fever all over again. Trees were again proudly displayed in residential windows. Christmas music blared from every sound system. Businesses were now boycotting all things Valentine’s Day, and the few that didn’t faced declining sales and frequent vandalism.
“Those sorry Salvation Army volunteers are even out ringing their bells with smug smiles,” Cupid thought to himself, nursing his drink. “How could this have happened? And how did it happen so fast?”
Trouble was, Santa and his crew moved fast. Hundreds of elves were still busy wrapping decorative gift boxes filled with anti-Valentine’s Day propaganda. Reindeer then took them by the sleigh-full and flew them to the houses of families both naughty and nice. There were no more boundaries.
Saint Nicholas himself was busy lobbying in Washington D.C. Peaceful Occupy Valentine’s Day protests were being staged in nearly every major city across the U.S., and St. Nick was using it all to push for emergency legislation that would usher in an official extended Christmas season. V-Day, along with Cupid’s purpose in life, would soon be but a distant memory.
Upon first hearing Santa’s plan, Cupid and his arrows were shocked but skeptical. They hoped the idea would be little more than a passing fad, and if not, what could become of it in the political realm? Congress was far too dysfunctional to accomplish anything, right?
That was his first mistake. Turns out leaders of the Republican and Democrat parties were thrilled about the chance to show America they could, in fact, agree on something. Politicians were tripping over themselves to publicize their unending support for the measure, while President Obama was hailing it as the “hope” and “change” for which they’d all been waiting. Santa had them all wrapped around his fat, gloved finger. It was only a matter of time before the bill became a law.
Cupid refilled his glass and slumped far down into his chair. There was little he could do. He and his arrows had next contacted major news outlets to voice his concern. The media, however, had seized the opportunity to portray him as a stark contrast to Mr. Claus. Parent groups immediately took to the airwaves to criticize his cigar habit and affinity for good liquor, claiming he was an out-of-control, neglected child who had himself never been loved. How then, they asked, could he possibly front a national holiday devoted to that very emotion?
“What I’d really love to do is take one of my arrows and shove it right up their —“
He was interrupted by a quick knock on his door. An arrow cautiously stepped in and pointed to the clock on the wall.
“It’s time, Mr. Cupid, sir,” the arrow said before hurrying back out as quickly as he came.
“Ah yes,” Cupid thought, snapping out of his drunken haze. It was time to fly in for tonight’s big event.
He downed the rest of his glass and stretched out his wings.
“It’s showtime,” he said, and waddled out the door.
February 11, 8:00 p.m.
Cupid’s arrows sat nervously on the heart-shaped couch that faced the big screen TV in the center of the office. The program was about to begin and the stakes were high.
Cupid had received the invitation that morning from NBC studios to participate in what they all knew would be his last chance to save each of their jobs – a nationally televised debate between Cupid and Father Christmas himself. Producers had assured them of fair and balanced questions, but the boss had been uneasy.
The sticks tensed as the network’s nightly theme song sounded and Cupid and Santa’s faces flashed across the screen. The two rivals silently stared into the camera. The audience hushed.
MODERATOR: “America, we thank you for tuning in. This evening’s performance will give each and every one of you listening at home the opportunity to weigh both sides of the argument presented here tonight: Do we continue to celebrate Valentine’s Day or extend the Christmas season another month and a half? Debaters, are you ready?” (Cupid blows a smoke ring while Santa laughs, shaking like a bowl full of jelly.) “Let’s begin. I’ll address our first question to Cupid. Mr. Cupid, tell us, which is in fact better: candy hearts or candy canes?”
CUPID: “Is this guy serious?”
SANTA: “Mr. Moderator, sir, I think I speak for nearly everyone when I say the savory, prolonged enjoyment of a candy cane is far superior to the quick, sugary fix of the aforementioned sweets. (Smiles to the audience) And that’s why, my friends, each and every one of you in the studio audience today will find your very own box underneath your seat! (jingles hand-held sleigh bells) Ho ho ho!”
(Clapping and squeals of delight from the audience. One man, waving his box in the air, cries out, “It’s a Christmas miracle!”)
CUPID: “Now hold on a minute! Nobody told me about any —-“
MODERATOR: (Now clutching his opened box in one arm with one candy cane hanging out of his mouth) “Mr. Cupid, please. We need to be moving on. Next question: For years, both of you have been leaders of holidays focused on love. Tell us, what makes one of you a better leader than the other?”
CUPID: (Still smoking, visibly annoyed) “Well, I don’t see what any of these questions have to do with why you’re looking to give my day the boot, but since you bring it up, I think my title speaks for itself. I mean, I’m Cupid. I’m the God of desire, affection and erotic love. My mere presence alone can sexually charge a room. (Fanning himself) I mean, is it hot in here or is it just me?” (Blows out smoke and lets out a deep, throaty laugh which soon turns into a hacking cough)
SANTA: (Ringing sleigh bells to draw audience’s attention) “Come now, my friends. Who do we really have in charge here – the God of Desire or a moody, diapered tot? Mr. Cupid, I think what speaks for itself is the country’s growing divorce rate!”
(The audience again erupts into cheers, this time taking their candy canes and drumming on the backs of the seat in front of them. Cupid looks around, reaches into his diaper and pulls out a flask, from which he takes a swig. Santa shakes like jelly.)
MODERATOR: (Barely audible, as there are two more candy canes hanging from his mouth) “Okay, okay, order! (Pauses to temporarily remove candy) Let’s move on to the next question please, addressed to Cupid. Mr. Cupid, it’s become no secret that the country has a steadily declining belief in what you call ‘true love.’ Many now favor a more modern approach, trading in the traditional relationship model of marriage and family for an easier, non-committal version tailored to individual desires. Tell us, what effect does Valentine’s Day have on such a movement?”
CUPID: (Slamming down his flask) “That’s easy. In fact, that’s exactly why this country needs a Valentine’s Day – as a yearly reminder that real love is still important! All this bull about ‘Whatever works for me,” and “Whatever works for you!’ It’s not love! It’s convenience! It’s a joke! It’s —-“
SANTA: (Jingling sleigh bells) “Ho ho ho now! I think I can take it from here.”
CUPID: (Throwing up his arms) “Would you stop with the freakin sleigh bells?”
SANTA: “America, when we speak of a notion such as true love, I’m compelled to cite the long-standing marital commitment between myself and my own true love, Mrs. Claus. (Pauses to take a photo from his wallet and show it to the audience. Audience sighs.) But you see, a man of my years who has truly known love knows fully well that such love comes in all different forms. And that’s why, my friends, we must take a stand. We must think outside the chocolate box, if you will, and stand up for what real love means to all of us! Perhaps love, for one of you, comes in the form of that last minute holiday bargain. Or for another, in the form of your annual office white elephant gift exchange. Does it come with the kiss of a stranger under the mistletoe? In eggnog spiked with a bit of rum? In the 24-hour ‘A Christmas Story’ marathon on TBS? (Studio lights dim, on cue) Supporters of Christmas, let us take a special moment to ponder what size gift box love might fit in for each us as you join me in singing one of my favorite Christmas tunes.”
(Santa whips out a candle from behind his podium and lights it, as music for “Silent Night” begins to sound over the studio’s speakers. Santa begins to sing and audience quickly joins in.)
CUPID: (Irate, jumps off his stool and stomps in front of the podium, waving a cigarette at Santa) “What! ‘Silent Night!’ You’re playing the Jesus card! Are you serious! Since when has it been about Jesus! Huh?”
(Loud “Ssshhh” from the audience. One yells out, “Shut up! We’re having a moment!” Another calls, “Wait. ‘Silent Night’ is about Jesus?” Santa stands, facing the audience, encouraging people to wave their hands in the air. Cupid leans against the wall, slumps down to the floor and takes another swig from his flask.)
February 13, 8:00 a.m.
Cupid paced the room in combat boots, gently tapping the end of a large billy club on the tips of his chubby fingers. His arrows stood at attention in a straight line, a formation they had held for the past fourteen hours.
“Alright. Listen up!” Cupid said, glaring at his subordinates. “This here is the last of last chances, so we damn well better make something of it! It looks like politicians plan to move forward with this load of crap, and a Channel 5 cameraman tipped us off that ‘Ol Man Christmas is scheduled to hold a fancy-schmancy, in-my-face press conference at 1000 hours.”
That press conference was the announcement for which the country was waiting. In record time, lawmakers had voted to pass legislation simultaneously abolishing Valentine’s Day from the U.S. calendar and extending the Christmas season to February 14.
The legislation would go into effect at 12:00 a.m. the next day, though it might as well have been now. Big box retailers had stayed open the past 48-hours to comply with long lines of shoppers, and the interstates were packed with people struggling to again get home for the holidays. “Christmas Day 2: The After Party” even had its own entry on Wikipedia.
Cupid had been up all night plotting a last-ditch effort to win back America’s heart. Now, on his twelfth cup of coffee, his hands were shaking and the slightest wrong move sent him into a fit of rage. He had already snapped one arrow in half for dozing around 3 a.m. and another for breaking its stance to pull out a splinter.
“Here’s our plan,” he said, lighting a cigarette. “When the cameras start rolling, we fly in to make our move. When Santa steps up to the podium, I shoot him with an arrow and make him fall in love with this!”
Cupid triumphantly held up a giant teddy bear clutching a plastic rose and a satin red heart. The arrows blankly stared ahead.
“Don’t you see, you idiots! It’s perfect! Who doesn’t long for a giant teddy bear on Valentine’s Day? If Santa goes ga ga for T. Ruxpin here, America will once again see the merit of our holiday and we’ll finally get some freakin respect! He’s got the whole f-ing country by the balls! People are sure to follow suit!”
One arrow dared to clap, after which Cupid immediately turned and knocked him to the ground with his club. “I said stay at attention!”
He lit another cigarette, slowly exhaled and again held up the stuffed animal for all to see.
“Now,” he said, smiling slowly. “Who here is in the mood for love?”
February 13, 9:59 a.m.
Tom Fields straightened his stack of notes and lifted his head as a makeup artist finished powdering his nose.
“We’re on in five,” said a nearby cameraman.
Tom composed himself and stared ahead as intro music played in the background.
“Good morning America, and thank you for tuning in. I come to you live from Channel 5 Studios to introduce a very important guest with very important news. With us today is the one and only Saint Nicholas, a long-time household name, and now the face of America’s newest and – some might argue – most important movement. Father Christmas, I speak for all of us here at NBC when I say we are so happy to have you with us, and even happier to hear what you have to say.”
The cameramen turned to the corner of the studio where Santa stood behind a large podium, completely surrounded by the media.
“Ho ho ho there,” he cried, holding his hand up to shield his eyes from dozens of flashing bulbs. “And, should I say, Merry Christmas 2?”
The room burst into applause.
“My friends, it is with great pleasure that I make today’s announcement,” Santa said, smiling. “I am proud to report, with the greatest of Christmas spirit, that tomorrow, February 14, shall henceforth be known as —“
Santa stopped and the crowd turned at the sound of breaking glass and screams. Flying toward them in a red Santa hat and jingling elf shoes was Cupid himself, bow and arrow in hand. A team of arrows followed closely behind, all struggling together to carry the giant teddy bear with them.
“Let’s get this after party started!” Cupid yelled, slowing to aim for his enemy. But the battle cry prompted dozens more flashing bulbs which caused Cupid, just as he released, to be blinded by the bright lights and aim high. The arrow meant for Santa’s heart instead hit the top of his hat, taking it, along with a white wig attached, and pinning them to the wall behind.
The crowd gasped at the sight of Santa’s luscious locks of red hair.
“Wait just a f-ing minute,” Cupid said. He rushed toward the stunned, frozen Santa and ripped off his beard and suit, all covering fair skin, freckles and a belted green coat and knickers. Santa was a leprechaun.
The imposter, caught, slowly hopped out of his large black boots, on top of which he appeared to stand.
“Holy crap,” said a nearby reporter. “They’re filled with gold coins. I thought that jingling noise was the sound of silver bells.”
The leprechaun pranced forward to the front of the crowd, which widened to make room for him. “Okay, you caught me!” he said, frantically dancing in a circle. “I’m not your precious Santa, after all. What’s funny is that I, Fergus McFlannigan, had you all fooled for so long! And of course you would be….you’re all soooo busy with your holiday this and your holiday that. Well what about my bloody holiday, huh?”
“Mr. McFlannigan, sir, what do you mean?” said a nearby reporter.
“I’m talking about the greatest, most underrated holiday of the year, of course!” said Fergus, growing red in the face. “I’m talking about St. Patrick’s Day!”
The crowd looked confused.
“Of course all you bloody wankers don’t understand,” he went on, “which is why I put my little plan into action! Christmas Day! Valentine’s Day! All the blarney that goes with them. There is far too much focus on both. But St. Patrick’s Day gets no respect. Its only claim to fame is a measly parade, DUIs and a lot of pinching between elementary school children! Why don’t we get any glitz and glamor, huh? I’d say there is plenty to go around!
“That’s why I knew I had to stop you. It was perfect! I, disguised as your favorite Christmas hero, would first get rid of Valentine’s Day. With the public on my side, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day would soon follow. Then, just when you all would least expect it, I destroy Santa’s reputation!”
The room gasped in horror.
“Mr. McFlannigan, why!” one cameraman cried.
“What, like it’d be hard?” said the leprechaun. “Nothing I can’t handle with a few too many Irish Car Bombs and some proper staging. One hard night of drinking and next thing you know, ‘Santa,’ bolloxed off his arse, is involved in some late-night shenanigans with the female elves back at the workshop. And that’s when I would have come back on the scene! I’d capture America’s attention once again with pots of gold, the allure of lucky shamrocks and a heightened awareness of skin cancer and the benefits of SPF 50! St. Patrick’s Day would have finally take center stage!”
Furious, he turned and pointed at Cupid and his gang. “And I would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for you bloody plonkers!”
The room was in shock. Though still on air, the men tore their clothes while the women openly wept.
Fergus, overtaken by madness, began to laugh crazily and dance a jig. Not knowing what else to do, Cupid readied his bow, preparing to shoot a love arrow that would cause him to romance a nearby trash can.
All of a sudden, the clip-clop of reindeer could be heard atop the building’s roof. Moments later the real Santa walked through the door. Standing much taller than his imposter, Santa bent down to shake his finger at the leprechaun.
“That’s quite enough, lad,” he said with a wink. Fergus froze. Then, stepping behind the podium and turning to the cameras, Santa began to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said calmly, “there is little to say but this: I am the real Santa Claus and I promise you, I had absolutely nothing to do with this elaborate scheme! You see, for the past month I’ve been vacationing with my family in Dublin. It’s only now that I realize the locals were far too eager in pressuring me to extend my stay. And to think I almost agreed! I should have known to question that phone call about winning free plane tickets! Unfortunately, this leprechaun has fooled us all, including my very own elves and reindeer! That said, let my message be loud and clear: Leave Christmas and Valentine’s Day just as they are!”
The newsroom could hardly control itself.
“Is he for real?” one person asked.
“He’s Santa. We have to do what he says or we won’t get presents,” said another.
“Did you hear that leprechaun?” said one more from across the room. “I can’t believe we all thought Santa’s voice was so high.”
In the midst of commotion, Santa let out a chuckle and turned to size up the wee man in front of him.
“Tell me,” he said. “Has a person of your size ever considered making toys? I have an opening in my shop for someone especially good with green paint.”
Fergus tried to protest but quickly succumbed to Santa’s charm. The jolly old man simply winked, offered him a gingerbread cookie, and the pair were soon walking arm and arm to the sleigh now parked outside. The door to the studio closed to the sound of Fergus apologizing for being bad and asking how he could get off the naughty list.
The media sat for a short time in confused silence. The trance was soon broken when a young producer ran into the room.
“The new legislation has been revoked,” he called out. “Valentine’s Day is back on!”
Everyone immediately rose to rush out of the room. Some were on phones or laptops while others began filming live reports outside the building.
Cupid, unnoticed, lit a cigarette and gathered his troops.
“Okay, okay, you heard the man. V-Day is back on!” he said. “We gotta a lot of work to do and a little time. Now get your asses back to the office!”
The arrows quickly fell into formation and flew out the door.
Cupid rose to follow but abruptly stopped, turned around, toddled over to the corner and picked up the giant teddy bear.
“What are you looking at!” he screamed at a group of reporters gathered close by. With that, he hiked up his diaper, stubbed out his cigarette, and was on his way.