05 December 2008

The Con of the Season

Ireland's Commission for Aviation Regulation has urged a travel company called United Travel to wind down their business and refund the customers.

At least 1175 children and adults are booked with the agency to fly from Dublin to Lapland during the month of December, for the sole purpose of meeting 'Santa Claus' at his apparent home there.

But this is now unlikely to happen, as United Travel does not have a licence to operate. The Aviation Regulator refused to grant the travel agent a licence because he was unhappy with the company's financial situation.

Con Murphy, Managing Director of United Travel, says that he applied for a licence again this week, and that he is "hopeful the passengers intending to travel to Lapland will be able to do so", whether with him or another agent.

I will refrain from playing on the obvious that Mr. Murphy is aptly named. There are many like him who provide illusions, escapism, idiotic stunts and a whole variety of silly things to people with more money than brains.

When I heard of this, I first refused to believe it. But some research established that there is indeed a thriving 'industry' in Ireland that flies stupid and irresponsible parents and their gullible children to northern Finland each December, in order to meet 'Santa'. United Travel is only one of the agencies involved, but apparently the only one without a licence to operate.

The prices for these trips are quite substantial, especially when one takes into account that the people actually pay good money for a flight into the middle of nowhere, to encounter a figment of imagination, portrayed for gullible idiots by an actor who works for the company and is placed in some suitable stage settings.
People phoning into Live Line on RTÉ Radio 1 stated that they had paid as much as € 4000 for the ultimate exercise in self-delusion.

And there I was, under the impression that we are in a recession and money is tight. Obviously not yet tight enough when thousands of Irish people are willing to spend thousands of Euros each on such an unbelievably idiotic trip.

Since there are apparently three classes of idiots, United Travel offers three 'packages': the basic one-day round trip (fly to the middle of nowhere, meet a non-existent person, and fly home again) as well as visits of two and three days length.

On the company's website the one-day trip is described as follows:
"Upon arrival at the official airport of Santa Claus, having cleared passport control and customs, you will be met by your local guides in traditional Lappish costume to assist you to your designated coach and help you in collecting your thermal outfit (overalls, winter shoes, scarves, socks and gloves will be provided) for the duration of your stay in Lapland.
As soon as you get your thermal outfit organised, your elf guide will be waiting to transfer you to Santa's Winter Wonderland, which is reserved exclusively for United Travel guests, located around 30 minutes distance.
At Santa's Winter Wonderland, you will be welcomed by the sound of your favourite Christmas carols, which are played all over this magical playground. Keep yourself and your party warm with warm berry juice and ginger bread served beside the fireplace during the stay."

Similar texts - with more details - also describe the longer trips.
Just a few remarks to the text above:
  • The place people are flown to is actually Rovaniemi, the administrative city of Lappi, the most northern - and by far largest - province of Finland.
  • I wonder what Lappi's governor Hannele Pokka (in office since 1994 and the first woman to hold the post) would say to a dodgy Irish travel agent renaming her regional airport. (What would we say if someone in Finland would declare - for example - Knock Airport "the official airport of the Leprechauns"?)
  • As both Ireland and Finland are members of the EU, there is neither a passport control nor any customs clearing. (After all, one of the main functions of the EU is a customs union.)
  • People who cannot collect a few clothes without being helped by others must be in a serious state of physical and mental deterioration. (But then again, if they were sane and sound, they would never book the trip in the first place...) And anyone flying into the Arctic Circle without proper clothing and outfit is either an enormous fool, or suicidal.
  • The website does not say if those clothes and shoes are given to every passenger to keep, or if they are worn by a different person every day. If the latter is the case, the concept of hygiene seems not to be part of the world United Travel and its passenger live in.
  • It is interesting to learn that "Santa's Winter Wonderland" is "reserved exclusively for United Travel guests". Isn't it rather befitting that the imagined home of a fictional person is "reserved exclusively" for a company without a trading licence, which therefore is legally as non-existent as 'Santa'. (One wonders if there is any 'wonderland' at all, or if the whole thing is a massive con through and through... somehow the old story of the emperor's new clothes comes to mind...)
  • In case there is actually a place with some 'Santa', being bombarded with piped music all day is a form of mental torture (banned by the UN) and can seriously damage one's mind. On second thoughts - those who go there have probably not much to lose in that matter.
Now, I regard myself as quite a tolerant man, and I have an open mind for all sorts of things most people would regard as unusual or weird. But this is way beyond the Pale, and I wonder how daft and brain-dead people must be who find this utter nonsense attractive, book it and pay € 4000 for it up front.

It is certainly the most shameless, tasteless and senseless commercialisation of the already highly secularised and consumerist idea of Christmas. And the fact that the company is selling expensive tickets without having a licence to fly really is the biscuit. It's definitely the con of the season.

But then again, people who are so devoid of brain functions that they willingly go for such a fraud and even tell Joe Duffy of Live Line how "devastated" they would be if they really could not fly to Lapland, probably had it coming and deserve to be taken for the fools they are. And - as an old word of wisdom tells us - a fool and his money are easily parted.

The Aviation Regulator has advised United Travel to wind down their business and refund their customers. But I have a better idea. Instead of giving back the money to fools who seem to have way too much of it, the sums paid for the flights should be seized by the Revenue Commissioners as a special new fools' tax.
As we are in recession and the government is so short of money, they can do with every extra Euro and cent. I would even go further and charge all 'Santa flyers' an annual levy of the same amount for the next three years. Hard times bring hard measures, and those who feel that they can in these times waste good money in the most idiotic way deserve to be punished.

Not even to mention the extra pollution and damage to the environment caused by the idiotic nonsense. Perhaps Finance Minister Brian Lenihan should modify his new air travel tax and raise it for any flights to Lapland to € 100 per passenger and flight.

Parents who drag their little children along to such a preposterous tissue of lies and exploitation should be charged with mental cruelty and child abuse. They should lose custody of the children.

It is bad enough to feed small children all the elaborate lies about Christmas and 'Santa', and worse to go to the so-called 'grottos' greedy shopping centres erect every December.
There mindless and cruel parents pay between 15 and 25 Euros (in some places perhaps even more) per child, in order to have their offspring conned even further by a fat man in a red suit, wearing a fake beard of white cotton wool.

Children are not stupid, and most know from observation how a real beard looks. So what is the point to usher a child for a few minutes into the presence of an obvious fake and pay good money for it?

Most modern people are really not fit to be parents, but in December they behave the worst.
Why are parents lying to children? And furthermore, why do they construct elaborate tissues of lies which are then supported by encounters with someone pretending to be a 'Santa'? (The most confusing thing for small children accompanying their mother or parents into the city is to see in the different shops several versions of 'Santa'. That a very young mind cannot work out properly and it can lead to all sorts of behavioural problems.)

Psychological research has well established that children are not stupid and can spot lies rather easily. Children also have a growing memory and often remember even the smallest details from their early years. When they grow older, they begin to realise that their parents are lying to them, and not just with regards to Christmas and 'Santa'.
This leads to mistrust and alienation, which can end in parents and children living in completely different worlds. Breakdown of family structures, disrespect for the parents, odd and unruly behaviour and petty crime are often the consequences. Some of these children will then progress through further stages into more serious crimes, gang culture and drug abuse.

Of course not every child that is dragged to 'Santa' ends up as a criminal or druggie. But there are many other kinds of illusion and escapism, often happily supported and even fuelled by the media, and especially television.
If we are wondering why our society is becoming ever more dysfunctional, we should look at the way that we - parents, teachers, the media and society as a whole - treat children and young people.

The disrespect we show children from earliest age onwards by feeding them with lies and all sorts of weird and unreal stories is stored, replicated and multiplied over the years, until the natural bonds of trust break. Once this happens, there is really no way back. And all attempts of repairing the damage later is not more than papering over the cracks, pretending - with another lie - that all will be fine. The cracks are still there, we cannot make them disappear. In most cases they will become larger with time, no matter how much we cover them up.

So if you want to live in a better society, stop lying to children and stop exploiting every last bit of culture, lore, tradition and imagination for the sole purpose of making already rich people even richer.

Few people seem to remember that the modern image of 'Santa' in its commercialised form was created during the 1920s in the USA, by no other than the Coca Cola company of Atlanta, Georgia.
They used it first to increase their sales figures during the Winter, when people were naturally less thirsty than in the Summer.
And as the corporate colours of
Coca Cola are red and white, 'Santa' was clad accordingly (and still is).

The traditional roots of 'Santa' go of course much further back into history and mythology. They combine several figures - animistic wood spirits, Pagan gods and a Christian bishop - into one fictional creature, which is depicted and enacted quite differently, depending on the country, its culture, tradition and religion.
But that is really an article in its own right, and I will write it tomorrow, the traditional feast day of Saint Nicholas.

Until then I can only urge you to keep your sanity - and your money - and stay well clear of the Con of the Season.

The Emerald Islander

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