"I want," the boy screamed, "I want a surplus."

"I'll see what I can do," Santa said, maintaining his professional jolliness, "this year's not looking good, though, but I can offer you wide-ranging programme of microeconomic reforms - maybe the year after..."

"But, but you said that last year," the boy spluttered, tears welling in his eyes.

"Ah, I'm glad you brought that up," Santa smiled, "it turns out my predecessor was actually running a Ponzi scheme. The Festive Management Authority (FMA) will require you to return last year's gift... but here, have a lollipop."


Santa reached into the sack but an empty hand emerged soon after.

"Whoops," he said, looking slightly embarrassed, "seems like we've run out. I would get the elves to borrow some more but unfortunately the markets are closed for Christmas."

The boy's shrieks carried down the long queue that snaked through Haberdashery and on to Household Linens, jerking the glassy-eyed parents back into consciousness. Some of the children briefly glanced up from their mobile phones; one tweeted an image of four elves bundling a small, apparently lifeless, boy into a red, red sack.

"He got what he asked for," banksie told his three followers.

Santa emerged from his cave a few minutes later, minus hat, beard and sack.

He had an evil gleam in his eye. And his boots were black.

"There has been," Santa announced finally, "an unfortunate delay in today's proceedings. However, as I'm authorised by the FMA to give class advice we can expedite matters quickly if you can all agree to submit a single, joint request."

He advised them to elect a queue foreperson to represent their interests. A tall, gangling, bald man wearing glasses volunteered for the job. Another, shorter, darker man offered his services as legal adviser.

"You should also be aware and I'm sorry to disappoint the children," Santa said as the crowd deliberated, "that no lollipops are available for distribution at this particular point in time.

"Anyway, as you would be aware, too many lollies are bad for your children's health. I urge them all to eat their vegetables - carrots, broccoli and so on. I hear it's been a good cauli season."

The tall man interjected.

"We've reached a decision your honour."

"Just call me Santa," said Santa. "And what is your verdict?"

"We just want a surprise, Santa," the man said.

The legal adviser whispered something into his ear.

"Oh, yes, thanks Joe," the tall man replied. "Just to clarify, we want a surprise on the upside."