A few years back, fears of global warming prompted Santa to open a subsidiary workshop in Hardyville. While The Claus wasn't -- and still isn't -- fully convinced that the polar ice is going to melt and send him, Mrs. C., and the elves plummeting to the bottom of the sea while the nine reindeer make a desperate flying escape, the man does practice preparedness.
After all, his entire year's success hinges on that one long night of deliveries. One slip, and tots might end up opening their presents on Presidents Day and thinking Abe Lincoln or Bill Clinton was the Big Man from the chimney. Oh, the horror.
So you might consider Hardyville as Santa's back-up plan, bug-out bag, or survival retreat.
But something interesting began happening the moment Santa set up shop here. The spirit of Christmas caught the spirit of Hardyville.
Suddenly, instead of the traditional sugarplums, TiVos, lumps of coal, fruitcakes, bloody-slaughter video games, over-priced status gifts, and various other items you wouldn't wear, eat, play with, decorate with, or otherwise use if your life depended on it, Santa was stressing practicality, back-to-basics, and (of course) firepower.
Using my journalistic clout as a Backwoods Home columnist at large (and planning to remain at large until they catch me) -- not to mention my somewhat scarier contacts at S.W.A.T. magazine -- I recently smashed down the door ... er, finagled an invitation to visit Santa's top-secret Hardyville workshop. There, I learned what gifts The Politically Incorrect Pop Icon, the Jolly Old Obesity himself, is preparing this year for the well-prepared, the wannabe prepared, the reading up on being prepared, the so prepared they have time to play games, and of course, the prepared to shoot.
Here's a sampling of what I observed coming off the elf-line at North Pole South:
Really good quality multi-tools. Like like the Gerber Legend, or the sexy Gerber Suspension, or the simpler Gerber Short-Cut. Everybody needs a multi-tool. What you don't need is one that breaks the first time you use it or snaps shut on your fingers the way the cheap ones will do.
Very big this year with the elf-kids is Santa's selection of old-fashioned board games. No batteries needed! Actual people as opponents or partners! If the power goes out you can still play! (Even if you have to play by flashlight.) Wow. Whotta genius concept, eh?
Oooh, and this year, Santa is preparing some of the most nifty folk instuments. No batteries required for these, guitars, harps, autoharps, whistles, banjos, dulcimers, fiddles, and frame drums, either. Besides, you know what they say: "The family that plays together stays together." And since "music soothes the savage breast" you might even stay together and enjoy it.
For shooting enthusiasts who haven't yet gotten into rolling their own ammo, Santa's turning out starter reloading kits. For just $74.99, you get everything except the dies in the shooter's preferred caliber. Even a reloading manual.
If the shooter on your list isn't into reloading and doesn't want to be, ammo itself is always a welcome gift. Especially inexpensive practice ammo bought in bulk.
And how about this unusual item for home defenders who want their pistols handy but not visible? A Hide-a-Gun picture frame. Man, those elves are clever.
It's funny how preparedness goes in cycles. It was mega-big before Y2K. Then for a couple of years you couldn't have sold a #10 can of fruit galaxy or a superpail of hard red winter wheat to a certified paranoid. Now -- after the attack of the three wicked sisters Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, and before the collapse of the U.S. economic house of cards -- preparedness is "in" again. So Santa's production lines have really cranked up for that.
Got a poor relation who's interested in food storage, but doesn't have the bux to buy expensive items? A gallon bucket or a sixty pound pail of honey helps complete the "Mormon four" storage basics. Honey is an expensive storage food ($15-18 for a gallon and $60-$78 for the big pail) and hard to justify buying for yourself when you're just getting started and are strapped for money. The shipping can also be killer because it's so heavy. So you're best of finding a source near you. But honey is also the gift that keeps on giving, since it can last literally thousands of years.
And for those three-day (or better make that seven-day, after Katrina) emergency kits, how about meals ready to eat? Santa turns out MRE's by the item. Or by the case. MREs are another kinda pricey storage item that people may be reluctant to buy for themselves -- but that they'll be glad to have if the power goes out or they have to run for shelter.
I don't know if I should admit this, but while at the factory, I saw one important gift that Santa clearly wasn't manufacturing on his own. Instead, he was taking deliveries of large shipments from this reliable supplier and this one. The shipments were of gold and silver coins and bars. With prices of both metals beginning to go up -- and the U.S. economy inevitably headed down one of these days -- precious metals are on a lot of people's lists.
Then there are excellent preparedness and self-sufficiency books to fit any lifestyle or level of skill. Books like Making the Best of Basics: Family Preparedness Handbook. Or other titles listed in the self-reliance section of the Wolfesblog Amazon.com bookstore.
Speaking of books (and pardon the crass commercial announcement), copies of my first novel, RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone, co-authored with Aaron Zelman, make excellent gifts for teenagers. It's the story of Jeremy "Reb" Lawrence, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary dream who has to overcome all the powers of a surveillance state just to find a little hope in his world. Copies can even be sent "From a Secret Rebel" if you think the kids on your list wouldn't read any book recommended by an adult.
There's so much in store this year! Santa's elves are churning out everything from the unique to the ordinary but always welcome in a backwoods life. I tell you, I was going dizzy watching the elves and the cool stuff whiz around that factory.
Then The Claus came up to me and asked, "And what do YOU want, Little Girl?"
"Oh, you know me, Santa," I said. "The usual. California dried apricots. And more California dried apricots. I'm predictable."
"But," he probed, "In your most Santastic fantasies, what would you like Santa to bring you?"
Freedom on earth and goodwill toward men ran through my head. But frankly, I didn't think the elves could manage such a big order.
"Welllllll," I finally admitted, "I saw this really ugly looking Kel-Tec .223 pistol at Bill St. Clair's End the War on Freedom blog. And I think having an ugly pistol that shoots .223 would really be hot hot hot. And cool."
Santa thought about it. For about half a second.
"Ho ho NO," he said. "Not likely. This year, we're being practical. Tell you what. You don't have a decent emergency heat source at your house. How 'bout a nice Mr. Heater Portable Buddy? It's one of the few portable propane heaters you can use indoors. And it costs only about one-sixth as much as that Kel-Tec.
"It's a deal, Santa," I said (wondering how he'd figured out what I'd already put on layaway as my Santa gift to myself). "As long as everybody else in Hardyville -- and all those honorary Hardyvillians out there -- also get such fine Christmas wishes."
"Wouldn't have it any other way," Santa nodded.
Next year maybe I'll even ask for that freedom on earth thing. Can't hurt to try.
Many of the gift ideas in this column were suggested by, and many of the links were found by, the ever-helpful community members at The Claire Files discussion forums, who jumped right -- as usual -- in when I asked for their ideas. They came up with a lot of good stuff I didn't include here. You can read more of their gift suggestions here.