A Conversation With...Santa's Accountant

At North Pole, Alaska, where Christmas is “celebrated 365 days a year,” getting gifts to children around the globe is a year-round operation.

So to track business affairs, even Santa Claus relies on an accountant. He is Paul Merrifield, a native of northern Indiana who migrated to Alaska in the early 1970s. Merrifield has served as city accountant of North Pole, a tiny town of 1,500 people near Fairbanks, for four years.

The job mainly attracted him for two reasons: The Christmas bonuses are great and Saint Nicholas is such a jolly fellow to work with. Even as Christmas approaches, when it gets as busy as tax time for many accountants, Santa always remains merry.

“It gets to be pretty much around the clock,” Merrifield said of the frantic pace in which the elves scurry to fill toy orders, much like a manufacturing plant would. “Elves can be a thorn in the side when they don’t get their purchase orders in.”

The 5’ 7” Merrifield may be of average height, but he still towers over the wee-size workers. In fact, his job requires him to be tolerant of the elves, because they can be a funny group, Merrifield said.

Their benefits are good, though. The elves get all the cookie dough they can eat, free room and board, and their union dues are even paid.

For Merrifield, he enjoys great job security, he said, because not many accountants like long, cold, dark winters. On one recent December day, the high reached 33 degrees below zero.

The position also might scare away accountants who are afraid of heights, because Santa occasionally will ask Merrifield to take a test ride with him in his sleigh.

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