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Subbing for Santa

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They don't call it the Easter Duck, now do they?

In your world, Santa Claus, The Grim Reaper, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or any popular mythical figure actually exists, but something happens which causes them not to be able to actually do their magical duty. Perhaps they fall sick, possibly they've been kidnapped, maybe they've died in an accident or perhaps the legend wishes to teach someone a lesson in humility. Maybe it's a case of Someone Has to Do It and there is only one who can step in when Death Takes a Holiday. Who'll step in? You, of course! Subbing for Santa is when the protagonist of a story takes the mantle of a mythical being and takes over their job, even if it's just temporary.

This is not when a character is infected by a creature and so becomes that creature, like with some vampires or some werewolves. The mythical task has to be explicitly given or falls upon the protagonists because of the circumstances of them maybe being in the wrong place at the wrong time or maybe because they're the only one who can at that moment.

In the event of an inversion, a character will steal the mantle of the mythical figure in order to reap the benefits or the glory for their own. In such cases, the main characters may need to save Christmas or lives, or the world even in order to set things right.

Compare Usurping Santa (for when characters sub for holiday figures for more malicious reasons), Pseudo-Santa (when the gift-bringer of the setting was always someone other than Santa to begin with), You Kill It, You Bought It, Someone Has to Do It, God for a Day, Saving Christmas and Death Takes a Holiday. Supertrope to Relieving the Reaper. This trope may also lead to An Ass-Kicking Christmas.


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    Asian Animation 
  • In a Season 2 episode of Doby & Disy, Santa falls sick on Christmas Eve and has Doby, Disy, and Panda deliver presents for him.

    Comic Books 
  • An issue of the Looney Tunes comic book featured a story where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck substitute for Santa Claus and one of his reindeer after the latter injures them.
  • The Grim Reaper is replaced by an impertinent little upstart in issue #9 of Bill & Ted's Excellent Comic Book.
  • Inverted in The Smurfs story "Little Peter's Christmas", as Gargamel puts Santa Claus to sleep and dresses up as him so that he could infiltrate the Smurf Village. Some Smurfs get the real Santa awake and back on his feet to stop Gargamel as the fake Santa.
  • There's one issue of the Marvel Comics series What The...?! where Santa ends up triggering one of Doctor Doom's traps and, injured, begs Doom to finish Christmas for him while he recovers in exchange for his heart's desire. In a heartwarming moment, an accidental battle between Doom, The Avengers, Fantastic Four and Speedball ends up bringing them to a hospital for sickly children, where the gathered characters act in the spirit of giving and help the children. Doom doesn't get his heart's desire because those children loving him unconditionally was that desire, as he's seen at the end, cuddling the teddy of the girl who spotted them.
  • The 40th issue of Young Justice has the team forced to deliver Santa's presents in his stead after he sacrificed himself to stop a Khundian suicide bomber's attempt to destroy the Earth. They are unable to finish delivering the presents in time and are met with complaints from everyone about not getting their presents until well after Christmas Day had passed as well as not getting what they wanted, resulting in the adolescent superheroes hoping that Santa Claus will be reborn to resume his gift-giving duties by next Christmas.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Year Without a Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus considers filling in for her sick, depressed husband on Christmas Eve. But soon she changes her mind in favor of trying to convince Santa to make his usual rounds after all.
  • An inversion occurs with The Nightmare Before Christmas: The King of Halloween, Jack, wishes to take over the job for Santa, so has him kidnapped. Despite his good intentions, Jack forcefully takes Santa's mantle and the entire Holiday, making this also a downplayed and slightly oblivious case of Usurping Santa. Even worse, because he fails to consider how horrifying his Halloween-based presents are, it results in the military shooting him out of the sky.
  • Rise of the Guardians has an interesting twist where Santa, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny, and Jack Frost all pitch in to help the Tooth Fairy, since the Boogeyman kidnapped her army of smaller tooth fairies who normally do the job.
  • Olive, the Other Reindeer: A variation. Olive takes over for one of the reindeer after he breaks his leg.
  • Merry Madagascar: The cast of Madagascar has to deliver the presents after Santa comes down with a case of Easy Amnesia.
  • Snow Miser and Heat Miser are forced to fill in for Santa after their older brother North Wind breaks his back in A Miser Brothers Christmas, a sequel of sorts to The Year Without a Santa Claus.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Discworld:
  • In the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book The Titan's Curse, Atlas forces both Annabeth Chase and the goddess Artemis into holding up the sky for him so he can lead the Titan army. Percy Jackson then temporarily takes the sky from Artemis so she can fight Atlas.
  • In Cold Days from The Dresden Files, the Erlking and Kringle allow Harry to defeat them so that Harry can lead the Wild Hunt against the Outsiders.
  • In How Murray Saved Christmas by Mike Reiss & David Catrow, deli owner Murray reluctantly fills in when a Jack-in-the-Boxer knocks Santa out cold.
  • In Thomas' Night Before Christmas, a Little Golden Book based on Thomas & Friends, a sick Santa Claus arrives at Tidmouth Sheds and tells Sir Topham Hatt that he is too sick to deliver presents to all the good little boys and girls on Sodor. Santa gets Sir Topham Hatt to dress up as him and deliver the presents, and Thomas, Percy, Bill, Ben, Edward, James, Gordon, and Henry to pull Santa's sleigh.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One or two episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch has the title character delivering presents at Christmas time. And one time Sabrina takes a local Sandman duty as a summer job.
  • Saturday Night Live: "The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas." Santa is sick so Hanukkah Harry steps in to help out. In a sequel he and the Prophet Elijah step in for the Easter Bunny after the bunny gets caught in a steel trap.
  • Charmed:
    • In "Styx Feet Under", when Piper became the Angel of Death.
    • In "Nymphs Just Wanna Have Fun", Paige was once turned into a nymph to replace one that just died.
    • The show also had many inversions of demons and warlocks and other bad guys stealing the powers of good magical creatures for their own gain. Just to name a few:
      • In "Heartbreak City", a Demon steals Cupid's ring and starts breaking up relationships in revenge.
      • In "Muse To My Ears", a warlock steals a ring which allowed him to harness the powers of Muses.
      • In "Blinded By The Whitelighter", a warlock stole the powers of a Whitelighter in order to get into heaven and kill all the elders.
      • In "Sand Fransisco Dreamin'", a demon once used a Sandman's dust in order to bring the Charmed One's dreams to life.
  • Dean becomes Death in an episode of Supernatural, as part of a deal. He finds he can't go through with seeing all the people dying.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959)'s "The Night of the Meek" involves a drunken department store Santa finding a magical bag that allows him to give everyone in town what they want. At the end of the episode, he ends up becoming the actual Santa.

  • Played with in the Star Wars Concept Album, Christmas in the Stars. C-3PO and R2-D2 anxiously await Santa Claus' coming, only to be shocked when the one who actually delivers their presents turns out to be his son, "S. Claus". S. Claus explains to them that Santa couldn't possibly deliver all the gifts in the galaxy, so he has his family assist in delivering them.
  • "Christmas Rule" by Jorma Kaukonen. The narrator lights a fire in his fireplace on Christmas Eve, but the smoke burns up Santa's sleigh, so Santa forces him to drive around town and deliver presents in his truck.
  • Parry Gripp: In "Reggie the Christmas Hamster", the song is about Reggie delivering all the presents because Santa broke his sleigh.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Sometimes in Greek Mythology, a tragic hero or demi-god like Heracles would temporarily take the mantle of another god. Like Hercules being tricked into holding up the sky by Atlas or Phaeton taking the chariot reigns from his father, Helios. While Atlas was never indisposed, Hercules needed a god to pick the apples of the Hesperides because as part mortal he couldn't. So Herc offered to switch places temporarily with Atlas. Herc had to think quickly when Atlas almost bailed on him.

    Video Games 
  • Helping deliver presents is also a Christmas, or rather, Frostval event in the AdventureQuest franchise.
  • A continued theme each Christmas in Fate/Grand Order is how various Servants don the role of Santa Claus and Hilarity Ensues as they try to apply their own values and beliefs through the gift-giving and have...occasionally less-than-stellar results. Though there are lessons hidden in the humor. These Servants even have a new Class out of it.
  • Minion Masters: The Master Mordar has a Santa skin.
  • In the RuneScape quest "Missing, Presumed Death", a Token Human member of the Four Horsemen clan named Frank takes Death's place when the latter is kidnapped.

  • A standard Easter bit in Kevin & Kell was characters - not necessarily rabbits - subbing for the Easter Bunny. Rudy and Fiona ended up taking on the role full-time, despite being a wolf and a fox.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "T-Shirt of the Dead", Meatwad accidentally causes Santa to be burned by a giant Easter Egg monster he summons with a magic t-shirt, forcing him and the other Aqua Teens to do Santa's job while he recovers. As you can expect, they don't do a good job at it.
  • Family Guy
    • Peter takes over as Death when he twists his ankle.
    • Brian and Stewie sub for Santa when they discover that all the deliveries are killing him. Hilarity Ensues. The events that play out can be viewed as a brutal Deconstruction of this trope, if not the entire concept of Santa Claus in general. However, it does do a heartwarming Reconstruction by the end of the episode.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls special "'Twas The Fight Before Christmas", the title trio try to stop Princess Morbucks who has put everyone except herself on Santa's naughty list, which entitles her to get her wish of being a Powerpuff Girl granted and everyone else getting coal. They stop her later, but the North Pole is severely damaged from their fight, and there isn't enough time for Santa to repair his workshop and deliver the presents by morning. The solution? Have the super fast Powerpuff Girls deliver them. Oh, and Princess? She gets put on Santa's permanent naughty list.
  • An episode of Johnny Bravo has Johnny having to deliver the gifts after he attacked and beat up Santa, mistaking him for a burglar.
  • The Flintstones
    • In a Christmas special (yes, prehistoric cavemen celebrate Christmas) centered around Fred filling in for Santa with Barney helping as an elf. In this case, Santa has a leg injury and has to stay at Fred's house, but maintains radio contact with the sleigh when the two need advice.
    • In "Christmas Flintstone" (an episode of the actual show), Fred's been working as a mall Santa at Macyrock's department store. He takes a nap at quitting time and is awakened by elves who ask him to take Santa's place while Santa has a bad cold. (This would seem to indicate it was All Just a Dream but the rest of the episode is played straight.) At the end Fred realizes he hasn't any gifts left for his own family, only to hear sleigh bells overhead and "Merry Christmas, Fred! Aaaa-choo!"
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures Christmas Episode, Santa is kidnapped by the Big Bad and Tohru has to fill in for the night. Jade and Paco join him as elves, keeping them out of trouble, for once.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Due to Doofenshmirtz' Naughtyinator, Santa won't be visiting Danville to deliver gifts, so Phineas, Ferb, and company decide to deliver the presents themselves. Subverted at the end. Santa knew what was going on all along. In fact, he set up the whole thing, because he knew that Phineas wanted to try this.
  • Disney's Hercules: The Animated Series did this quite a few times where Herc had to sub for quite a few gods, such as driving Apollo's chariot, or covering the land with Morpheus' blanket of sleep.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy
    • More an example of Switching with Santa, in one episode Grim and Billy switch lives for a day, leading to Billy taking over as The Grim Reaper, and Hilarity Ensues.
    • The Grim Reaper being a job in TGAOBAM, other people can take that job. In the Movie, Grim is fired, and is replaced by Numbuh Three, before he gets his job back.
  • On one of The Simpsons's Treehouse of Horror shorts, Homer takes Death's mantle after death has a mishap.
  • In the Futurama episode "A Tale of Two Santas", Bender has to take the place of Robot Santa in an effort by Fry to make a much jollier Xmas for everyone. The problem is everyone still thinks he's evil.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Easter Yeggs", it turns out the Easter Bunny always gets some poor schlub to do his deliveries for him, and this year's schlub is Bugs Bunny.
  • In Sonic Christmas Blast, both Sonic AND Robotnik pull this off — Robotnik forcing the kids to give him toys and Sonic rescuing, then being promoted to, the Santa of Mobius!
  • T.U.F.F. Puppy: In the climax of "A Doomed Christmas", Dudley and Kitty have defeated the villains and sent them home, but the clock strikes midnight meaning Santa's reindeer have lost their flying magic for the year, meaning no Christmas. Then Dudley and Kitty come up with an ultimate solution last minute — they turn the T.U.F.F. mobile into a sleigh so they can deliver the presents for Santa.
  • The first Fairly Oddparents Christmas Episode ends with Timmy, Cosmo, Wanda, and the holiday mascots having to deliver Santa's presents while Santa takes a vacation in Hawaii.
  • In the ChalkZone Christmas episode "When Santas Collide", Rudy takes over for Santa #8 (due to the amount of Santas that kids draw near Christmas, ChalkZone has eight santas) after he gets frozen solid, and has to deliver presents along with Snap to various areas of ChalkZone.
  • How Murray Saved Christmas: Murray is coaxed into it after one of the elves accidentally knocks out Santa and he's the only one capable enough to do the job.
  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius episode "Holly Jolly Jimmy", Jimmy brings his friends to the North Pole and accidentally zaps Santa with his invention, scrambling his atoms. After being told Christmas has to be called off, Jimmy (who doesn't believe in Santa) offers to deliver all the toys with his rocket, claiming that if a mere mortal can succeed in delivering all the toys in one night, it's proof that Santa doesn't exist. He fails before he can get to Retroville, and Santa, who has gotten better, steps in at the last moment to finish the job.
  • The Bump in the Night Christmas special "Twas the Night Before Bumpy" features a rare example of this being done unintentionally. Mr. Bumpy steals Santa's bag of presents purely for his own personal gain (he later learns the importance of giving), but during his escape from the North Pole's elves, he ends up accidentally dropping the presents down everyone's chimneys. He even put on a Santa hat before he left.
  • The Bonkers episode "Miracle on the 34th Precinct" had Lucky Piquel tasked with filling in for Santa Claus after he went missing while Bonkers searched for the real Santa.
  • The Wacky Races (2017) episode "Dashing Thru the Snow" had Santa Claus put out of commission, forcing Peter Perfect, Penelope Pitstop, I.Q. Ickley, the Gruesome Twosome, Dick Dastardly, and Muttley to do his job in delivering presents. They all mess up, but Santa fortunately recovers in time to fix everything.
  • The My Life as a Teenage Robot episode "A Robot for All Seasons" begins with Jenny covering for Santa while he's in a full-body cast.
  • In the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi episode "Tooth Decay", Ami and Yumi have to fill in for the tooth fairy after Yumi accidentally injures him.
  • Wishfart: In their Christmas Episode "Christmas Times the Max", Dez, Puffin, and Akiko get to do Santa's job (with approval from the man himself) in order to fulfill a wish for Christmas in July. However, they do an abysmal job due to being both overly enthusiastic and very incompetent at organizing Christmas, and only succeed in ruining things for everyone.
  • The Cuphead Show!: In the episode "A Very Devil Christmas", the Devil wants to get on the Nice List so he can get a toy train set as a present. Considering he's, well, the Devil, Santa Claus decides the best way to redeem him on short notice is to have him personally deliver presents on Christmas Eve (complete with going through a Painful Transformation into Santa). Despite his reluctance and initial refusal to deliver gifts to Cuphead's house, the Devil does complete the task and get his gift from Santa: the joy of doing something nice, much to his chagrin. He still gets a train set anyway thanks to Henchman building him one.
  • DuckTales (2017): In the season 3-episode "How Santa Stole Christmas!" a broken-legged Santa is coming to McDuck Manor asking his former friend and partner Scrooge for help delivering all the presents. An unwilling Scrooge (and Webby) agree to come along with Scrooge acting as a Santa-sub. However, it turns out Scrooge has his own goals to deliver coal to the children to teach them a lesson in resources being more important than toys. It doesn't turn out as Scrooge hoped, so he was told the lesson that love is sometimes more powerful than any resource like coal. Furthermore, Santa actually faked his injury in hope to rebound with Scrooge showing him the spirit of Christmas. In the end, Scrooge and his whole family help Santa in delivering all the presents and change them for the coal Scrooge gave them before.


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