The Santa Delusion

I wondered a lot as a kid. I wondered about stuff as much my mind wandered when I was meant to be fixating (still something of a liability actually, I talk to myself when I walk my dog – which is handy, as it looks as though I’m talking to her which probably makes me appear less crazy – but I can’t stick to a topic and end up berating myself verbally, which would make me appear more crazy, were I not careful to conceal it). There were always questions swimming around in my pint-sized mind and these were always splitting off and spawning new questions, almost mitotically, like so many prokaryotes flagellating around aimlessly in a cerebral primordium. Yes, I realise I probably just made up a few words there.

One conundrum that I can distinctly remember spending a fair amount of time contemplating was the omnipotence of Santa Claus. Of course, to a 32-year old it’s a no-brainer, but to my 7-year old brain a jolly man from the Arctic who not only had super powers but also delivered fantastic gifts to everyone in the world on the same night for no reason at all was something very important that needed investigation, if for no other reason than to discover what it might take to secure me more presents than I was currently used to receiving.

Now, I wasn’t some kind of gifted or overly anal kid, but I did tend to analyse things a little bit (and still do – this post will most likely undergo a minimum of six proofreads with quite a few extra sentences inserted after the fact, like this one). Accordingly, I had a list of questions prepared in my head were I ever to meet Santa (I also had several prepared for Batman, the Dukes of Hazzard and BJ Hunnicutt from M*A*SH*) . The first were logistical questions: exactly how fast do you & the reindeer have to travel in order to deliver six billion gifts all in one night and still have time to eat billions of snacks and drink billions of beers (Christmas happens in summer Down Here, not really the climate for sherry – and I didn’t even realise the impact six billion beers would have on one’s ability to fly a reindeer-powered sleigh)? Also, where do you even find room for those six billion gifts? All in your sack? It’d need to be the size of a jumbo jet (which is the largest thing I could think of back then) and it wouldn’t fit down the chimney! I supposed he had a smaller sack for going down chimneys…which raised another question: we don’t have a fireplace, but we do have two chimneys. They’re very narrow, but assuming you could squeeze down, one chimney would lead you straight into the wood-stove (which is still the primary heating & cooking device at my parents’ house) and the other is blocked because there’s a gas heater where the fireplace used to be. I supposed he would just come in through the back door, which was never locked unless we went out somewhere (ah, bless country living). Either that or – and this would explain every other question I had, such as: how do you hear everyone’s wishes; is it true that the elves make brand-name appliances at the North Pole because mum’s new blender was a Breville; if you do hear everyone’s wishes why is it that I never get anything even close to what I want unless my mum hears my wish as well; where exactly is the line between naughty & nice; can all reindeer fly or just yours and why use reindeer when dogs are lighter – Santa was totally magic!

The old “it’s magic” answer! Mental polyfilla (“spackle” to you Northern Hemispherians), designed to fill gaps in understanding in immature minds until such time as the actual explanation can be comprehended & fit snugly. Being 7, and questioning everything in sight, “it’s magic” as an answer-all was losing its lustre pretty rapidly. Just like the old chestnut “because I said so”, which my parents kept using into my teens. I must give them credit though, because they never explained anything to me with “it’s magic”, even when I believed magic was possible. It was usually teachers or friends that were pro-magic. Of course, I eventually realised that magic wasn’t an explanation for anything and some old man living in the North Pole couldn’t possibly hear everyone’s thoughts, check up on everyone’s behaviour and deliver billions of gifts in just a few hours. Santa was merely a cute fairy-story designed to entertain children (and possibly bribe them into behaving during the cold northern winter, when everyone would have been cooped up inside for days on end) and which subsequently evolved over the years as it spread around the globe. Eventually I would learn that it’s okay not to know how stuff happens because at least that’s better than making something up to make yourself feel better for not having a clue. Once you know that you don’t know, you can start finding out how to find out!

It wasn’t until a little later that I realised my discovery of the Santa Delusion (of which I was quite proud – I’d busted open a global racket of grownup dishonesty!) was just a practice run for all the questions I would eventually ask myself about God, Jesus, Lazarus, Adam, Eve, Genesis & everything else I was being told in the weekly Religious Instruction lessons at our local, 80-student public primary school. Note that I asked myself – I didn’t ask Mr Pedlar, our theologist (a thoroughly nice man who doubled as the music teacher), or our Sunday School teacher, whose name escapes me (probably because my brothers and I were removed from Sunday School when I was about 6 years old, once my mother found out we were being taught about Hell. I’m very glad that teaching this concept to children horrified her as it does me). I’m unsure why I didn’t ask people who would probably know. Perhaps it simply didn’t occur to me. Perhaps, instinctively, I knew I wouldn’t get an objective answer. Perhaps, again, I’m giving my younger self too much credit for insight there.

So, I would go over the various Biblical miracles in my young mind (just as I went over this post in my mind last night when I couldn’t sleep, and have probably forgotten heaps of cool shit I was going to include and I really should keep a pad next to my bed, or the laptop, but there’s no interwang in the bedroom and the unknown neighbours’ wireless account that we were leaching off for six months has been secured – bastards!) and, more often than not, my brain would come up against the brick wall of “that’s impossible! Noone can walk on water, come back to life, make people from dirt, turn people into salt, smash a whole army by themselves, kill a giant with a pebble … oh, unless they’re magic … ” And so, CLICK! It clicked. Well, it sort of clicked. Because it was God, and because God had made everything, then it was okay if he wanted to do a Superman. For the record, I never liked Superman. The dude had it way too easy – the only thing that can even hurt him is a space-rock that’s exceedingly rare because his planet was vapourised. Batman, now there’s a hero. He might have lots of money but he’s an orphan. He’s mortal so he needs streetsmarts, his keen mind and plenty of sweet gear and to fight crime – the best part is he makes all his own toys!

So, anyway, Batman aside (I just love Batman), that’s about where my questioning of religion ended until I was in my early teens (which is a separate post, as would be the bits about my occasional forays into prayer, Bible-reading and Christian guilt every time I did something I thought Jesus wouldn’t dig). At 7, I had satisfied myself that magic, while totally not on for people, was just fine as long as God was doing it. God was in his Batcave, all was right with the world.

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