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The Claus Delusion

January 22, 2009

Father Christmas… St. Nicholas… Kris Kringle… Santa Claus.

Whatever name you know him by, he is truly a wonderful man.  Santa travels the whole world every Christmas eve, bringing toys to children who deserve them.  He showers the whole world with his blessings and love, bringing warmth and good cheer to our hearts.  Wake up on Christmas morning, and you will surely be greeted by the joyous vision of his wonderful gifts.

But here’s the clincher: It only works if you believe in him.  For reasons unbeknownst to common man, if you fail to believe in Santa Claus, he will cease to bring you presents.

“Why would anyone stop believing in Santa?” you might ask.  “If it’s so obvious that he’s bringing you wonderful gifts each year, what reason would there be for you to refuse him?”

Because, it turns out, no one has actually managed to prove that these presents came from Santa.  In many cases, children who investigated the phenomenon have found the opposite to be true.  Staying up late to catch a glimpse of the fabled saint, they find not a jolly figure with a white beard, but their parents, staying up in the wee hours of the morning to wrap their presents when they can’t see.  Or perhaps they happened to be rummaging in a closet – searching for a purse, perhaps, or a piece of clothing – and discovered “Santa’s” gifts neatly hidden behind Mum’s shoes.  With such glaring evidence in front of them, it is easy to make the conclusion that their gifts are not coming from Santa, but from their very sneaky parents.

There is a possible explanation for this.  You could argue that these children – these snoopy little cynics – never believed in Santa to begin with, which is why he was not giving them presents.  If they truly believed, then Santa would deliver, and there would never be any doubt in their hearts that these gifts were, indeed, from Santa Claus.  The fact that they found evidence to the contrary indicates that they were looking for it.

But this is not as tidy of an explanation as it first appears.  It fails to explain the crestfallen faces, the tears, the heartbreak.  If these children didn’t really believe in Santa Claus, what reason would there be for them to be so upset when they learned he wasn’t real?

I propose instead that these children believed in Santa just as hard as the children who continue to believe into adulthood.  The only difference is in how long a child will hold his or her belief in the face of contradictory evidence.  Some particularly stubborn children will go to any lengths to retain their belief in Santa.  Perhaps, they suggest, Santa brings our gifts early and Mum and Dad wrap them and put them under the tree.

This does seem to explain it quite tidily, and enables you to hang on to your belief, but there’s one problem: that is not what Mum and Dad said about Santa.  They said that Santa brought the gifts, fully wrapped, on Christmas Eve.  So even if you still believe in Santa, you’ve unearthed a pretty serious discrepancy in the story.  Even if you truly believe in Santa with all your heart, this discovery has planted a tiny seed of doubt.  If your parents were wrong about his timing, what else might they have messed up?

But don’t you dare look into it any further.  One day you may find that Santa does not exist, and then he really will stop bringing you presents.

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