Growing up, my parents and family did everything they could to preserve my belief in the existence of Santa Clause, that jolly old man with a red suit and beard who visited every child in the wee hours of Christmas morning bearing his parcels of gifts for the nice. In the last three weeks before that anticipated morning would arrive, he would be everywhere.
I would see him in the shopping malls. I would hear his merry shouts of, "Ho ho ho!" on class field trips. He also magically appeared when my parents and I would visit the Christmas displays Downtown, and there was always the telltale jingle of his sleigh bells and sometimes even the rhythmic clatter of reindeer ambling down the noisy city streets to announce his presence.
As I grew older, however, several things came to make me question whether there really was a Santa. First, the North Pole was thousands of miles from my home, and yet Santa seemed to visit every good boy and girl somewhere around Midnight Christmas morning, regardless of his location. The only requirement seemed to be that each child have to be "good" all year in order to receive his clandestine visit. Second, I began to realize that Santa couldn't fly to the house or apartment of every little child in the world on the power of eight reindeer alone. I knew by about age seven that there had to be more too it, because there wasn't such a thing as true magic. There was also the problem of thousands of frenzied people thronging every shop and department store in town searching for that perfect gift and the hundreds of radio and TV commercials catering to Holiday shoppers. If a large old man in a red suit visited every child on Christmas morning, why did the weeks preceding that day always seem so tumultuous and crazy? Why did people always spend so much money on Christmas, anyway?
After all, I was growing up in the middle of the recession of the late 1970's and early 1980's. Both my parents were out of work for three months. Though I was young, I still knew about the long unemployment lines and understood that my parents sometimes had trouble putting food on our table. Yet in the week preceding Christmas, all I did was want. Inevitably, the early morning of December 25 saw an irresistibly glorious heap of presents for me under the tree in the third-floor apartment where my parents and I lived. As I grew older, I devised a theory to explain away the existence of Santa which allowed me to believe until about the fifth grade. My theory went something like this.
I believed that Santa Clause was actually a collective group of jolly old men recruited to the North Pole because they looked alike and had the skill of impressing young children. It was the Santas' responsibility to visit all the public places in the part of the world where they had delivery responsibilities and prepare the children for their secret arrival at their homes on Christmas morning.
Instead of being pulled by eight reindeer, the Santa Sleighs, for each Santa had to have one, were powered electromagnetically. This allowed the Santas to travel the distances necessary to deliver their gifts. For this reason, I believed, it was necessary to use the North Pole as the Santas' base of operations. It was the sleighs' reliance on electromagnetic power that allowed NORAD (The North American Aerospace Defense Command) to track Santa on radar from the magnetic fields the sleighs generated and relay information about his position to the public in the last hours of Christmas Eve. The reindeer served two purposes. Like mules, they helped to carry the Santas' presents effectively to all the children in a given region of the world. They also served as props, since most children (and adults for that matter) would have difficulty understanding the true source of the sleighs' power, and the reindeer did make occasional public appearances leading up to Christmas. The Sleigh bells also served the latter purpose and functioned as a warning for curious children to go to bed before a Santa could descend a chimney and unload his parcel of presents.
Then there was the issue of the chimney. Since my family lived in a third-floor apartment with a balcony, all the appropriate Santa needed to do was fly through the balcony door which led to our living room, drop my presents under the Christmas tree there, and make a clean getaway, exiting through the balcony door as he had arrived and going to the next apartment where there were children. It was a quick and painless job, without the expense and chore of Santa getting his suit sooty.
My family had a tradition of opening one present at dinnertime the night before Christmas. My theory was that everyone did this, and people shopped for Christmas to give one or two presents on Christmas Eve. Then, generally between the hours of 12:00 A.M. and 1:00 A.M., Santa would arrive with the remainder of peoples' gifts.
Elaborate as my theory was, it was eventually debunked. When I was in forth grade, my mother worked at a major discount department store in town, and the hot items that year were TI Computers and Cabbage Patch Dolls. To make ends meet, my mother bought several cabbage patch dolls and sold them, and we actually had an offer for $75 for one of the dolls. I also heard of children so desperate to have a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas that their parents would drive out of state and fly to other countries to buy one. This didn't seem like something a parent would do to give a child a present on Christmas Eve. The presents I generally received on Christmas Eve were small compared to the ones that came on Christmas morning.
The next year, my mother officially confirmed my doubts about Santa's existence, but every year around Christmas, I still think of my theory every time I see a Santa display or hear of a visit by Santa to a shopping mall or major local attraction. I was also delighted to learn that a Web site which allowed children everywhere to track Santa's sleigh on a world map on Christmas Eve had been developed by personnel at NORAD. I still think that if NORAD can devote money and staff time to tracking the movements of Santa and his sleigh, he must exist somewhere.