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Why I Still Believe in Santa

by Kevin Wells (ACS)

Roger Highfield may have researched and written The Physics of Christmas: From the Aerodynamics of Reindeer to the Thermodynamics of Turkey, but what does he know? Has he ever seen Santa?

I lived with my family in a microscopic house on Country Way, Scituate, Massachusetts. This was back in the days of binomial addresses and much before postal zone codes acquired three additional digits. It was, I suppose, typical of the post-war era, complete with two parents and an assortment of knobby-kneed children, most of whom, at any one time, were crying or hungry. I was the oldest of them.

Oh, I had heard the rumors. One or two of my contemporaries had tried to convince me. I had heard the conventional arguments; the physical impossibility of getting down the chimney, especially with burning logs on the hearth; the physical impossibility of covering the territory, leaving the gifts and snarfing down the tons of cookies and the tanker truck loads of milk. I was not convinced, and it had to do with golf balls.

The previous summer I was confined to the yard because of the last of the great polio scares. Having not much to do other than think about the great mysteries of life, I developed my version of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I determined that it was impossible to know if a golf ball had spots if the golf ball knew you were looking and changed itself to white. Even looking quickly or unexpectedly was no guarantee you could catch the ball with its spots visible because it would know I was looking. Armed with the Wells Golf Ball Uncertainty Principle I was free to think that there was no inconsistency in not seeing Santa. Who would be foolish enough to take the chance? They very act of disbelief could change the outcome! I also had high hopes for a bicycle that Christmas.

I had already worked out the Tooth Fairy secret, having seen my father disappearing upstairs one night with fifty cents and returning with a tooth. So much for that fairy tale.

Just before Christmas, 1956, I, at the age of nine, was entrusted with THE SECRET. My parents carefully explained to me that, although Santa did not exist as a person, he endured in the spirit of the season. I was cautioned not to tell my sister and brothers, all of whom were presumably not yet old enough to handle the news.

There were some benefits to knowing THE SECRET. I had even been entrusted to go on the family Christmas shopping trip while my younger siblings were stuck at home with the babysitter. All in all, the whole process of knowing THE SECRET was a promotion in the pecking order, now that I was an adult, (OK, 9 & 1/2).

The white Christmas that year was a beauty; the snow started the morning of December 24 and was light and fluffy. It was not the airborne slush so common near the warm coastal area of New England. This was the real good stuff; sparkling and coating everything just like frosting on a Victorian gingerbread house.

That evening I was entrusted with another bit of news. Our minister, Rev Cooper, was planning to visit Christmas Eve, dressed as Santa and I was cautioned not to give up THE SECRET. This was, of course, for the benefit of my siblings and I was to go along with the gag and let them have their enjoyment until they, like me, were finally told THE SECRET. Being in on this part of THE SECRET was as much fun as the shopping trip. What older brother does not enjoy seeing a fast one pulled on the chumps?

There was an avalanche of snow off the roof, the later stages of which we witnessed through the front window. There was a knock on the door and in walked the Man of the Hour, Santa himself. The “Ho, Ho, Ho” sounded like Hank Cooper and there was, indeed, just the suggestion of pillow ticking under that red and white jacket and just a hint of too much shine on the beard, but the chumps, my siblings, were buying it!

One brother never said a word. He was near the door and first took in the snow covered boots; then the snow-dusted red pants, then the big silver buckled belt, the red coat, the white beard, and then finally fell to a sitting position on his diaper covered bottom. After passing out the candy canes and extracting promises of going to bed early, Santa breezed out of the door while the younger ones raced to the front window to witness the grand departure.

He had disappeared. This was, after all, Santa and how could one expect otherwise? The disturbing part came a just a minute or so later. My mother told me that there were no footprints in the snow, anywhere. We turned on every light in the house, looked out every window and cast around with a flashlight and found nothing. No sleigh tracks, no hoof prints and not a trace of footprints in the fresh snow. I went out on the side porch and checked that side of the house myself. Nothing had disturbed the snow, and the silence was nearly complete.

Hank Cooper was a nice person and an ordained minister but I doubt he could fly, and that is what would have been required for that apparition not to be Santa. I have seen some strange things, but I have yet to see a minister fly. I have witnesses so how can I not believe?

As Sir Authur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes asserts: “When the impossible has been eliminated, what remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

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