Maul Santas (Part 1)

Santa is a lot like the government

It has always struck me as odd that everybody keeps asking kids the same question this time of year: “Do you believe in Santa?”

Why? Nobody asks them “Do you believe in Barack Obama?” or “Do you believe in J.K. Rowling?” or “Do you believe in the +8 oxidation state of ruthenium tetroxide?”

The fact that you’re asking them specifically about Santa and no one else raises doubt about his existence. That’s fine if that’s the goal, but most folks want to preserve that fantasy for them for the first few years.

A fascinating phenomenon is what happens after the kids figure out that Santa is a hoax. The very obvious next step is to apply that exact same test to God, but most of them don’t. He’s a magic man with impossible powers. There’s absolutely no evidence for his existence (at least Santa was providing proof of his existence every Christmas morning, until they discover that the evidence is being planted by fraudsters intending to deceive them).

Most kids don’t take that necessary and obvious next step to revelation. I can think of three reasons:

  1. Kids like magic. If one magical mystery man is taken from them, they probably aren’t eager to have the rest of their comforting delusions stolen as well.
  2. The logic part of the brain has not yet fully developed (and in many, it remains stunted for the rest of their life).
  3. The adults around them believe in God.

So what is the age that the kids figure out that the adults in their life are liars? And how does the Santa myth survive even that long?

I was 5. Until recently, I assumed that’s when everyone else figured it out (or at least by age 6). Apparently some kids don’t put the pieces together until they’re 7 or 8!

We lived an idyllic life in a perfect house with an immaculate yard in a tranquil neighborhood in a glistening city thriving in an America at the height of its prosperity and prestige.

Actually, that’s a crock. It was the height of the Cold War. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society had been hijacked by red-baiting delusional paranoids who had bled off most of the federal budget into feeding the ravenous maw of the Military-Industrial Complex, forcibly conscripting its young men and sending them off to die in an unwinnable and pointless war. Races were rioting, MLK and RFK were being assassinated, smog and environmental degradation were at an all-time high, the world was on the brink of nuclear armageddon, and we lived in the primary blast radius of the nearby naval base.

And to make matters worse, there were only three channels on TV.

That “perfect house” was far from it. It had such a flimsy foundation that I remember one of the walls was splitting because the ground was settling. My dad had to go under the house and prop up the wall with a car jack. As far as I know, it was still under there when we moved out. I guess the new buyer didn’t check under the house. Home inspections, people! You need to hire a building inspector to check out the house before you buy it! If you don’t, you may discover that the previous owner has included a free car jack in the deal.

The only thing missing is the white picket fence

This is our house! I just snagged this picture off of Google Street View. It was new when we lived there, so it didn’t look all shabby and crappy like it does now.

I liked what I saw

It really wasn’t a bad neighborhood, though. I remember playing with my wagon on the driveway one day (no, that isn’t a rude euphemism). The most beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous woman came out of the house across the street and walked toward her car.

My jaw hit the ground, my eyes bugged out, and I started shouting “Pretty lady! Come here! Pretty lady! I love you!”

My mother yelled at me in a stage whisper: “Quiet! Stop that! You’re embarrassing me! Get in the house!”

The woman got in her car and drove away. I was 4 or 5, you understand. This was my first lesson in the unattainability of beautiful women.

A lesson I would learn over and over again.

True story. Where was I? Oh, yes, Santa Claus.

So it was December, and I was 5 and living in a not-so-bad neighborhood in an otherwise-unidyllic America. I don’t really remember the name of the family that lived next door, but let’s pretend I do, and their name was Connor.

A Saturday or two before Christmas, the Connors threw a party for all the kids in the neighborhood. I remember attending with my brother, who was two years older (and therefore experienced in the ways of the world).

There must have been cake and games and hookers, but the part I remember was the visit from Santa! Boy, the Connors had connections (or compromising photographs)! Here was Santa Claus, and he came all the way from the North Pole to visit our little party! (He’s also available for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and strip-o-grams.)

He gave us each a small wrapped gift, asked us each what we wanted for Christmas, and then left.

Later that day, after the party was over, I’m sure I had already bent the Slinky beyond usefulness. I was probably just staring at it and fantasizing about how much better my life would be once puberty kicked in.

My brother said to me: “You know that wasn’t really Santa Claus.”

I said “Yes it was!”

“No it wasn’t! It was Mr. Connor in a Santa suit!”

“That’s not true! That was Santa Claus! And you’re a butthole!”

What I experienced next was probably one of my daily beatings.

Anyway, that incident must have disturbed me greatly, because I was still thinking about it the next day. I remember thinking “Wait a minute. His voice did sound a lot like Mr. Connor’s.”

A bit later: “Hey! I think that was Mr. Connor!”

A day or two later I remember thinking “Well if that was Mr. Connor, how do I know that all of the other times I saw Santa that it was really him?”

A bit later: “Wait a minute. How do I know that any of the other times I saw Santa it was really him? I bet they were all just guys in Santa suits! I bet they’re all fakes! I bet there’s no Santa at all!”

So I asked my mother, and she confirmed it.

Then we went to church.

9 Responses to “Maul Santas (Part 1)”

  1. Former Santa Believer Says:

    At the age of 6 or 7 I had already figured out that grown-ups were not always truthful with kids, but when they asked me if I still believed I answered that I did. I had my suspicions but I REALLY wanted presents so I decided to play along – just in case I was wrong. There’s no point in annoying Santa so soon before Christmas!

    Then I heard some of the older kids in the neighborhood talking about when they found out the truth. The jig was up, but I played along for another year because the grown-ups seemed to really like the idea of me believing.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Ron, the +8 oxidation state of ruthenium tetroxide loves you, and doesn’t want you to go to inorganic hell.

    Meanwhile — yes, the fall from innocence. Human beings have been relying upon children’s’ developing brains for millennia. It’s how we got to where we are. I think it’s an evolutionary dead end, frankly.

    We actually celebrated Christmas (by which, I mean, we had presents) in addition to Chanukah when my sister and I were growing up. We were the only Jews we knew who did; everyone else thought it was dreadful. I don’t even know why we did it. The really weird thing is this — although we had presents, and stockings, and my mother actually took us to a store to sit on Santa’s lap (a very creepy custom) — we never had a tree. I really wanted one, but, apparently, my parents had had a small one the first year they were married, and my mother’s father was very upset, so she promised never to have one again. He died two years later, shortly after I was born, but, being Daddy’s girl, she wouldn’t break her promise. So we did everything else — and ate pork and shellfish, and we had chocolate bunnies on Easter, to boot — but we couldn’t have a tree. Again, I don’t know why we did this; my parents didn’t do any of it growing up. They were (and still are) just fucking crazy.

    I’m quite certain I always knew it was a hoax. I don’t think I ever believed Santa was real. One night, I woke up while they were bringing the gifts downstairs, and I asked them what they were doing. My mother told me something like, “These are just the presents from us; Santa will bring his later (we each got three presents — one from them, one from Santa, and I don’t now what the third one was for).” I knew it wasn’t true, but I let it go. Eventually, years later, she admitted there was no such thing as Santa. Yeah, no shit, Einstein.

    I don’t know that I ever really “believed” in God, either. I don’t know that I have the requisite hardwiring for “belief”; I don’t know what the term means. There may be some sort of impersonal absolute, a “ground of being” — Brahman, the Tao (although probably not, but no one really knows) — but the personal God of the Western religions is like some sort of abhorrent joke. Does this mean we’re right, or are the Calvinists, and he won’t permit us to believe because he’s hated us from the beginning of time?

    The logic part of the brain has not yet fully developed (and in many, it remains stunted for the rest of their life).

    Bingo. I simply can’t deal with them any more. I can’t even be cordial. I’m tired of living in a world dominated, and largely controlled, by people operating at the cognitive level of five-year-olds.

    On the other hand, I went to a candlelight service last night at Arlington Street Church, a Unitarian church down the street from Boston Common, which is where they had that Tea Party rally last spring. We have a lot of Unitarian churches up here, several in downtown Boston alone. As you may know, Boston is the home base of Unitarianism (also Christian Science, but we won’t go into that. I actually live not far from Mary Baker Eddy’s home.) Anyway, I’d never been, and I was curious.

    It was actually very enjoyable. It only lasted a little over an hour. The church is in an historic building, fantastic old architecture, huge wooden columns with Corinthian capitals, stained glass, vaulted ceiling. The congregation dates from the 1729, the building from 1861. (Whadda you know from historic buildings in the Bay Area? To you, a building’s “historic” if it’s more than ten years old!) The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus performed a number of songs. (Arlington Street hosted the first same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.) The minister spoke a couple of times, mostly about justice, peace, social service, caring for the needy, etc. Apparently, they’re involved in quite a few programs. They were sponsoring a dinner for the homeless that night, as they do every Friday night. It was all very open, welcoming and inclusive, and no one tried to save anyone else’s soul. I can certainly see the attraction; they’ve created a community in which like-minded liberals, who don’t know how inherently depraved they are, can come together to support one another and work together to make the world a better place. I certainly have no problem with that, and if they want to believe in a source of grace, compassion and ultimate meaning, and that they’ll somehow, in some fashion, be reunited with loved ones after this life — who am I to want to deprive them of that? If all Christians were like them, Ron, I’m sure that neither you nor I would be here bitching about them all the time.

  3. sue blue Says:

    As a little kid of four or five I remember being bothered by the bit about Santa having to come down the chimney. At that time, we lived in Anaheim, California, and fireplaces were as rare as swimming pools were common. I’d never even seen a chimney except in a picture or on TV. I’d never seen snow. How the hell was the sleigh supposed to glide across our tiled roof? Was Santa going to break in through a window or ooze through the A/C ducts? I remember being a little creeped out – when my Dad rattled some jingle bells in our back yard and yelled “ho ho ho!”, I hid under my bed. I didn’t want to see some fat stranger performing physically impossible feats. By the time I started school the next year, I knew that the whole Santa story was a load of bullshit and I wasted no time telling other kids so. That led to my first disciplinary problem in school – I got into trouble for upsetting a bunch of first-graders by telling them Santa was bullshit and that their parents were lying to them.

  4. Lindsay Says:

    I think I stopped believing around 5/6, but I kept up the charade of believing for years as my mom had once said “Santa doesn’t bring presents to children who don’t believe.” I wasn’t stupid…I didn’t want to risk not getting presents, so I waffled on a few more years about Santa until I was ludicrously old and I realized that my parents would still give me “Santa” presents anyways. I had several younger siblings and they would all be terribly upset if Santa didn’t bring me anything. Sometimes being the eldest (on my mom’s side at least) isn’t always a bad gig.

    I really quite like the Unitarians as well Jeff. The congregation in the community I grew up in would have a church hopping group that would go to the worship services of other churches every once in a while to learn about other people’s belief systems, which I thought was really cool. The Unis I always knew were quiet laid back, low pressure progressive types.

    Sue I had the same questions…our house didn’t have a chimney, how did he get in? For a long while I thought the plumbing was a possibility, and I finally asked my mom point blank she said in homes with no chimneys he comes in through the front door.

    I recently watched the Anthony Bourdain Christmas special and I was laughing so hard I was crying when he said in the US we were well within our rights to shoot Santa for trespassing onto your property.

  5. Jeff Says:

    The Unis I always knew were quiet laid back, low pressure progressive types.

    Yep, that’s what they’re all like up here. I guess the level of theism varies from church to church, and probably has a lot to do with the orientation of the minister. Arlington Street seems to be more theistic than others; I gather many Unitarian congregations don’t really consider themselves to be “Christian” Or so I’m told. My cousin went to one for a while; she told me quite a few of the congregants had been Reform Jews, who came because they wanted a community that was non-theistic. (There is Humanist Judaism, but people have only learned about it in recent years.)

    Whatever they want to call themselves is fine with me – as long as they aren’t conservatives!

  6. Ron Britton Says:

    Ron, the +8 oxidation state of ruthenium tetroxide loves you

    I’m fine with that, as long as it doesn’t try to hug me.

    and doesn’t want you to go to inorganic hell.

    Actually, I liked inorganic chemistry. It was organic chemistry that was hell.

    To you, a building’s “historic” if it’s more than ten years old!

    Eleven! Ten is the cutoff.

    For a long while I thought the plumbing was a possibility

    That’s it! He climbs out of your toilet like a sewer rat!

  7. Coty Says:

    I guess I’m the lucky one of the group; my mom was always straight forward with where the presents really came from 😉

    On the other hand, I never had any unitarian churches growing up, we were Baptists. So, I guess in the end it all evens out XD

  8. Thomas Says:

    Santa was ruined for me when, at the age of four, he came to visit my pre-school class. Unfortunately, Santa was obviously a fat, twenty-something volunteer woman in a false beard.

  9. Parrotlover77 Says:

    As usual, I was the late bloomer. I do believe I was about eight when I found out the truth. Though, when I did, I remember immediately thinking, “OF COURSE! How could I be so stupid for so long?!” So I guess my brain was primed for disbelief of Santa, but the positive reinforcement from my parents that presents magically appear Christmas morning kept that last thread of belief dangling.

    My parents never used Santa as a stick, only as a carrot. If we were good, we got more presents, but they never pushed the lump of coal side of the myth. They also never implied that a lack of belief resulted in any bad result with Santa either. In fact, they played along with the charade and so did my older brothers. We all got presents from Santa. In fact, once the gig was up for me (and I was the youngest), we still continued to get presents from Santa for many years to come. I guess it was just the fun of the fantasy of the Santa myth that kept it going beyond the date of actual belief.

    My struggle with religion was not so easy or cut and dry. There was no sudden EUREKA moment, but instead a long struggle that lasted several years before my brain finally matured to the point where I could accept and even welcome uncomfortable answers to tough questions to which religion provides easy and comfortable (but incorrect) answers. A random uncaring universe can be a lot to take in as a misfit geekoid depressed hormonal emo teenager that was a social outcast and completely ignored by the opposite sex. 🙂