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A little Santa banter

By Terry Joseph
Dec 08, 1999

This week marks 100 years since the New York Sun published its celebrated editorial "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", a piece that became even more famous when the touching prose was later set to music.

The story held well for 50 Christmases, until songwriter Tommy Connor disturbed its well-established morality, with "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". Connor's radical treatment of the trusted icon earned him severe public castigation- the agreed reward for even examining the possibility of a philandering Santa.

Mark you, there were those who argued stoutly in his favour, saying that the main reason for Santa's trademark "Ho, ho, ho" is his exclusive right to a list of where all the naughty girls live. That database, they insist, is not limited to information about minors.

Right here at home, Nap Hepburn's timeless endorsement of the noble tradition ("Listen Mama") was later put to the test by calypsonian Bindley B, who is not alone with his tongue-in-cheek speculation that: "Santa Looking for a Wife."

Actually, if you consider Santa's unorthodox method of accessing homes (and at a time when the lady of the house might well have imbibed a few drinks), the argument that The Bearded One has no ulterior motive at least wobbles.

But locals can be excused for challenging the myth, since our architecture and climate include neither chimneys nor snow. Worse, our folklore has not produced a lot of do-gooders, so it would be patently awkward to have Papa Bois and a bunch of douens replace Santa and his elves, or fit La Diablesse or some off-duty soucouyant into the role of Clausian housemother.

But in those countries where all the components conspire to make Santa Claus possible, even the combination of Connor's eyewitness report and Bindley B's circumstantial evidence pales against the latest anti-Santa rally.

This year, the Internet has broadened its assault on an already burdened Santa. The Internet multi-search facility Dogpile, powered by Momma, spends a lot of its space questioning the existence of the portly philanthropist.

The majority of pages support Santa, but those that take the contrary view are fierce in their condemnation. And like the tens of millions who browse the net each day, I saw Momma "dissing" Santa Claus.

One website even attempts to incite Santa's elves to industrial action, by comparing their conditions of work to those of sweatshops in eastern Asia. "Had they landed jobs with UPS or FedEx," the site says, "they would not have been victimised for being unduly short, by being forced to work in degrading uniforms with the pointy little shoes and funny hats."

Arguing that Santa gets the free sleigh ride and all the glory after lolling off and sleeping all year (while the elves work non-stop at making toys), another site invokes the equivalent of an old trade union tenet: "Let those who labour hold the reins!"

Groups pursuing the interests of minorities worry about the imagery which, they say, implies that a white man with blue eyes and flaxen hair is once again being painted as the good guy. That site highlights the absence of Indian, Asian, Black or Hispanic types even at floor level in the Santa scenario, raising questions about equal opportunity and political correctness of the overall picture.
Even though he makes his home at the North Pole, the native Innuits do not enjoy any employment advantages, making Santa look like a farce and out-of-place person.

By far the most unsympathetic approach comes from the site that features the research of Joel Potischman and Bruce Handy, the result of which appears in an article titled The Truth About Santa. The pair takes a dispassionate and mathematical look at the Santa story and comes up with some startling findings.

To service all the good children, it appears that Santa must carry a sleigh payload of some 353,000 tons. And moving at the 650 miles per second speed required to complete the journey in one night, air resistance alone will expose the lead pair of reindeer to 14.3 quintillion joules of energy-more than enough to vaporise them within .00426 of a second.

Potischman and Handy estimate that (excluding children of non-Christian faiths) Santa needs to visit 91.8 million homes. Time zone consideration (assuming he travels east to west) gives Santa 31 hours to do the job, which means roughly .001 of a second to park the sleigh, climb down the chimney, fill the stockings, eat whatever snacks have been left for him and get back to his transportation.

Given that time, if Santa can fit in however brief a kiss or screen "wife-material", I would like to put on record my personal admiration of the man, which will also put me in his good books, in the event that those unbelievers on the Internet are all wrong.

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