A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Is there a Santa Claus?

December 26, 1997

Dear Cecil:

Over one hundred years ago, on September 21, 1897, a little girl with great doubts asked the editor of the New York Sun for the answer to a question that had been bothering her. There was no Straight Dope then, so she had to settle. The Sun came up with an answer, a good answer, the correct answer. But folks have forgotten it, or no longer believe it. The man who answered her question was just a staff writer who got the assignment from his boss. He wasn't the World's Smartest Human, like you are. He didn't command the respect that you do. So, I hope you won't mind settling this question once and for all, for all the little Annies, Ryans, Joshes, Megans, and Tammys in the world. If I may paraphrase:

Dear Cecil: I am 47 years old. Some of my friends on the Straight Dope Message Board say there is no Santa Claus. JKFabian says, "If you see it in the Straight Dope it's so." Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?

Cecil replies:

Let's just say his existence can't be definitely ruled out.

I'm not saying there aren't improbable aspects to the story. You have x number of kids (even leaving out the Muslims, Shintoists, Hindus, animists, etc., who one presumes get shafted, giftwise), you have y time per visit, you have z average distance between domiciles, you have an earth of known diameter, and you have 24 hours in the day. It doesn't add up. You have the problem of access to the gift-giving venue in the absence of chimneys with fireplaces, unless we're assuming that Santa Claus oozes through the keyholes in the manner of the critter in The Abyss, which is not a pretty picture. You have the problem of what in all likelihood is the earth's single largest concentration of toy manufacturing facilities in a polar region remote from resources of every type (cold excepted), that's so carefully camouflaged as to be invisible to satellite surveillance, and that produces no detectable emissions. Although now that one thinks about it, there's that ozone hole over the south pole. Hmm.

On the other hand, consider the following:

  • A great many seemingly improbable events do in fact occur. Florida winning the World Series. Cleveland winning the World Series. Compared to this, what is the accurate delivery of zillions of packages in the course of a single night?
  • Besides, Fed Ex does it. So what if we're talking Memphis and drivers in baseball caps rather than the north pole and elves? It's the principle of the thing.
  • OK, so there's a certain amount of mortal participation involved. Perhaps, as a parent, you've personally done your bit to help Santa and thought you did so of your own accord. The ants in the anthill probably think they're doing it on a whim, too. But looking at the matter objectively, we can't deny that a larger purpose is at work and that we are in the service of an agency greater than ourselves.
  • You mean the IRS.
  • I mean the impulse to be generous. Three hundred sixty-four days out of the year humankind commits all manner of heinous acts. On the 365th day we give toys to the kids. I'm not saying that the latter compensates for the former. I'm not saying Adolph Hitler wouldn't have given presents to his children, if he'd had children. But come on, it's got to count for something. The giving of gifts in such a way that no credit will devolve upon ourselves is sufficiently at odds with our routine behavior as to be accounted a mystery, and we may as well give that mystery a name. Santa Claus it is.
  • Besides, to believe in Santa Claus is to believe in magic. The belief in magic in many respects is a pernicious thing. Because of it you've got countless multitudes thinking that aliens abduct people, that Elvis is alive, that you can earn big money stuffing envelopes in your home, and that the TV preacher can cure you if you send him 50 bucks. A certain class of persons, of whom your columnist is one, will go through their lives attempting to extinguish these foolish hopes. No doubt in the main it is good that we do so. But even the sternest among us remembers the wonder we felt as children to think there was a force having a kindly interest in us that wasn't bound by the rules of this drab world. Wherefore if there's someone who's going to say flat out that Santa Claus doesn't exist, it's not going to be me.
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