Two quick stories about Santa and Empiricism

I really appreciate the personal stories that were shared in the comments thread of yesterday’s post on Santa Claus.  I’m going to be returning to some of the more philosophical issues that were raised tomorrow in my Weatherwax Wednesday post (luckily enough, Terry Pratchett wrote an entire book about the Discworld analogue of Santa, so I’ve got some great passages to draw on).  For today, I thought I’d just share two stories about my own experiences with Santa growing up.

The Experiment
Once everyone in the elementary school cafeteria was speculating that Santa might not be real after all, I kept trying to figure out a way to settle the question.  The obvious impossibilities of flying reindeer, etc were of no account, since they were magic (and, at this point, I was still several years away from the sinking feeling when my eleventh birthday passed with no Hogwarts letter).  There had to be a way to figure out if the whole Santa story were true, but the very nature of the controversy made it impossible to ask my parents for help.  Finally, I came up with a plan:

I would figure out the Christmas present I wanted most in the whole world and then not mention it to anyone. I would try to conceal any interest I had in it, such that it would not occur to anyone to give it to me as a present.  The only place I would reveal my desire would be in my letter to Santa, which I would allow no one to read.  Thus, if Santa truly got his mail or simply could read what was in my heart, the single present I wanted most would be under the tree on Christmas morning.  If not, no one but me would notice its absence.

I’m pretty sure that test would have settled it, but, before I could implement it, I realized that if I were correct that Santa was a lie, I was setting myself up for a very disappointing Christmas.  I couldn’t bear to lose presents and beliefs in one fell swoop, so confirmation of my theory would have to wait a while.

The Final Proof
Santa would always leave us a nice note on Christmas morning, thanking us for the cookies for him and the carrots for the reindeer.  Most mythical creatures who visited our house were similarly meticulous letterwriters.  When the tooth fairy made one of her frequent visits to my room (I had seven baby teeth pulled out by my dentist as a small child, much to my dismay), in addition to a new paperback book, she would leave a note that praised me for my bravery in the dentist’s chair in direct proportion to how protracted the latest extraction had been.

One morning, after another terrible trip to the dentist, I reached clumsily for the letter from the Tooth Fairy on the windowsill above my bed.  Glancing quickly, I was sure I had it, but when I started to read, I realized I had grabbed up Santa’s old letter from Christmas instead.  A moment later, I had the two letters side by side and was able to confirm that the handwriting was exactly the same.  Either Santa and the Tooth Fairy were using the same girl in the typing pool, or the jig was up for good.

Christian H and Bonnie have essays on the Santa Claus problem on their own blogs, which are well worth checking out.  See you tomorrow for more!

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  • Those were precisely my two tests: I left a small note in the chimney on Christmas Eve asking for a gift but didn't get it. However, my parents had been clever before, and explained that sometimes parts of Santa's workshop essential to a gift they couldn't find were broken down at the moment. A similar ploy was used to convince my little sisters that the trombone I picked out it in high school – way after I knew of Santa's falsity – was from him, even though I got it a few weeks after Christmas.I also noticed that 1) Santa's note was written in the same sloppy slanted caps that typified my father's handwriting – although my parents (and later I myself!) counteracted this, too, by either writing with their non-dominant hand or in a style unfamiliar to them (i.e. cursive for my father); and 2) Rudolph's nose print looked very much like the mark of a thick-tipped red felt Sharpie.Another clue was that other kids got their presents from Santa wrapped – and I never did.The clincher, however, was when I woke up Christmas Eve, remembering just then to leave out cookies and a glass of milk, and saw a big, bulky black bag on the hearth.

  • Anonymous

    I tried the same test – not telling anyone, but then I forgot what I had asked Santa for. I was 4.

  • I am very amused that this turns out to be such a common impulse!