A Pile of Dog Bones

“In each of us two natures are at war… the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, but one of them must conquer. In our own hands lies the power to choose. What we want most to be we are.” – Dr. Henry Jekyll

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Santa Claus... Real Or Not?

With the coming holiday season there is one thing that cannot be avoided. It's red and white, it's fat, and if you didn't know better you would think he was a pimp looking for his loot with all his yelling of, "Ho! Ho! Ho!" Yep... it's Santa Claus time.

Now before we begin, if you are interested in some serious Santa Claus reading then you can read about him here at Wikipedia, here at SantaClaus.com, or here at The North Pole. I in no way shape or form endorse these sites... but when I'm done you may need to go there to renew that jovial feeling you just lost. Now on to the question of "Santa Claus... Real Or Not?"

The Origin

First we must understand where the personification of Santa Claus comes from. It is actually derived from the Christian's Saint Nicholas who believed it or not, came from Turkey... not Germany or the Netherlands as many people mistake. By the way, today is his feast day. Saint Nicholas was not a carpenter, or a tinkerer, or a shoemaker as most people believe. He was in fact he became a priest while the Roman Empire continued their persecution of the Christian faith. However, as that came to an end and tolerance was declared throughout the empire, Saint Nicholas was elevated to the position of bishop. So in short... he was a clergyman.

His origination as the consumate "gift giver" comes from a story whereas he learned of a poor man who had three daughters. Unfortunately the man could not afford the dowry for his daughters. Because of this he would have to either make them into prostitutes or sell them into slavery. Nicholas, reportedly over the course of 3 years, would anonymously drop gold the night before the daughter would "come of age" and therefore save the daughter from a life of misery. There are many versions of the story but the basics are there... and is the story that would lead to his evolution.

The Evolution

Saint Nicholas was quite the popular saint through the middle ages... mainly because he became a saint from how he lived and what he did. There have been a number of churches and towns named after him throughout Europe. His popularity spread as did the idea of gift giving. In Germany he became known as Sankt Nikolaus, the tinkerer. The Germanic tribes, prior to becoming Christians, had a similar figure known as Odin. Odin would ride across the sky during Yule (winter solstice) on his horse and children would leave hay or carrots for his horse in their shoes by the chimney. Then in return, Odin would leave them gifts or treats. Once Christianity took over... Yule was no longer celebrated, however the missionaries simply converted the holiday to become Christmas so as not to upset their newfound followers... and donators.

In the Netherlands he was known as Sinterklaas, dressed as a bishop and helped by little black faced people who were in fact slaves. The slaves basically did everything, but most importantly they kept track of bad children to kidnap and good children to leave a token of appreciation accompanied with a poem.

It is the unique combination of both of these concepts that Santa Claus came about and merged in the melting pot known as America replacing the British figure of Father Christmas. In fact, the term is actually primarily American since pretty much everywhere else refers to the figure as Father Christmas to this day.

The cementing of Santa Claus arriving on Christmas Eve as opposed to December 6 occurred in 1823 with a poem entitled "The Night Before Christmas". At that time he was also described as heavyset, driving a sleigh, and being flown around by eight reindeer who were named. Additionally, it was Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who made Santa Claus immortal through his deeds. Not unlike the reason St. Nicholas himself was popular in the Middle Ages, it was the goodness of Santa Claus that elevated him above the world.

The final evolutionary step... the red suit... originated in 1863 by a cartoon that appeared in Harper's Weekly which was widely read due to their coverage of the American Civil War. Finally, in the 1930s the imagery was defined through the advertising of Coca-Cola... and thus the commercialization began.

The Science

The following is derived from a report filed by the Aeronautical Engineers of America that I found in an old e-mail:
1) No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer, which only Santa has ever seen.

2) There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish & Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total -378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes that there's at least one good child in each.

3) Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with. This is due to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits/second. That is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has .001 second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house.

4) Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles/household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles; not counting stops to do what most of us do at lease once every 31 hours, plus eating etc. So Santa's sleigh must be moving at 650 miles/second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a pokey 27.4 miles/second. A conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles/hour.

5) If every one of the 91.8 million homes with good children were to put out a single chocolate chip cookie and an 8 ounce glass of 2% milk, the total calories (needless to say other vitamins and minerals) would be approximately 225 calories (100 for the cookie, give or take, and 125 for the milk, give or take). Multiplying the number of calories per house by the number of homes (225 x 91.8 x 1000000), we get the total number of calories Santa consumes that night, which is 20,655,000,000 calories. To break it down further, 1 pound is equal to 3500 calories. Dividing our total number of calories by the number of calories in a pound (20655000000 / 3500) and we get the number of pounds Santa gains, 5901428.6, which is 2950.7 tons.

6) The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 lb.), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300lb. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see #1) can pull 10 TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with 8, or even 9, reindeer. We need 214,200. This increases the payload - not counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. This is four times the weight of the ocean-liner Queen Elizabeth.

7) 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles/second creates enormous air resistance. This will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft reentering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within .00426 of a second. Meanwhile, Santa, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250 lb. Santa, being very conservative in terms of guessing Santa's weight, would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 lb. of force. If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now.
So... when are the memorial services? Physically, it is impossible to do what he does.

Real Or Not?

In 1897 Francis P. Church, the editor of the NY Sun printed this response to a letter he received:

Dear Virginia:
Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little.
In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of gasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes,Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.
There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in this world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle to see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.
Only faith, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

—Francis P. Church

Did you catch the important line? No? Let me pull it out there...
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.
That line says it all. So add feel, hear, smell, and taste and you're covered. So if you can accept that... Santa is indeed real. Of course with that you must then accept that Satan, God, the Grim Reaper, Angels, Demons, Ghosts, Aliens, Faeries (both Seelie and Unseelie courts), Elves, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, Gnomes (garden or otherwise), Bigfoot, Yeti, Nessie, and of course Chubahka are all real. It's only fair right? No? Hypocritical fuck.

The almighty dollar. That's what he has become about. He has been tainted. He is no longer pure. Just like Christmas itself. It is no longer WHO it is about... but rather WHAT it is about. Perhaps a PS3, a bracelet, or even a new car like in those commercials. Does it matter anymore? It is about the material... not the ethereal... and yet the ethereal is what dominates it and acts as the General of the holiday.

You'll believe in something you cannot see to bring you something you can. I know... some people will say, "It's about the kids and giving them hope and a merry holiday"... and so I guess Commandment number 9 (Thou Shalt Not Lie) is bendable when it comes to children? So does that mean number 5 (Thou Shalt Not Kill) is as well? I'm sure our friends at NAMBLA would be happy to hear number 10 (Thou Shalt Not Covet) is only when you feel like it.

Let me tell you what's real. Real my undoubtedly bored as shit friends is walking into the crackhouse Christmas morning to find a 7 year old nearly frozen to death, while mommy sucks a dealer's cock for some blow. That is real. Where are the reindeer now?

Real is finding grandma underneath the tree turning purple. The tears can fall all you want as the shocks go through her, singeing the carpet underneath that fills the air with the smell of burning hair. She's not finishing that half put together kitchen. Where are your elves now?

Real is the smoothness of the bald head of an 11 year old. Quiet when there should be noise. Smooth where it should be bumpy. Still where it should be breathing. Dead where there should be life... through no one's fault but a disease that has inflicted way too many already. Where is your jolly fat man now? This heart of a child has stopped... so what's he going to do about it? Build a new one?

Real is the homeless wandering the streets. Real is the orphans and runaways working the streets. Real is the hard working parents one week away from living on the streets. These people are real. Where are your American Express and Coca-Cola commercials now?

I will freely admit... I play the charade as well. I break Commandment number 9 when it comes to my kids... but I do it more than just at Christmas about Santa. See... I'll tell that 7 year old they'll be back with mommy soon, even though mommy is going to jail after getting her ass whooped by my partner. I'll tell those grandkids Grandma'll be alright, as I carry what is essentially a fried corpse out of the room. I'll tell the parents of that 11 year old... well I'll tell them the truth... I tried.

Because I do. Saint Nicholas gave gifts anonymously. As do I. I give it where it is actually needed... a very important charity to me called St. Jude's Children's Hospital. In the grand scheme of things... it really is not a lot. I give what I can. I give it because I want to give it. I give it because it is a real place helping real kids with real problems. I know that does not absolve me of my guilt around this holiday time. In the end it means one less gift under the tree for someone... but there is always the real off chance it could mean the difference to millions. That my dear friends is a gift worth giving.

Santa... real or not? It's up to you. You can say he's real and do all the Christmassy things including tracking him by radar... or you can MAKE him real and do something that will make a difference in someone else's life.

The choice, my little droogies, is yours...
Posted by New York City's Watchdog :: 12/06/2006 02:01:00 AM :: :: 11 Bones Added to the Pile

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