A colleague spoke of an eleven year old son who wished to continue to believe in Santa Claus. It didn’t seem an unread thought, there are, of course, the physical science problems relating to the speed at which the sleigh would need to travel, but as any student of Einstein would tell you, the closer to the speed of light at which you travel, the more slowly that time passes. Santa moving at the required speed would find that time had almost stopped and that there was ample opportunity to make all the deliveries before dawn on Christmas morning. To be honest, an avuncular fellow with a jolly laugh and a fondness for sherry and mince pies seems preferable to many of those whose images fill our television screens.
The eleven year old’s answer to my colleague should, of course, have been that no-one had proved that Santa did not exist and in the absence of any tangible proof of his non-existence, to continue to believe would be reasonable. It would be a bit like Pascal’s wager: if Santa doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t matter if you believe or not, but if he does exist, and you don’t believe, then you are in danger of receiving a lump of coal on Christmas morning.
At a level less specific than belief in the red cloaked, white bearded nocturnal traveller, there is a question about a capacity for belief in the magical. The rational, materialist, scientific world in which we live has lost a place for the magical; if something is not explicable in straightforward, logical terms, then it cannot be so. Phenomena that do not fit into our categories of what is real must be dismissed as unreal, untrue, non-existent.
Santa may be the last magical element left in our lives. The folk tales and traditions have been lost. The stories of legendary characters have been discarded. The possibility of anything existing that we cannot test, verify, research, and define has been excluded.
Sometimes, just for a moment, it lifts the heart to slip back into thoughts we had before the age of reason took over our minds. Sometimes, stories of the improbable and the impossible are stories that allow us recapture ourselves, to be the laughing and unquestioning people we once were.
Maybe believing in Santa is a step too far for some people, but a step in that direction might give us a different perspective on the whole of our lives.