The Holiday Season is over, but I’ve been thinking on a certain aspect of Christmas Past just recently; the peculiar form my childhood belief in Santa Claus took.
I was what you might call a precocious tyke, quite interested in science or at least certain aspects of it. At the ripe old age of four my parents claim I was already playing “unofficial docent” on visits to the Natural History Museum, expounding to anyone who might happen by the Allosaurus exhibit that they were not, in fact, gazing upon a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which was a creature of the Cretaceous rather than Jurassic Period… the two carnivores existed millions of years apart.
“S’arks and whales” (as I lisped via not quite fully developed speech faculties) were another specialty, to the point where I expressed a profound disappointment in my grandmother after the felt dolphin ornaments she had sewn up as Christmas ornaments were shown to display the vertical tails of fish rather than proper horizontal flukes. That sounds like the sort of thing that should have earned me a spanking, but I was lucky enough to have a scientist grandmother who, instead of chewing me out for being ungrateful, went and fixed the tails to their correct orientation–as a microbiologist she was willing to bow to my youthful expertise on the far more macro world of cetaceans.
Depending on your perspective that anecdote might seem satisfying or horrible, I suppose, but it leads back to Santa and Christmas. A kid who made scale models of the solar system for his first grade class, insisting on covering the styrofoam ball of Venus with cotton to represent its thick atmosphere, was hardly going to buy into the myth of a jolly fat man fitting down chimneys and somehow visiting every house in the world in one single night with a flying reindeer sleigh. Far too many problems with that; for one thing, what about houses that didn’t have chimneys?
Well, simple enough. Santa, I logically decided, was something not quite human. An energy force or spirit, like the kind that whipped around the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but instead of melting your face it would zip in and leave you presents. The fat man was just a face the world put to this to make it seem friendlier and more anthopomorphic, but I didn’t care about looks, I cared about results. And logic, of course. A force of this nature could certainly slip into your home unseen and unheard and would be capable of traveling at the speed of light, unbound by forces of gravity and inertia that could slow its rounds. Perhaps it could even be several places at once?
Now somehow this force was also capable of spontaneous generation ex nihilo of race car sets and Transformers and (yeccch) socks, but I didn’t really get that far into the details of how the system worked. Presents showed up on Christmas, and how else could I explain how they got there?
For me my belief was both logical and magical at the same time, and I remember locking myself in a bathroom and sobbing when my parents finally admitted that there was no Santa, not even as I had imagined it. There was another explanation, after all, and that explanation was that I had been systematically lied to for years. It was the shattering day I learned to never trust again.
Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. My mom sometimes reads these blogs, after all, I don’t need to dredge up old guilt. Sooner or later I would have figured out Santa wasn’t real, even in the way I had imagined. But I have to admit, it was at least somewhat disappointing to find out the truth was entirely mundane and my framework allowing for the fantastic was an ultimately futile project.
Or perhaps not? After all, here I am today working through a framework where Earth suffered a zombie apocalypse and then turned zombies into a consumer commodity. All these weird childhood needs of mine to balance the fantastic with elements that would “make sense” definitely influence my adult style of writing fiction. I don’t want mundane, but neither am I satisfied with the completely ridiculous and random. I struggle for a sense of consistency, which has led to many a day of Dawn throwing up her hands and declaring, “No one cares about this stuff except you!” It has certainly led to my ongoing status in her eyes as an Enemy of Fun.
Yet from my perspective, I look back on my Santa Theory and ask, isn’t it possible for wonderment to still exist within constraint? Isn’t it arguably even cooler to figure out ways the fantastic might have some anchor points to the realm of plausibility?
I don’t feel I’m a fanatic on the subject, as evidenced by my willingness back then to gloss over how the spiritual Santaforce in question manifested Star Wars action figures, and my willingness currently to declare that zombies and flying cameras exist because I wish them to for the purposes of the story. There are no rigidly scientific justifications planned for them, but I do nonetheless have definite rules for what they are and aren’t capable of. That remains extremely important to me. Where the fantastic is concerned, I still strive for that strange quasi-logical framework of the imagination that satisfied me as a child.
You can’t have proper suspension of disbelief without something to suspend it on, after all.