Some illusions perish but one belief will never die

The 2012 Dunedin Santa Parade makes it way down George St. Photo by Craig Baxter.
The 2012 Dunedin Santa Parade makes it way down George St. Photo by Craig Baxter.

Maybe it's the time of the year, but a man I've known and respected for ages suddenly put down his glass the other night and declared ''there is no Santa Claus'', with particular emphasis on the ''no''.

Of course, I disagreed, and we parted believing each other to be a cretin. One of us is right, no doubt.

In case you think I'm some kind of credulous imbecile, perhaps I should explain. I was brought up on the purity of the turf, the perfection of womanhood, guardian angels, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy and the semi-divinity of Michael Joseph Savage. It was quite a list, but it didn't take too long to shake off a few of them. The mystery of Phar Lap's sudden death made me wonder about the honesty of the racing game.

Women, it seems, are as imperfect as the rest of us. The guardian angel, in case you don't know, hovers above you when you walk close to dangerous cliffs or near massage parlours. The angel's job is to keep you safe and so far I've avoided falling over cliffs or coming to grief in massage parlours.

Good luck or the guardian angel? Who knows?

The Easter bunny myth was shot down once I'd had my first visit to Cadbury. There were thousands of Easter eggs pouring off the assembly line and not a rabbit in sight.

The tooth fairy, though, retained credibility all through the time I was losing my first teeth. In later life, when the dentist decided to pull out two annoying back teeth, he simply threw them in the rubbish without asking me if I wanted to take them home for the tooth fairy.

I realised then that, if the dental school wasn't teaching tooth fairy, then the idea could well be dropped.

And my dream of Michael Joseph Savage and the Labour Party's mission to look after the underdog? Well, Roger Douglas pricked that balloon.

Of course, many other childhood certainties faded into fairy tales as I grew older. A heaven where the deceased stroll among the clouds plucking their harps and from where they could always look down on a first-rate cricket test? A hell where the devil twirls his tail and turns up the heat with an evil grin? That could be so, but who can be sure?

I have never doubted Santa Claus, though. Have you ever seen a child's face as the queue moves towards Santa's grotto in the department store? Have you ever helped a child get the glass of milk ready, and the mince pie, to leave near the fireplace on Christmas Eve?

Of course you have. And can you tell me there's no Santa Claus after that?Perhaps, as I've grown older, Santa Claus has changed just a little. I no longer expect him to bring me anything expensive at Christmas, but if he does, that's a bonus.

From time to time there have been moments of doubt. Especially when a child asks how on earth Santa gets down the chimney of a wood burner. Especially as he's so fat.

I have to fall back on the wisdom that ''Santa can do anything''. He may not even be at the North Pole. He may live at Outram, or Gimmerburn. Perhaps he's ubiquitous. That's a word which usually sends the child away wondering, and at least stops the questions.

These days, having lost faith in some of childhood's realities, I still hang on to the belief in Santa Claus. Not because I've read any philosophy or found any biblical passage about Santa. Scholars insist that there is not one mention of Santa Claus in the Bible. But then, I understand the Bible doesn't mention Christmas trees either. I've just decided that, if there isn't a Santa Claus, there damn well should be!!I suspect I inherited this wisdom from Great-uncle Pat.

He was only one generation removed from the old farm near Limerick in Ireland and was for me the source of much childhood wisdom. Like myself, he was a very spiritual man and always crossed himself when passing a church or a TAB. He would have been appalled to see today's rugby players making the sign of the cross when all they've done is score a try.

''Desecration,'' he would have called it, with his unique ability to make that word sound like the most evil act humanity could devise.

It was to Uncle Pat I turned for advice on the Santa Claus question. He admitted, ''I just don't know. Maybe yes, maybe no. Can't say.''

''Well, what about the leprechauns then, Uncle Pat?''

''What? The little people? I don't believe in them, at all, at all.''

Then he paused, and added, ''But they're there, just the same.''

I suspect it's the same with Santa Claus.

Jim Sullivan is a Dunedin writer and broadcaster.


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