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I've worked for a big multi-national, lived abroad for several years, travelled a lot, now in politics. Married once but separated; no kids. Generally utilitarian except for minority rights.


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DECEMBER 13, 2011 8:30AM

I Believed in Santa Longer Than I Believed in God

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          Yup.  It was evidence-based and supported by the home environment.

          I remember pretty clearly when I stopped believing in God.  I was eight.  My folks had given the bro and me a kids’ Golden Book Encyclopedia.  The section on dinosaurs fascinated me.  Huge, weird fierce-looking creatures that lived millions of years ago.  No humans around then either.

          At the same time in school we were being taught biblical stories starting from the creation of the world.  Puzzling how they’d write about their donkeys, goats and cattle, but nary a mention of the stupendous brontosaurus or the terrifying tyrannosaurus.  The awesome pterodactyls were likewise undocumented.

          That raised some doubts.  More of the inchoate sort since it was an eight year old mind.  But without quite articulating it, I’d already taken the beginnings of a skeptical attitude to parts of the Bible.  That guy stuck in whale for instance.  My father, uncle and grandfather were avid fishermen and I’d been exposed to their tall tales from an early age.  But theirs couldn’t come close to topping living in a whale for days on end.

          Our family also watched Wild Kingdom every Sunday.  I’d been impressed by the show on lions.  So when Moses had to put a couple of them in the ark along with a few varieties of antelope and gazelle, I wondered.  Marlin Perkins had explained how lions could go a couple of weeks between meals.  But 40 days?  And with antelopes and gazelles on deck where they’d have trouble bounding away?

          So I hadn’t come to a disbelief in God or the Bible, but some things weren’t sitting right.  Crystallization came a short time after my mother explained how God always knows what you’re doing, what you’ve done and what you’re going to do.  That was pretty astounding.  I had a great memory back then and I couldn’t remember every single thing I’d done.  One afternoon I was playing catch; bouncing a baseball off the brick side of our house.  I almost always caught it but started to wonder if God was paying attention.  What if I decided to miss just this once?  Wouldn’t that take Him by surprise?  Supposedly not, but I couldn’t get my mind around the notion that even if a split second before the ball came to my glove and I decided to drop it, God would still know.  It perplexed me so much that about every third toss I’d drop it.  I’d wait till just as it was touching my glove and go on impulse.  I must have done that 20 times before concluding that something wasn't quite right.  And it was the idea that there was some God that was supposed to know everything.  Not likely.

          Then things started to make more sense.  Dinosaurs weren’t in the Bible because they lived and died long before people got there.  And not only did God not know what I was going to do next, he mustn’t have known about dinosaurs else he’d have told Adam or Abraham or one of his other confidants, no?  So He probably wasn’t around then either.  Not much of a God really and one I no longer believed in.

          On the other hand, there was clear evidence for Santa.  My parents actually told me about him, much more guilelessly than they did about God.  Then there was the evidence.  I received many gifts with a sticker saying they were from Santa.  The milk and cookies we left out were always consumed.  All sorts of adults talked about him and none sounded like they were proselytizing.  On Christmas Eve the local radio stations would report that NORAD’s radars had picked up something unusual in the skies near the North Pole.  THEY SAID THIS ON THE RADIO!  I HEARD IT!

          Christmas Eve dinner was spent at my grandparents who kept the European custom of celebrating on the 24th.  Later in the evening, usually around the dessert course, there’d be a commotion at the back door.  We’d get up and whoa!  There’d be a pile of presents.  My grandfather had previously explained that theirs was a very small chimney, much too small for Santa.  And some houses didn’t even have one.  So Santa would figure out the most practical way.  Smart guy.  He even knew Finnish as he’d sign some of the cards Pukki.

          Nonetheless I’d heard rumors and spoke to disbelievers.  One kid, Clyde, outright told me that his parents told him there was no Santa.  I was shaken but eventually tossed it aside.  Clyde was a little shit.  He didn’t deserve presents as he’d be well entrenched on Santa’s bad boy list.  But he got some and his parents just had to make up a no-Santa story to explain why he didn’t go giftless.  As rationalizations go it felt awkward but basically hung together.

          The next Christmas Eve I was determined to test the hypothesis.  I insisted on taking the seat closest to the back door.  Throughout dinner I focused on any sound from that direction.  Sure enough, just as we were finishing dessert I heard the door open and some banging around.  I catapulted from my seat and got to there just before it closed.  And while I didn’t actually see Santa, I got a good look at his baggy red pantleg and one black boot as he was hoofing it to his next stop.  Very strong proof.  I even got excited and cried out “I saw him!"

          That tided me over for another year.  Cognitive dissonance helped me ignore the increasing playground rumors and even though by next Christmas (I would have been ten) I too was coming around to the non-believers camp, I told myself that that it was better for my eight year-old bro if I kept up the illusion for another year.

          At some point my belief just faded away.  There was no epiphany.  I just acted around the other kids like I’d known for ages there was no Santa.  But the truth is that there was nothing like the counter-evidentiary dinosaurs to make me disbelieve any sooner.

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Abrawang: Ah, the innocence of childhood. Plus, you had empirical evidence, you SAW him running away from the door. This reminds me of a scene from Trailer Park Boys (I imagine you've and the pleasure of meeting Ricky -- he believed Santa & God were one and the same). I believe in Santa too. After all, I was him/her for a number of years.
"Clyde" is a great name for the "little shit" and I'm guessing it really was his name. This is wonderful, Abra. :) r.
s/b: I imagine you've had the pleasure of meeting Ricky. Here you go, when you have a minute.

If you want to restore your faith in God, just watch a Denver Broncos game.
Scarlett – I’ve have to check out the clip this evening. I’ve only seen the Trailer park Boys once or twice but it seems pretty funny. As far as seeing him, years later I was amazed that they’d got a neighbour to actually dress up in a Santa outfit in the off-chance we’d ever see him.

jane – it was a belief I clung to longer than I might have. The world just seemed better that way and it wasn’t as though I was a voice in the wilderness. The avatar is an actor named Alan Howard who I saw in a play where one of the characters had to assume a fake personage and the fake name he chose was Abrawang.

JW – What’s that saying about the fruit not falling far from the tree? Clyde’s dad was as fierce as the dinosaurs and I expect he was named in the hopes that one day he'd cross paths with his Bonnie.
OK, I already knew about God, but now you're telling me Santa too!
I'll read any story this good, especially if it has both Santa and dinosaurs in it.
Wow! A pretty good summary of the evolution of my thinking, too. Could it be that we held onto our belief in Santa longer because of the economic incentive to believe? Hell, even adults fall into that trap.
so cool that you actually saw him!
Kids are so logical, so much more so than adults. If they keep that skeptical frame of mind, then life makes more sense. I'd also say that Santa is far better for our society than God.
Great story. I don't remember believing in Santa but this reminds me how fun it was doing things for my girls so they would have the magic of Santa.
I think just the simple fact that Santa is much nicer than "God" (Santa may put coal in your stocking, but God condemns you to an eternity of pain and torture) is enough reason to believe in him still ... my kids have grown out of Santa, but I still enjoy riling up the nieces and nephews (who don't believe in God) :)
What a delightful piece, Abrawang!
I enjoyed this and am glad it was picked up by the editors.

The Golden Books really informed our world, didn't they? I think I started figuring it out when I noticed Santa used the same gift wrap as my mother, and she had way too much information about what was supposed to be in my stocking (which often ended up swapped out with what was supposed to be in my sister's or brother's stocking). I also remember walking in on the Easter Bunny filling in some large eggs and baskets, and having to let her know that at 10 I wasn't really going to buy it anymore.
I had a lot of trouble with an all-knowing God, too. I also couldn't understand how an all-knowing God would allow such things as murder and earthquakes. As a kid, Santa made more sense, but there was the thing about his world-wide trip in 24 hours. Abra, I really enjoyed this post. Your way of telling things is fascinating.

We made a film of my wife slipping a coin under our kid's pillow when he said he didn't believe in the tooth fairy anymore. When we showed it to him the next day, he said "the tooth fairy has hairy arms."

God, Santa and dinosaurs--who could ask for anything more in a story! So well crafted and well-told and funny! Congrats on the EP too.
I'm enjoying these childhood memories, especially yours. I had similar revelations, the slow dawning that things just don't make any sense...and don't the adults around here realize this?
jane – I didn’t answer your question. Yes, I remain an atheist. But I’m happy to take a live and let approach with those who differ. So long as they do of course.

LeedsJr – For Broncos fans I gather that the first three quarters are the trials of Job. Now should Denver win the Super Bowl I’d say a serious re-evaluation of fundamental principles is in order.

Out – No need to take my discarded faith as an example to follow. Just steer clear of those schoolyard intellectual bullies.

Mary – I’ll have to start working dinosaurs into more of my blogs. Santa is pretty seasonal though.

Brass – A fine example of economic determinism. Trust you to apply the principles of the materialist dialectic to belief in Santa, not, per Seinfeld, that there’s anything wrong with that. Looking forward to your own account.

dianani – I was bowled over. I’d gone there in a refudiation state of mind and in an instant became Santa’s most credible witness.

Ardee – At least Santa and his acolytes don’t threaten unending torment for a lack of faith. The very worst outcome is that you wind up on the naughty list and one week later you start with a clean slate.
l’Heure – How in the world did you avoid believing in Santa? Did you never look forward to what he would bring you?

Colleen – I guess I just paraphrased you in my previous comment. You’re right that there’s no urgency in coming to a conclusion on Santa.

Jeanette – thanks very much. I was surprised how much came back to me as I began writing about it.

Damon – you prompted me to do the same. The full expression is Joulupukki but my Finnish relatives always shortened it to Pukki. Google says the shortened version is a billygoat or lecherous man. So maybe they were having a laugh at my expense all these years? Man, the scales are really falling off now. I’ll have to ask my aunt over Xmas.

Fusun – Glad you enjoyed it. I just now saw it was an EP, though not on the cover page. I thought one went with the other.

Oryoki – Those Golden Books really added to the education. And you must have been a little Sherlock to cotton on to the wrapping paper. Speaking on behalf of guydom, we’d never have noticed something like wrapping paper.

Lezlie- As I got older the problem of evil certainly seemed to undermine the notion of an all wise, all good and all knowing God. And putting down to free will didn’t explain infant mortality or natural disasters, aka acts of God. And I’m with you on the 24 hour coverage. It nagged at me, as did the problem of entry to high-rises.
Con – Pretty tough to have a comeback for that one on the tip of your tongue. Hirsute tooth fairies? Nah.

Erica – Thanks very much. The dinosaurs seem to be a hit. I really must think back to see if they figure in any more incidents.

Bell – It’s funny how things start to dawn on you at that age. For a while you’re just accustomed to some things not making sense. That soon becomes bothersome and I guess either you turn off that side of the brain (and in some folks it’s a one-way switch) or you try to work it out. Thanks for the comment.
You sound like one awesome and smart kid, I wished we'd have been neighbors! Great post, congrats on the very well deserved EP!
Thanks Kevin. I've probably regressed since. "But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."
Yes, one could certainly feel this way.
Ah, critical thinking: the enemy of ideology. And I know that TPB episode that Scarlett is talking about, and it's a real keeper.
Hi Algis, thanks for the comment.

VA - I clicked on Scarlett's link and you're both right - it's a funny, clever scene. I think I'd like this series if i saw more of it. As for ideology, it's probably impossible for any of us to be free of the influences of one type or another. But it's best if we try to avoid falling into the traps of reflexive, hand-me-down thinking.
Well, Abra, you know I love your stories, but I'm a bit sad reading this. I guess I'm a big believer in believing, (in all kinds of things). And I tear up every time I read the "Yes, Virginia" letter. "The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see."
Hi Lucy. I don’t have any animosity towards belief, believing or believers. My ex is Catholic and went to church most Sundays. Of all the issues we later had, religion was never one of them. And if I had kids I too would tell them about Santa. But I don’t feel that my own life is less enriched by being atheist. The natural world and humanity’s creations in arts and culture provide plenty of scope for awe and wonder. Merry Christmas to you.
What was interesting to me in my own case was that I cried when I found out Santa wasn't real, but not when it dawned on me that god isn't real.

Rick - I can entirely understand that reaction as Santa was such a generous, hard-working, altruistic type that the disillusion is a harsh early lesson of "too good to be true". Why it isn't the same with disbelief in God isn't quite so obvious, at least not to me. If you figure it out please post the answer.
So wonderful! I think the analytical side of you appeared at an early age! My 5th grade teacher had all of us who still believed in Santa to stand up in class. The 5 of us did and got laughed at!
How did I miss this? Great retelling and comparison of God-belief to Santa-belief. I love the way your mind worked at 10 (and now :)
I too was in the dinosaur-as-proof camp, and while I didn't have an epiphany as when to disbelieve in Santa, I had a younger sibling too.
My personal evolution: Belief in a universe fueled by good energy, yes. Men in beards...not so much. (r)
Thanks Susie. I’m glad my 5th grade teacher never put us to the test. Actually, it’s kind of a mean thing to do. The inevitable consequences have to include mockery, disillusion and lost faith in one’s parents.

dirndl – looks like we’re on the same wavelength. Wishing you plenty of good energy for 2012.
Great read. Congrats on the EP. I guess Reindeer were out of the question. R