Monday, December 12, 2016


   When Virginia O'Hanlon, an 8 year old girl from New York City, sent a letter addressed to the newspaper The Sun in 1897, she asked a very simple question: "Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?"  In what must have been a surprise to her, the question was answered quite frankly.  After calling out Virginia's "little friends" for doubting the existence of Santa Claus and being clouded by an age of skepticism, the writer of the article, Francis Pharcelius Church, replied, "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus".
   Today, children all over the world are still asking the same question as Virgina did.  So who exactly is this Santa Claus guy, and why would he cause so much skepticism among boys and girls?  Is he some kind of magical figure?  How could one person cause so much excitement, doubt and even concern?
   This Santa Claus guy appears to be pretty secretive about his operations.  Along with Mrs. Claus, elves and a certain reindeer with a glowing red nose.  Santa is reputed to live at the North Pole, an impressive feat since the temperature almost never rises above freezing.

Santa Claus depicted in 1821


    Because the North Pole isn't the most hospitable place for people to visit, it would be difficult for most people to withstand the harsh weather and rough terrain in order to gain any serious intel on Santa.  And although no one may ever know for sure just how Santa operates, I have what are the most logical explanations for how the big guy accomplishes all that he does: science and technology.

Naughty or Nice?

   Santa Claus is one of the most popular and recognizable figures on Earth.  He's been depicted in dozens of holiday-themed shows, from the 1947 film "Miracle on 34th Street" to the 1964 t.v. special "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" to more recent films like "Elf", in 2003.  Many countries have different names for him...although he's Santa Claus in North America, he goes by Father Christmas in the United Kingdom, Pere Noel in France, Babbo Natale in Italy and Sinterklass in Holland, where he's associated with the December 6th Nicholas Day celebration.

   Whether you call him St. Nicholas, St. Nick or Santa Claus, though, the man represents the same to nearly everyone who celebrates Christmas and the holiday season...he's known as a benevolent soul, a giver of gifts and a spreader of Christmas cheer.
   According to Christmas folklore, Santa's main concern is making toys and distributing them in a timely and orderly fashion to children all over the world.  This has garnered him quite a following.  After all, children like toys, and Santa gives toys away...therefore, children like Santa Claus.
   Santa not only gives toys away, but he does it in style too.  He rides in his very own sleigh led by a team of reindeer, but it isn't just any old sleigh...this one flies and rumor has it that it can make it around the world in just one night.  It's also thought by some that Santa doesn't simply pass by your house and leave a few presents on your doorstep...he lands on top of your roof, climbs down your chimney and puts presents both in your stocking and around your Christmas tree.

   But where does Santa get all of these toys?  Certainly one couldn't make or buy all of that merchandise by himself.  That's where Santa's elves come in.  It's possible that these little workers possess a drive and energy even the smallest of nanorobots couldn't match, so Santa would never have to worry too much about being behind in production. 
   There's a catch to Santa's good will, however.  According to the classic Christmas song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", Santa's always watching: "He's making a list, he's checking it twice, he's gonna find out who's naughty or nice".  A big part of his job is to keep an eye on your behavior over the course of the year...if you've behave well, there's a good chance you'll get what you want for Christmas.  If your behavior was less than satisfactory, however, you risk getting nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking.  How does he do this?  The best bet is that he's using something similar to Google Earth.  Think of that, then fast-foward into the future a few hundred years.

Santa's Appearance and Santa Gear

   If you've ever paid attention to the floats during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you'll notice one constant from year to year...Santa Claus is always the big finale, the last one to pass through the streets of New York City.  We'd have to assume that this is his only major official public appearance during the year, since he would be incredibly busy organizing wish lists and keeping tabs on elf productivity.
   That brief glimpse, however, is enough to let us know that all those songs, poems, stories, and movies about Santa Claus could be fairly accurate in their visual representations.  Whether Santa is portrayed on films in live-action or in stop-motion animation, Hollywood has his image down pretty well...he's a large, rather plump older man with white hair and a long, white beard, and most of the time he's wearing his trademark red suit and red stocking cap.  His cheeks are almost always a rose-colored hue, and it may not be because he's been drinking too much eggnog.  As was mentioned earlier, the weather is very cold in the North Pole, so his skin could become easily chapped.
   The best  estimations are that Santa must use some serious gear to deliver presents:

  •   The Sleigh-In addition to being outfitted with flying reindeer.  Santa's sleigh must be a highly advanced machine that performs faster and more efficiently than any spaceship currently used by NASA.  The vehicle would have to be equipped with a special Antimatter Propulsion Unit that allows Santa to skip from one roof to the next in less than 24 hours and make it home to the North Pole in time for a nap and Christmas dinner.  The sleigh would probably be outfitted with an iPod player and a hot cocoa maker, allowing maximum comfort during Santa's trip around the Earth.
  • The Suit-The traditional red suit Santa wears would have to be a bit more complex than it looks.  First, it would be made out of a protective, lead-free material that blocks any radiation from Santa's engine...antimatter rockets produce dangerous gamma radiation, so it's important for Santa to keep safe up in the sky.  Second, the suit would also be threaded with carbon nanotubes, allowing the suite to shrink with Santa, if he ever changes his size.
  • The Belt-For climbing up and down chimneys, Santa would need a little support.  Assuming he's taken some rock climbing lessons, and his belt comes with all the necessary hooks, grapples, bells and whistles to get him in and out of your living room before you even have a chance to spot him.

Mall Santa's and Letter to Santa

   If you're ever strolling through your local mall after Thanksgiving, you might notice Santa Claus in the middle of the mall. There's probably an unbearably long line of children waiting for the chance to talk to Santa and tell him what they really want this year for Christmas presents.  Perhaps you smile and wave, and Santa will smile and wave right back, laughing his deep, trademark "Ho, ho, ho!" and you'll move on.
   Shortly thereafter, you might mosey on over to the other local mall, the one that's across the street.  Wandering  around from store to store, you might notice yet another Santa Claus, slightly different from the one you just saw at the other mall.  How could this be?  Is the mall some kind of portal between parallel universes?  Is one the real Santa and the other a fake?  Or are they both impostors?

    First things first: These Santa's probably don't consider themselves to be "fake", and they may not appreciate the word "impostor".  If anything, you might call them "messengers".  Like Santa's elves, we believe that the most logical explanation is that they're an extension of the Santa's Helpers Alliance, aka, mall Santa's.
   Mall Santa's are people just like you and me, but they must pass a few specifications in order to carry out their seasonal duties.  They must be of similar build to Santa Claus.  They must be in the appropriate age range of 50 to 60 years old, and they must sport an acceptable beard.  Mall Santa's must also graduate from a special Santa School, where they'll learn to laugh like Santa, eat like Santa and keep a snow-white beard like Santa.  Could it be that Santa drew up the curriculum himself?
   A mall Santa's job is simple...he must ask children what they want for Christmas, make sure they've behaved this year, and then send detailed e-mail reports back to Santa Claus.  A mall Santa's work accounts for about 33 percent of all gifts requests, making them an important part of Santa's team...the other 67 percent of Christmas wishes are sent directly to the North Pole by mail, of course.  nearly 100,000 letters make it out every holiday season to Santa's address at the North Pole.
   Why would Santa need an alliance of Mall Santa's?  Even though he might make it around the world in one night, he couldn't be in lot of different places all at the same time.  We'll have to assume that he's not quite there yet with the technology.  For the moment, he has to settle with a complex but efficient way of collecting Christmas wish information.


    Brits who follow tradition for celebrating Christmas in England will put up their trees precisely 12 days before Christmas, and take them down precisely 12 days after Christmas. 
   Each and every member of the family, by tradition,  stirs the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west.  This is intended to represent the honorable Three Kings.  Then, the family drops a silver coin into the pudding mixture before it is cooked.  The lucky person who gets the coin when the pudding is doled out,  is supposed to be in line for wealth, health and happiness.  if they keep the coin, that's a start toward the wealth....unless they happen to be the same family member who produced the coin in the first place, of course.


   English folks started decorating their trees in 1841, after Prince Albert arranged for a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle to be strewn with lights, as a gift to Queen Victoria and their children.  This carried out a long time tradition that Prince Albert adopted from Germany.  Precisely a century later, relations between the two nations would not be so cordial, but celebrating Christmas in England still involves decorating a tree.

   When they celebrate Christmas in England, they don't have Santa Claus.  In England he is called Father Christmas.  The kids can hang their stocking on the fireplace, but they also have the option instead of placing their stocking at the ends of their beds.  The "end of the bed" alternative should eliminate concerns about Father Christmas, like Santa, coming down the chimney into a roaring fire.  But wait!  There also is a legend that if British children write letters to Father Christmas and toss them into the fireplace, somehow their messages will turn into smoke that wafts up the chimney and carries directly to Father Christmas.



   The English Christmas is traditionally celebrated with an early morning unwrapping of presents, followed by a Christmas lunch.  Some typical menu items for an English Christmas lunch include a roasted turkey, gravy, roasted potatoes, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, and root vegetables,  such as parsnips and carrots. For dessert it's usually  a Christmas cake (fruit cake, often made with brandy, marzipan and white icing).  The Christmas cake is often made a couple of months in advance to give it time to age.  the flavours blend together for a rich, moist taste.  Another traditional dessert is the Christmas pudding.  It is made with dried fruits which are pressed into a bowl to create a round shape. The Christmas pudding is topped with brandy and lit so that a flame appears momentarily before it is served.  For safety sake, this dessert should only be prepared by someone knowledgeable and experienced with preparing it.  Finally, traditional treats of an English Christmas are mince pies.  They are made of a sweet blend of fruits and spices which are used to fill a small pastry crust.
   A unique aspect of celebrating Christmas in England is the Christmas cracker.  These small wrapped toys are placed on the Christmas table before lunch.  When pulled apart, they make a loud "pop" sound-hence the name Christmas cracker.  Inside,  there is usually a paper crown and some type of toy or gadget. Everyone puts on their paper crown to enjoy the Christmas lunch.

   An idea for celebrating Christmas in England,  is to book reservations at a pub or restaurant.  Many English pubs and restaurants provide a special meal at Christmas or Christmas Eve.  However, book well in advance, because it's a popular option.
   Many British families take a vacation during the Christmas holidays in England.  Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts tend to get booked up quickly, so plan ahead.
   Celebrating Christmas in England  means many days of celebrations.  Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is also one of the holidays that are celebrated.  Families might enjoy a meal together or enjoy a walk by the seaside.
   Celebrating Christmas in England is a fun way to learn about different traditions.  Just keep in mind that most businesses are closed for the holiday so buy any supplies you need well in advance for your English Christmas.


    Christmas movies come in a variety of genres.  From musicals, to drama, comedy to animated.  Here is a list of what I think and hopefully you will to, of some of  the better  Christmas movies to  watch and enjoy every Christmas season. Some are entertaining and meaningful, while others are just fun to watch and bring a big laugh out of you and puts a great big smile on your face.   Just by looking at the movie DVD covers,  you start reminiscing about your favorite parts  and what the movie meant to you and how it made you feel.  opping it into the DVD player with all of the excitement,  just as if it were first time you've seen it.

  • White Christmas (1954)- World War II ends and army buddies Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye form a song and dance team and hit the road.  The end up putting on a program to help their ex commanding general with surprises for him and them.

  • The Nativity Story (2006)- In my mind this is the best depiction of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.  No sterile boring reproduction, this one has good acting, cinematography, and special effects (without having headliner actors and actresses in it.

  • A Christmas Story (1983)-I know of no one who doesn't love this classic Christmas movie.  It plays all Christmas day in the United States.  It is also now a musical on Broadway directed by the man who played Ralphie as a boy.  Young Ralphie desperately wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas but everyone that is an adult in his life discourages him that it would be too dangerous.   It's a "traditional 1950's Christmas in this hilarious story as Ralphie pleads and bargains to make sure that the BB gun is under the tree on Christmas morning.

  • The Santa Clause (1994)- The first one in a series of sequels is always the best.  A Christmas movie comedy and heartwarming story of Santa in training with amazing images of the North Pole Workshop.  Tim Allen plays the lead, Santa and does a very good job at it.

  • The Polar Express (2004)- Based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg.  This is one of the first computer animated movies to look more lifelike than animation in the past.  It is about a little boy who has lost his faith in Santa.  He ends up on the "Polar Express" train on his way to the North Pole to see Santa and the elves and to get back his belief in Santa Claus.  A very exciting train ride happens on the way to the North Pole.  Lots of great music in it also.

  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946)- One of those "feel good" movies from the past.  An essential classic Christmas movie directed by Frank Capra, starring Jimmy Stewart as George, the main character in the story.  He wishes he had not been born when things around him start to unravel.  George goes back In time to see what it would be like if he wasn't born.

  • Elf (2003)- Starring Will Ferrell.  I think one of his better movies.  It starts out with Santa delivering presents in an orphanage, when Buddy (Will Ferrel) as a baby sneaks into Santa's bag and isn't discovered until he gets back at the North Pole.  So he grows up as an oversized elf, but seems to not be cut out for it.  He finds out he was adopted and decides to set out and find his real father who lives in New York City.  This is when his different adventures begin.  I very funny holiday movie.  Don't miss seeing it at least once.

  • Scrooged (1999)- Starring Bill Murray.  He plays an executive at a major t.v. station who's lost all meaning of Christmas.  It takes the funny side of a Christmas Carol, with different ghost's of Christmas past, present and future than you're probably used to.  It's worth a laugh or two or three!

  • A Christmas Carol (2000)- Starring Patrick Stewart (Captain Pickard from Star Trek).  One of my favorite renditions of A Christmas Carol.  He has also done it as a one man stage show on stage.  He is one of the better actors to doe Mr. Scrooge.  If you find it on t.v. or on DVD at least see it once and tell me what you think.


   The Christmas season in Italy starts early, with Advent, a 4 week religious time of prayer and ends on January 6th.  Eight days before Christmas a Novena is started.  That is a series of prayers said over a 9 day period (Santa gets a break in Italy).  Children get their gifts on January 6th, from La Befana, the good witch.  The story goes that when they were searching for the Christ Child, the Wise Men asked an old woman for directions and asked that she come along with them and she refused and to this day she roams the world looking for the Christ Child herself and must give out the gifts on the anniversary of the day the wise men finally arrived,  in the hope that the Christ Child will be in one of the homes and get the gifts she should have brought centuries ago...Of course in the United States, celebrating Italian Christmas traditions can mean getting gifts on both December 25th and January 6th.


  It's always a good idea to keep the old traditions going.  There is one Italian Christmas traditions that we have adopted and made our own and that is the Creche.  It started when St. Francis of Assisi had one built for his parishioners.  It was so beautiful that soon everyone wanted one for themselves.  Some of these are literally works of art, worthy of being in a museum.

   One tradition Italy shares with man other countries is the Yule Log.  We usually associate the Yule Log with England, mainly because of the influence of  movies, but it has been a tradition in Italy since pagan times.  Actually, this like many of our Christmas traditions originated in Italy and were brought to other countries by missionaries.  The legend of the Yule Log dictates that it must be left burning until New Years Day, because the Virgin Mary will enter the homes of the poor at night,  when everyone is asleep,  to warm the baby by the fire.

     For 24 hours before Christmas Eve, no meat is eaten, so it makes sense that Christmas Even is the big meal of the holiday.  If you were to be invited to an Italian home for Christmas Eve, you would probably be served appetizers, such as clams oregano,  followed by a soup and salad, maybe even a seafood stew.  The main dish would usually be fish, and usually more than one kind.  Eel is traditional, but today, any kind of fish is used.  Possibly a sole with lemon and butter sauce.  Then there is the pasta course, something like a Lasagna.  A favorite vegetable is zucchini in agrodolce (sweet and sour zucchini).  One thing everyone looks forward to on Christmas Eve after the feast is done, is "The Urn of Fate".  There are packages in the urn for everyone.  Turns are taken until all of the packages are gone, but this is where the "fate" part comes in, some of them are empty.  Every one does get a gift though.


   On Christmas day, the first order of business is going to Church.   The meal of the day consists of some kind of meat or chicken instead of fish.
   There is one tradition that did not make it to the United States.  In the rural areas, shepherds stroll the streets playing bagpipes and collecting money to buy presents.  Children also dress as shepherds and go from house to house play shepherds pipes and asking for money also.