The Non-Expert

Santa Claus

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we determine once and for all the existence of Santa Claus.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


Question: Does Santa Claus exist?

Answer: We decided this question is too big for one mind, and so here are nine answers, one by each writer and editor. We will post a final tally at the end and determine, finally, conclusively, beyond a single elf of doubt, the legitimate existence or kindly fraud that is Saint Nick.

Joshua Allen
Rosecrans Baldwin
Margaret Berry
Paul Ford
Kevin Guilfoile
Sarah Hepola
Dennis Mahoney
Clay Risen
Andrew Womack


Christmas Eve

by Joshua Allen

One time I was in a Denny’s trying to slit my wrists with my final paycheck from a different Denny’s. The female waitperson came over, lay her meaty hands upon mine. ‘What can I get for you?’ she asked, her voice husky and intimate. ‘Anything,’ she said. I looked up and saw the tinsel-fringed Santa hat upon her head. Tears rolled down my smoke-stained cheeks as I said: ‘Pie, with cake stuffed inside.’ She nodded and went to get it while I dunked the paycheck into my tiny glass of ice water. Thank you, Santa Claus, thank you thank you.

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Two True Stories

by Rosecrans Baldwin

1. My sister and I tortured our parents. We left a Polaroid camera one year, so Santa could take a picture of himself, posing by my mother’s bureau. We insisted on written proof of existence: he had to sign his name on the bottom of the photo, then roll his thumb over an inkpad and leave his fingerprint in the corner. We wanted a headshot, and hoped for reindeer in the background.

(I don’t think we considered the logic of reindeer either hovering outside my parents’ bedroom window or standing, out of nowhere, perhaps with cigars, by the television, but since we were still willing to buy a fat man with gifts coming down our chimney, the added reindeer seemed no big deal, especially against the chances of me getting a bike that year.)

Christmas morning and we enter before dawn, assault my parents (later years the rising hour was amended to be after sunrise, and more important, nothing could be touched or opened until my parents had coffee—looking forward, I plan to give my own children tranquilizers on Christmas eve), and then remember our trap: the cookies are gone. One carrot’s nibbled half-way down (you can bet my Dad spat it out in the toilet), and the milk is entirely finished.

All important though, the Polaroid is waiting for us. It shows a blinding flash and otherwise darkness; Santa, apparently new to cameras, shot it facing the mirror and blinded the picture. The signature at the bottom is circumspect, and the fingerprint is so smudged it’s impossible to compare with my father’s thumb. We get over it pretty fast and move onto stocking presents.

I did get a bike. My sister got a Barbie dream-house, or something that likewise caused Santa construction-hell the night before. The bike was stolen from our garage three months later. When my mother asked, a little angry, I lied and said I locked it up—I was sure of it—but the truth is, I forgot.

2. I didn’t sleep on Christmas eve until I was 15. Hell. I stayed up all night—my parents allowed the lights on—reading comic books, fantasy novels, and Hardy Boys. But only for distraction. I mostly read Tintin. I owned most of them and read all of what I owned by dawn, some twice. The plots are still memorized. I paced my room, cried every hour, tapped on my frog’s tank (this frog is something else: it’s still alive, 19 years later, thought it was only expected to live a year. It was a birthday present when I was six; it came in a ‘Grow A Frog’ kit, as a tadpole. My sister at one point got one too, but mine ate hers). I think, one year, I may have hyperventilated for 20 minutes to try and force myself to faint. My parents always left my sister and I with an ominous warning, ‘Santa won’t visit until you’re asleep,’ and there I was, ruining it for the both of us, pathologically unable to even close my eyes.

One year it was about three in the morning and I heard clomping footsteps in the hallway outside my room. It was too late to be my parents. It had to be you-know-who. Like the boy-detective I was reading about, I jumped up and yanked open the door and looked out.

JJ, the frog, had escaped under my nose, and somehow snuck under the door (or politely opened it; honestly, the thing’s a miracle worker) and tried an escape via the hallway past my parents’ room. And there’s my father, in boxers, undershirt, and socks, swearing and chasing him towards the stairs.

I closed the door and immediately went back to bed and fell asleep. The way I saw it, if Dad was up too, let him ruin Christmas.

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Raising Him Right

by Margaret Berry

Scene: Two relative strangers board the BART: a man, and a teenage girl.

Girl: Awwww, I’m tired.

Man: You just comin’ off work?

Girl: Yeah. I’m gunna get home, my little boy’s not gonna let me sleep. (laughs)

Man: You got a little boy?

Girl: Yep, John-Roy.

Man: Thas’ nice. You married?

Girl: No. His daddy and I split up. He knows who his daddy is though.

Man: Thas’ good.

Girl: I’m engaged now.

Man: Hey! Congratulations.

Girl: Yeah, finally. He’s been around three years. My baby knows who his daddy is though. I’m not like all them girls who let their baby go around callin’ everyone daddy.

Man: Sure.

Girl: He says, ‘John is my biological daddy and Ray is my step-daddy.’ One time he accidentally called Ray daddy, and I didn’t even have to correct him. He just said, ‘stepdaddy’ real quick when he remembered.

Man: Sounds like you raisin’ him right.

Girl: I am. (laughs)

Man: You gonna have any more babies with your new husband?

Girl: Oh no. This world is screwed up. I don’t want to bring no more life into it.

Man: That’s the truth.

Girl: Maybe if the economy gets better or the war gets better. Like if we get done with it. But the world is too screwed up.

Man: I hear you.

Girl: Some people think I’m crazy, but I don’t teach my son about no Santa. He ain’t real.

Man: You tell him about Santa?

Girl: I told him he ain’t real. Why he get all the credit? Like some man come in and brought all those presents? I went out and spent $400 on presents for him and for everybody. I see some man bring some chimney, attach it to my house, climb down in it and bring me some presents, then John-Roy could believe in Santa Claus.

Man: Thas’ right.

Girl: I tell him it’s real, he’s gonna be like, ‘Oh, Santa Claus!’ You know? Right? Then he find out it’s not real, he’d be like, ‘Why you lie to me, mom?’ Ha! My son’s got that personality to do it. He’s jus’ like his daddy. His grandma tries to teach him. She says, ‘What did Santa put in your stocking?’ But he knows.

Man: Sounds like you raisin’ him right.

Girl: I’m tryin.’

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Slaves in Hats With Bells

by Paul Ford

When we consider the Santa mythos we are presented with several manifestations of pure capitalist wish-fulfillment. First, that production could be performed with the assistance of docile, diminutive workers—slaves in hats with bells—the elves, a desexed ethnic underclass reduced to lives of assembly-line development of toys which they themselves are not likely to enjoy. In the tropes of the Santa Mythos these elves remain gleeful in their bondage—surely a classic fantasy of production which can be traced to the imperialism, colonialism, and slave-holding of those cultures which support the Santa cult as part of their state and corporate-sponsored ideological frameworks.

Thus we have a fantasy of production, and on the other side of what we might call the Santa equation we have a fantasy of consumption: of unlimited goods delivered via the chimneys which, while once essential for domestic comfort, are now referent symbols of wealth and comfort limited to the privileged and seen as a perquisite (‘3 bedrooms—and a fireplace!’) rather than necessary mechanisms for survival in cold conditions. Santa exploits without remorse so that we may consume without concern, and he delivers his consumable goods through the leisure-mechanism of the fireplace. Space does not permit us to examine the exploitation of the reindeer.

This utopian conceptualization is in stark contrast to the actual conditions of world culture, where the worker is resentful of his or her exploitation, where the boss does not give away his wares for free, and where trade is based on money instead of cookies. We can say with certainty, just as we might say with certainty that a certain someone has been very stressed out preparing his graduate school applications, that not only does Santa not exist, but the values of the Santa myth do not truly exist in our culture, that is they do not arise out of collective myth-making apparatus, as, for instance, the narratives relating to a religious, social, or labor movement might arise, but are—from the original Clement C. Moore poem which defined the Santa Mythos—created by media companies and advertisers for the specific consumption of a passive, non-critical audience which is not free to examine or change the image of Santa, but must instead seek to reproduce the nature of a fantastical, never-to-be-reached ideal Christmas—and this at the expense of other, equally valid cultural traditions.

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On the Nature of Claus

by Kevin Guilfoile

Date: September 22, 1897

Dear Editor,

Thank you for responding to my letter in your newspaper. However, I don’t think it can be said that you have answered my question. You provided an assortment of Classical platitudes about truth and knowledge, but never specifically addressed the issue of whether a fat man in a red suit comes down my chimney on Christmas Eve, or if Papa just buys me dolls at a store near his office. Please clarify.

Also, do you think the assassination of Prime Minister Canovas might eventually lead to war with Spain?

Yours truely,

Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West Ninety-Fifth Street


Date: September 24, 1897

Dear Virginia

Why little girl, I thought I had been unambiguous on this point: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as surely as a father’s love for his daughter, as surely as beauty is found in the carefree and fantastical play of a child. If learned skeptics numbering 100 times 1000 petitioned me for 20 days times seven they could not convince me otherwise. Just because we do not see something with our own eyes, this does not mean it cannot exist. Dear, this is the essence of faith. You don’t question whether faeries exist; why they live in your very garden, I suspect! Certainly the same mystical plane which faeries inhabit could be infused with the generosity of spirit we call Santa Claus, could it not?


Francis Pharcellus Church
Editor, New York Sun


Date: September 29, 1897

Dear Editor,

Your arguments have been so riddled with logical fallacies I don’t know where to begin: Affirming the consequent, subverted support, petitio principii—possibly the fallacy of the undistributed middle. This is America in 1897, and yet you act as if an eight-year-old has not by now taken three semesters of rhetoric! I asked a very simple question: ‘Is there a Santa Claus?’ In return, I have been (repeatedly) talked around, condescended to, and ignored.

Must I take my inquiry to the New York Journal? I understand Mr. Hearst gives every consideration to young girls. For the final time, yes or no? Is there a Santa Claus?

Also, 100 times 1000 equals 100,000. Seriously, whom are you trying to impress?

Yours truely,


Date: October 5, 1897

Dear Virginia,

Sigh. All right. The economy is in the water closet, the country’s headed for war, and (thanks to our overcrowded asylums) McKinley will be lucky if he makes it to the next election without some lunatic putting a bullet in his head. In fact, your beloved William Hearst might very well do the job himself. The lie known as Santa is a variation on an ancient European myth used to manipulate the behavior of incorrigible children. In a few years time his image will be wholly appropriated by the Coca-Cola beverage company as part of its 100-year plan to become the most powerful political, social, and commercial organization on the planet. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, Santa will be remembered as a symbol of unchecked capitalism, which devoured the Earth’s natural resources and returned mankind to a feral, Neolithic state. In this post-apocalyptic wasteland, devolved tribes of men and apes will fight each other with the bones of their own dead over precious reserves of fresh water, and they will live in fear of the bearded and apple-cheeked hell-deity they believe delivered such crushing misfortune to their protruding brows.

No Santa Claus, Virginia? I wish.


Francis Pharcellus Church
Editor, New York Sun

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Testify to His Existence

by Sarah Hepola

Friends, we believe that Santa exists for those who believe in him. Now friends, we know what you’re thinking. ‘What about all those Chinese people who don’t know about Santa? Don’t they deserve gifts at Christmas?’ True, and that’s why we’ve created outreach programs, to enrich their souls with gentle lessons about eight tiny reindeer and the soft belly jiggle of a man they call St. Nick. No one knows the holiday’s true meaning until they have looked into the desperate, beady eyes of an atheist and taught him how to string bubble lights or wrap a tricky spherical gift. You may wonder, ‘What about the poor people in America? They believe in Santa. How come they get shafted?’ All right, that’s a good point, we haven’t gotten around to that, but we figure the whole eight-tiny-reindeer lesson might do the trick. It is very heartwarming. You ask, ‘But what about Hitler? Why did he rake in the gifties?’ Jesus H. Christ, it always comes down to Hitler with you people. Hitler Hitler Hitler. We don’t KNOW about Hitler. Listen, if Santa doesn’t exist, then who guides the sleigh? Who brings the presents? Us?!? Do you think humans could pull off something so hugely impressive as Christmas? No freaking way. If Santa doesn’t exist, I’d like to know who inspired the outlandish Bill Murray vehicle Scrooged or those claymation specials on TV. If Santa doesn’t exist, why did I just teach a child, withered by disease, to make the perfect wassail? Friends, Santa exists. And you can either believe in him, and get your iPod and your cheese logs and your little happy consumer widgets, or you can spend the rest of your life in shivering, agonizing giftless-ness. The choice is up to you.

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Does Santa Exist?

by Dennis Mahoney

When I asked my mother if Santa Claus was real, I was sitting in the bathtub. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was young enough that being naked in front of my mother still felt natural. At first her face became a veil and she responded yes, he is, of course he is. But I’d been hearing other things at school from kids who seemed to know the score.

I wasn’t a precocious kid. It took me many years to learn that ‘cock’ was not the same as ‘caca,’ because although my parents would have told me if I’d asked, I never had the guts. Asking friends was even more embarrassing. But Santa Claus was something else. My parents hadn’t taught me dirty words, but they had taught me all about Santa. If anyone had reason for embarrassment, it was them, not me, so I persisted.

Growing up, my parents taught me lies were bad—punishably bad. White lies needed a good excuse. Lying not to hurt a person’s feelings was acceptable, for instance, but ordinary lies broke the code of honesty. Getting caught in a lie was usually no big deal, until my parents said they couldn’t trust me anymore, that I would have to work for months to earn their trust again. This was hard Catholic stuff: one small lie demolished years of truth telling: Purgatory for a slip. But they were right. Anyone who’s ever caught a lover cheating only once will tell you how it is.

So when I hit my mother with the code of honesty, she started crying. No, she said. He wasn’t real. She couldn’t lie. The presents labeled ‘Santa’ were from them, my parents, those who’d eaten up the cookies left beside the milk, who’d stuffed the stockings every year, who’d known the letters sent to Santa never reached the Pole. Easter Bunny? Lie. Tooth Fairy? Lie. But were they ordinary lies or something else? I didn’t care. I was mad. I got up out of the bath and got dressed. Things were different now.

My mother must have wondered: what if she had kept it going, saved it for another year? But what she really cried about was that it hadn’t been a lie at all, not before I questioned it. Santa Claus had actually been real. My mother had believed in him when she was growing up. Eventually she’d cornered someone, probably her father, who had told her no, he isn’t real, we made him up.

But then she re-believed in him. She re-believed because of me. She had a son and told him Santa Claus was real and then he was. If Santa Claus could overwhelm me with excitement every year, if I believed that such a thing was possible—the flying deer, the sack of toys, the flashing up and down the chimney-stack—and not just possible but definite and verifiable (I swear to God I heard his bells when I was four; I’m serious), if there was something so astonishing that merely mentioning its name electrified a kid and made him feel completely whiz-bang ecstatic, man, it had to be real somehow. Knowing Santa Claus was real proved that he was real. Telling me he wasn’t meant he wasn’t. So she cried.

Except my mother never really gave it up. Ask her now if she believes in Santa Claus. She’ll tell you yes, she does, as much as she believes in God. And so do I, to a degree, although I’ll probably need a son or daughter to believe again for real. And then he will be real.

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The Replacements

by Clay Risen

If there’s no Santa, then there’s a gaping hole in our holiday pantheon. Who will take his place? Some of the hopefuls might include:

Flag Day Frank: No one knows when Flag Day takes place, so Frank’s outfit consists of a Superman-style unitard with ‘JUNE 14’ emblazoned on the front. He goes around dispensing flags and John Ashcroft snow globes. Despite his thick moustache and predilection for making an appearance whenever there’s a war brewing, he’s not to be confused with Lee Greenwood.

The Prankster: This merry fellow comes around every April 1, with oh-so-funny gags for good and bad girls and boys alike. The laughs roll on when you fall for his whoopie cushion, hand buzzer and trick penny AGAIN AND AGAIN. He’s just SO GODDAMN FUNNY. The day ends when you can’t take another bit of his hilarity and beat the all-living crap out of him.

The Hallmark Bunny: This lovable, thoroughly test-marketed rabbit stands in for a host of card-industry-inspired holidays, including Grandparents’ Day, Secretaries’ Day, Boss’ Day, Sweetest Day, Be a Friend Day, Friendship Day, and Admit You’re Happy Day. Kids can find him hanging out in the aisles of Duane Reade.

The Mother Bear: She emerges from her cave every second Sunday of May, carrying a bowl of brussel sprouts and asking why you can’t be more like your older brother. Before you go to bed, make sure to leave a construction-paper-and-crayon self-portrait and your new girlfriend on the fireplace for her approval.

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Holiday Juice

by Andrew Womack

Yes, of course Santa Claus exists. There is no other believable explanation for the extra gifts I used to find waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning. The ones from Santa were, in fact, always unwrapped and set up, ready to go. If the gift needed batteries, it either had batteries or was filled with something my parents called ‘Holiday Juice.’ Which is, I believe, alkaline. And I’m sure my parents didn’t have access to such chemicals. Well, maybe my dad did, but he wasn’t letting on.

But as I get older, I am sad to say, I’m beginning to wonder when and why Santa forsook me. I, like most everyone else, have spent a lot of time this holiday season picking out gifts for loved ones, plugging in my credit-card number, and directing employees on my preferred gift-wrapping options (a self-adhesive purple bag is my personal choice of décor). But I wonder: when is Santa going to intervene and double the number of gifts that go to those on my gift-giving list? When will my gift recipients reap the benefits of the extra haul? And who’s going to set up all their goodies under the tree? Did I go horribly wrong somewhere? Did I, in fact, stop being ‘nice’ and instead became ‘naughty?’

Well, yeah.

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Final tally: Yes.

TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers