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Christmas Mysteries
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Yes, it's once again the season for an new issue of our newsletter,The Orphan Scrivener . Check out our news online and read Mary's article about sundials and mysteries. Mary's musings are appropriate given that December 25 was originally the birthday of the sun god Mithras. As for me, rather than the mysteries of Mithras, I choose to contemplate the mysteries of Santa....

This is the time year when I wonder how in the world I could ever have believed in such an outlandish idea as Santa Claus. Even a five-year old should have had enough common sense to realize that reindeer don't fly, all the toys for all the kids in the world won't fit into one sack, and a fat man in a red suit couldn't squeeze into our fireplace let alone come down the flue, especially with a sack holding all the toys for all the kids in the world over his shoulder.

If I didn't actually remember believing in Santa, I wouldn't think it was possible.

Not that I can recapture how it felt to believe. I can no longer put myself into the state of mind where reality has not quite coalesced and magic can still co-exist with day-to-day experience. Is the child's mind not fully formed or simply not fully programmed? Whatever the reason, it seems that the very young inhabit a wilder world than adults do, a place full of mystery and wonder and possibilities their elders can no longer see.

We naturally assume that kids' perceptions are wrong, a result of their immaturity. But when you consider the universe's size, age and complexity, you have to wonder how much our tiny, ephemeral brains are filtering out.

I don't think they are filtering out Santa, of course. Where are the hoof prints on the snowy roof? The satellite photos of the North Pole workshop? How would Santa get through Homeland Security? Besides, I've played Santa. I know how the scam works. I've lied to my kids.

When exactly did I discover the awful truth? Strangely, I can't recall, nor do I have any recollection of being shocked or horrified that my parents -- who I trusted more than anyone -- had foisted off on me this dreadful embarrassing hoax. It must have just dawned on me as the golden haze of early childhood gradually dissipated to reveal the cold, hard outlines of real life.

There was a period when I pretended to believe because I figured it was expected of me. How soon did my parent's realize the jig was up? For how long did they pretend to believe that they thought I still believed when they knew I didn't? None of us wanted to disappoint each other.

Christmas is a great holiday for the suspension of disbelief.

My parents didn't just prevaricate about Santa either. They also acted as if they liked the tree ornaments I brought home from school. Enormous, lop-sided snowflakes cut from thick construction paper, encrusted with glitter and white school paste, thick as icing on a cookie. Exactly what my dad wanted on the tree he tastefully decorated with subdued blue lights.

Almost as aesthetically pleasing were the jar lids wrapped in ribbons. Sometimes we would insert a crayon drawing into the center of the lid, forming a sort of cameo. In those days everyone canned. Kids were asked to bring spare lids to school. What do they use today? Hardly anyone cans and you can get a plastic angel to top your tree for the price of a jar lid.

For that matter, what do kids make these days rather than ash trays? We were always making ashtrays, not only at Christmas. Everyone needed ashtrays when I was growing up. In the unlikely event your parents didn't smoke, their friends did. They needed a misshapen lump of hardened clay painted red and green to stub out their cigarettes.

My parents put it out in the middle of the coffee table, hideous as it was, neither round nor oval, higher on one side than the other, not quite flat on the bottom. There were two large indentations in the rim, where cigarettes could sit, and so you could distinguish it from a candy dish. The workmanship was not the best. It looked like something made by a cow.

But my parents pretended it was a work of art.

Who knows, maybe they were blinded by the holiday season. Maybe they believed the ornaments and ashtray were beautiful like I believed in Santa.

I did have some scientific basis for my gullibility. I wasn't completely stupid. Santa brought me science books, after all. Christmas Eve I set a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on the coffee table and sure enough, on Christmas morning, the edibles had vanished, except for a few tell tale crumbs. Certain proof that Santa had visited.

That and the fresh cigarette butt in the ashtray.

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