“How does Santa get to all the houses in one night?”
“How does Santa know what each kid wants for Christmas?”
“What if your house doesn’t have a chimney—how does Santa get inside?”
“How do all the presents for the whole world fit into one sleigh?”
On and on the questions go, as the analytical mind tries to make sense of the myth of Santa Claus. At some point in childhood, we yield (or our long-suffering parents, weary of the questions, yield) to the inexplicability of the Santa stories and we reach the conclusion that there is no such thing as Santa Claus, the stories are all amusing but without meaning, parents who love us fulfill the Santa requirements, and that is that. For some, the moment of disbelief comes easily, while others struggle. I remember feeling deeply depressed when my mother confirmed that she and my father were the ones who brought in all the presents during the night hours of Christmas Eve. My son wept when he reached the inevitable conclusion, and my efforts to console him by reading him the famous “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” newspaper piece had no effect.
These days I am entertaining the possibility that Santa Claus is a kind of koan, the sort of puzzle used by Zen masters to open the student to enlightenment by posing a question that baffles the logical mind, thereby allowing an intuitive sense of a deeper truth to emerge. All those questions children ask adults about Santa, how the work of Christmas Eve and delivering presents actually happens: what if those are koans that could make it possible for us, both children and adults, to see a new truth in Christmas? If so, then the usual logical answers adults try to provide until logic finally collapses are not really what is called for. Instead, we might do better to admit that we do not know how Santa accomplishes all that work; all we do know is that it happens. And the real truth to be seen is not just who Santa is but the truth that at least once a year we let ourselves get caught up in an extravagant kind of love that overcomes all sorts of obstacles, including the real-world obstacles of getting presents to everybody whether their home has a chimney or not.
The myth of Santa Claus is not just a colorful story told to keep children distracted while parents run about shopping for toys. The myth of Santa Claus is a true story, a koan that mystifies our analytical mind for a few weeks in December so that our small and fearful hearts can emerge and inspire us to make decisions that are driven not by logic but by love. In yielding to the Christmas koan, we fall into the deeper vision of a peace on earth and a prevailing good will that has been present all along and then receive the gift we most desired.