Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Santa Claus is comin' to town

Well, a very happy Christmas Eve to all of you who celebrate it.  I'm sure that many of my readers are eagerly awaiting tomorrow morning, for the joy of seeing what Santa brought for yourself and your loved ones.

I mention St. Nick deliberately, because, you know, I can never be certain if someone who's reading this blog believes in Santa Claus or not, and far be it from me to burst anyone's bubble.  And I'm not just talking about little kids, here.

A recent piece in the Boston Globe (read it here) describes "paranormal expert" Stephen Wagner's fascination with "Santa sightings."  Yes, folks, I'm talking about presumably sane, intelligent adults who have seen the Big Guy for real on Christmas Eve.  For many of these people, it was a life-changing experience.  I know it would be for me; my life would change from "living at home" to "living in a psychiatric ward."

But that's not how most of the people who got to see the Jolly Old Elf in person feel.  Sarah, a 41 year old Californian who saw Santa Claus back in 1975, said the experience was transcendent.  "Seeing Santa changed my outlook forever," she told Wagner, "to the point that I am comfortable with tattooing ol’ Big Red onto my body.  It means that much to me."

Others report confirmation of many items from Santa's familiar accoutrement.  "We [were] driving by a lonely McDonald’s and we [saw] something dashing through the clouds," said one of Wagner's respondents.  "We could all make out Santa’s sleigh and nine reindeer including Rudolph’s nose."  "He was in full Santa attire," Sandra, a 51-year-old Missourian, told Wagner, recounting a sighting from the 1960s.  "He was bent over, then he stood up and took a puff from a pipe." 

It may be uncharitable of me, but in this last case I suspect that Santa might not have been been the one smoking the pipe, if you get my drift.

Wagner, for his part, seems simply to recount the experiences without trying to interpret them or weigh in on their veracity.  Not so Loyd Auerbach, who teaches a parapsychology course at Atlantic University.  "I've never even heard of people seeing Santa," Auerbach scoffs.  "The Grim Reaper, yes, but not Santa."

Because, after all, the Grim Reaper is orders of magnitude more real than Santa Claus, for heaven's sake.  Everyone knows that.

Auerbach goes on to state that these Santa sightings might have a common origin, though.  "The only reason this could be real," he states, "is if it's an alien or a ghost pretending to be Santa."

This is why I could never be an investigative reporter.  I would, on occasion, guffaw directly into people's faces while interviewing them.  I suspect that this would put people off, somehow.

 So given that I'm not especially taken with Auerbach's explanation of Ghost Santa or Alien Santa, I think I'm going with "suggestible people with overactive imaginations."  This is the position of Rebecca Knibb, a reader in psychology at the UK's University of Derby.  Knibb attributes St. Nick sightings to people who are "fantasy-prone," and whose daydreams were already colored by the imagery and mythology of the Christmas season.  At another time or place, Knibb suggests, these same people would be seeing ghosts.

If you are one of the people who have seen Santa Claus -- or any other weird, unexplainable occurrence, for that matter -- you should report it on Stephen Wagner's site, Paranormal Phenomena, wherein you will find a link to the original Santa Sightings report, as well as sightings of Christmas Angels, Christmas Ghosts, and a paranormal explanation for the Star of Bethlehem.  As for me, I'm just going to go wrap a few last presents, because I think the likelihood of Santa showing up in the flesh for someone like me is slim to none.  He knows if you've been bad or good, after all, and I suspect that frank disbelief would fall clearly into the "bad" column.

1 comment:

  1. I saw Santa last week. He was in mufti but I could tell. He was at the mall, looking into a store window. I think I will submit a report.

    Lots of people saw things in the 60s that were probably not real, but if Sandra's 51 now she was less than 10 then, so she probably wasn't high.

    I wonder whether some Santa sightings might be explained by the thousands of people who disguise themselves as Santa this time of year. Nah, probably not.