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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Kapolei Elementary School kindergarteners Naomi
Ng, left, Shay Smith, Brenden Lee, Nathan
Brown and Kassandra Sanchez.

Santa: Magic of the Myth

Believe? These Kapolei
kindergarteners and a
perennial Santa stand-in do

By Betty Shimabukuro


For Santa to carry a gift to every child in every Christian home in the 31 hours that time zones allow, he'd have to travel 650 miles per second carrying a payload of 353,430 tons. This would put reindeer, sleigh and Santa into the same danger zone as a spacecraft re-entering Earth's atmosphere and, having no insulation, they'd all burst into flames.
"In conclusion -- If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now."


"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
"He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy."


SO. Do you believe in logic? Or do you believe in magic?

Both these commentaries on the reality of Santa Claus can be found on the Internet -- which the modern-day Mr. Claus no doubt uses to keep up with trends in gift-giving and sleigh-flying.

The first comes from a humor page linked to the University College, London, web site and is credited to writers Joel Potishchman and Bruce Handy as well as Spy magazine. The second is the venerable editorial printed in the New York Sun in 1897 and available on many web sites (search for "yes Virginia").

The comments represent the cynical and the sublime in the consideration of Santa. Which camp do you fall into? We explored the issue in cyberspace and in places closer to home.


In Gayle Kwok's kindergarten class at Kapolei Elementary School, six children are pondering the question of where Santa lives. "The North Pole," they say unequivocally (they saw it on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on TV). But where is the North Pole?

"Up in space," one says.

"Not. On the ground," another argues.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
David Bell, who plays Santa at Pearlridge Mall,
strolls the mall between visits from kids. On one
such outing he danced with 14-year-old Melissa
Stewart to the delight of her sister Mikayla, 6.

It is, they all decide, either 100 miles away or three-hundred-one-million miles away (they're only up to 75 on the class counting chart).

How do you get there? "You have to have lots of gas and you have to have a sleigh that flies."

Santa lives at the North Pole with polar bears, 180 (exactly) elves, reindeers (especially Rudolph) and Ms. Santa (whose job is to make clothes for Santa and the elves). They have no children.

Santa is 1,099 years old and will never die. If your house doesn't have a chimney, he gets in by "magic powers," or perhaps "a magic key."

He'll visit you -- and this is a composite response -- "only if you be good and don't cry and don't pout and watch out and don't step in the mud."


Santa Claus is pretty much an American guy who grew out of the legend of Sinter Klass brought by Dutch settlers. Writers Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore and the artist Thomas Nast are credited with stereotyping him as a jolly, bearded fat man in red.

His roots, though, are European and Christian, drawn from the story of St. Nicholas and his generous gifts to the poor. In the Netherlands, Austria and many other nations, it is still St. Nick who brings the gifts on Christmas Eve. In England it's Father Christmas, in France Pere Noel, in Germany Weihnachtsmann or Christmas Man.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Charles Brenninkmeyer (1), tells Mom that a
real live Santa can be a bit overwhelming.

That is the official version.

In an online humor archive maintained by Rob Hartwell in West Virginia, another history of Santa is put forth.

In this one, the original Santa Claus was a Spanish-German explorer who discovered the North Pole in 1689 and established a toy-making company there. His descendants built it into a worldwide empire through a unique marketing ploy: "Each Christmas, Claus IV will ride all over the world, distributing toys to children everywhere." Flying reindeer, developed by North Pole scientists, made this possible.

(Santa wears red, by the way, because of a failed experiment in Communism.)

This history looks forward to the year 2007: "The North Pole becomes a democracy, run wholly by the elves. Christmas is no longer commercialized or exploited. Happiness is finally achieved throughout the kingdom."


His name is Dave Bell, as in Jingle, but you can call him Santa. Everyone else does.

From now until Christmas you can find him evenings at Pearlridge Uptown, and you'd be hard-pressed to prove he's not the real thing.

The hair and beard are attached to his actual flesh, for example, and the belly, well, that's real, too. It takes 16 hours of trimming and bleaching to get the hair just right in time for Christmas season, he says.

He's been doing the Santa thing since 1986, when his commander at Fort Shafter asked him to dress the part and stand at the front gate. "All those federal workers who drove in with their frowning faces to come to work, they saw me, and they were all smiling."

It was his first encounter with the wonder of Santa, and he was hooked.

"It's the kids," he says, when asked about the best part of the job. "It's the magic of being able to just talk to the kids and hear the innocence. They're so honest about everything. One kid even said, 'Santa, you have stinky breath.' " (Santa brushes his teeth before every shift and pops breath mints, so this comment remains a mystery.)

Over the years, Bell has been Santa in many situations, the last two years at Pearlridge. He has answers to many of the most frequently asked questions about the Santa mystique.

How does Santa get in the house when there's no chimney? "Normally, mommies or daddies, when they send the child's letter, they'll give me instructions. Like, sometimes Santa will need special access to the military bases. I tell the kids, 'You make sure your Christmas tree lights are on, so I know it's your house.' "

How does Santa know which kids are good? "Every child is good, that's all there is to it. However, there are some children who could be a little gooder."

Last year, he visited a school in Kalihi where the children's needs stood in sharp contrast to the bounty at the mall. It's a visit that still brings tears to his eyes.

One child asked only for a pair of slippers, another -- "she just asked for a mommy."

And then, "I had two kids ask me for a house. I said, 'OK, we'll get you a Barbie house,' and they said, 'No, we need a real house.' " Turns out their parents had lost their jobs and they were homeless.

Some things are beyond even Santa's reach. "All I could do was just wish them well."


So. Do you believe in logic? Or do you believe in magic?

Four days before Christmas, we pick magic.

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