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With the holiday season reaching a fervor, one Weber State University professor is helping to keep it in check. On Tuesday afternoon, L. Kay Gillespie, a retired WSU professor, gave his annual “Anti-Claus” lecture. The near-infamous lecture discusses the myths, realities and historical background of Santa Claus as a uniquely American character.
“It’s just sort of the idea as a sociologist and as a university professor and a criminologist too, just getting people to think,” Gillespie said. “And this is one way to get them to think, by sort of challenging some of the things that they have looked at but not really thought about.”
Gillespie said he’s been giving the annual lecture for more than 40 years now. With a lot of humor, the lecture details how impractical and even detrimental the belief in Santa Claus can be.
For example, discussing scientific evidence and reason, there is no known species of reindeer that can fly, and if Santa were to deliver his present payload all in one night, Santa’s sleigh would weigh more than 300,000 tons and be moving at 650 miles per second. This speed and mass would create air resistance and similar circumstances to a space shuttle re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, bursting all the reindeer into flames almost instantaneously.
Santa Claus would also have an impressive rap sheet by any standards, including home invasion, accepting bribes in the form of cookies and milk, voyeurism in seeing children when they’re sleeping and knowing when they’re awake, and failing to obtain any Federal Aviation Administration clearance.
But Gillespie doesn’t just take aim at the scientific impossibility of Santa Claus. He explained the historical background of Santa Claus and his creation, modeled after the Norse god Thor. Further, Gillespie said, when children are led to believe in Santa Claus, it’s not presented as fantasy and make-believe; Santa Claus is presented to children as reality, a real and magical person, which can lead to distrust and disappointment when children learn the truth.
Gillespie said he isn’t trying to suck all the fun and magic out of Christmas.
“I’m not trying to convert anybody or change any ideas,” he said. “I’m just trying to get people to examine what the social myths are and how relevant they are.”
Asking people to examine this particular dearly held social myth hasn’t made him the most popular man on the planet, and Gillespie said he has taken a lot of flak over it. He said he’s had various notes and messages slipped under his office door, and once, after attending a Utah Jazz basketball game, he found a note attached to his car antenna that read “Don’t mess with Santa,” signed by “The Elves.”
Rob Reynolds, department chair of sociology and anthropology, had some of his students attend the lecture as part of his social problems class.
“I felt that it would go well with the social problems class,” Reynolds said. “There are a variety of different topics that we talked about that I thought you could make some associations to.”
Kathi Poggi, a WSU nursing student, attended the lecture as part of Reynolds’ class, and said she agreed with a lot of Gillespie’s points.
“I believe in the way he thinks about it,” she said. “Christmas did represent the birth of Christ, and I don’t necessarily believe that Santa Claus is Satan, however, but I believe that Christmas is way too commercialized and society buys into the whole concept of it.”
Poggi said she liked the fact that Gillespie gave people an option when it comes to celebrating Christmas.
“He has is views, but I also appreciated how he says, ‘You know, if you want to believe in Santa Claus or if you want to celebrate Santa Claus as a fantasy figure, go ahead — just do it at a different day of the month, you know. Leave Christmas alone.’ And I think that’s great.”