Santa Claus and Quantum Mechanics
I am the quantum mechanical Santa. I am both here and not here, seen and not seen, observed and in multiple states. Before this turns into a cross product of Simon Singh’s books, a Charles Stross novel and a Springer-Verlag graduate text in mathematics, I offer up some backstory.
Thirty years ago I was asked to be the office Santa for the kids-included holiday party. My extrusion into the Santa suit was the conjunction of multiple not-states of being: I was not skinny, not yet a parent, not likely to be recognized by the office’s children, and not naughty (oh but do read on). With a quarter decade of office parties under my ever-loosening belt, I am now the owner of two full Santa suits (one for parts, and a red hat tip to David Sedaris as you cannot fathom the hygienic benefits of donning your own suit). The not-beings of Santa have inverted in my life: I’m much less not skinny, not inconspicuous, not DINKing, and not a noob Santa, terrified of what he might be asked. I’m a quasi-experienced left winger on Team Santa.
Season life in the red suit well with appearances at skating rinks (in full ice hockey coaching gear), a few trips to the coffee and bagel shops and some nursing home visits, and I have seen and heard it all. Some kids still want to believe, even when they’re pretty sure Mom and Dad are Santa, because tween-hood is terrifying. Parents want to believe because we all need opportunity created (and that’s what Quantum Santa does). I know first hand that people in New Jersey will cut off a guy in a Santa suit and give him the finger if he’s taking more than twelve femtoseconds to park. Santa gets strange looks in Shop Rite, especially when buying roasting pans (do not say they are for the ill-behaved reindeer), and I made the mistake of wearing my Santa suit with beard to the bank. You fly and learn.
I get asked a ton of really insightful, mildly challenging, college application essay worthy questions when sweating profusely under a fake beard and 20 yards of red fabric. With some rehearsal and repetition, I’ve curated a set of answers to most of the younger set’s questions. I find myself carefully doling out answers, confronted one Sunday afternoon at the Codey Arena by a gaggle of inquisitive and overly sugared up under-sixes, watching (or not) their mildly older siblings play ice hockey. Without resorting to Georg Cantor, Albert Einstein or Richard Feynman references, I had to explain my sudden and entirely out of character appearance in the bleachers of this New Jersey ice rink, knowing that the parents are listening in and will have to re-explain the incongruous later.
“Where’s your sleigh?”
I park it at the Meadowlands in the MetLife Stadium lot, because it’s about two tractor trailers long and it’s too big to park here. I leave it on the north side where there is plenty of truck parking. I take a Lyft from there to wherever I need to be.
“How long does it take you to get here?”
From the North Pole to MetLife is about 90 minutes, depending upon the jet traffic around Teterboro Airport. If they give me clearance to make the turn and land it’s under two hours, and then it’s about an hour in the car which I use to catch up on email and issues from the workshop.
“But where are your reindeer?”
You know they can fly, so they help me park the sleigh and then they fly down to the Turtle Back Zoo behind this rink, to visit their cousins Morris and Boris. You don’t know Morris and Boris? They’re the practice squad reindeer, they didn’t make the first team but they help out with sleigh pulling practices once we start in October. And the zoo has really, really good food so the reindeer get a snack. Donner is kind of a sloppy eater though so we have to brush him off before going back to the North Pole.
“What happens if I stay up to see you on Christmas Eve?”
Santa uses quantum mechanics to cover the whole earth on Christmas Eve. I’m there and I’m not there, I’m everywhere but I’m really nowhere. If you try to see me, you’ll collapse the quantum wave and you won’t find me. It’s equal parts Heisenberg and Feynman. It is core to the the whole Santa process; if you’re watching out for me then I’m going to fly past your house and come back later. You can’t see me, but you can tell I’ve been there since the cookies are gone and the gifts are there. It’s a fair trade.
“How do you know to come back?”
I use an iPad.
“Santa has an iPad?”
We used to bring an elf or two along to keep paper notes on which houses were on the revisit list, but the elves wanted to stop at McDonalds every 50,000 houses and then it was a bathroom stop every hour, so the iPad is really simpler and faster.
“You’re not the real Santa!”
Of course not. You can’t see the real Santa, remember? I’m part of his advance team, scouting out the neighborhood, making sure Christmas goes smoothly for everyone.
An hour later, I’m chatting with some familiar parents and one of the four year olds hands me a rather remarkable drawing. I look thinner and taller, and have considered hiring him for my real work media team. I’ve made someone else believe, even if it’s for another year.
Long after those kids see the truths through the costume, I hope they remember that the Meadowlands is a fair cover story for just about anything, that Santa is about creating hope and joy, and that anything can fly if you push it hard enough. Including your ability to sell a five hundred year old story while wearing an acrylic carpet remnant in the middle of New Jersey.