- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

Don't mess with Santa. In the minds of those who await his annual visit, the good Mr. Claus remains both a social institution and benevolent icon.
Just ask the Rev. Lee Rayfield, a British vicar who waggishly told mothers and young children Monday that Santa and his reindeer would burn up during their re-entry to Earth's atmosphere on Christmas Eve.
Santa would be incinerated, the clergyman announced during a caroling service near London. Needless to say, there was shock in the aftermath and the moment became a news story within hours.
"Vicar tells children Santa is dead," the BBC declared, pairing their story with an official interview with Santa Claus.
"I assumed the military satellites of NORAD tracking my Christmas Eve route would be proof enough for anyone," Mr. Claus said. "If I had known a vicar was going to try to kill me off with notepad, I would have put my face around a bit more."
The priest in question had based his message on a tongue-in-cheek analysis of Santa Claus' flight that appeared in the now-defunct humor magazine Spy a dozen years ago.
"A 250-pound Santa would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force," the 1990 Spy account said. "In conclusion: If Santa ever did deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now."
Thanks to persistent recycling on the Internet, the analysis which includes official-sounding information about atmospheric temperatures and flight principles appears every Christmas somewhere in print, broadcast or, occasionally, sermon.
Mr. Rayfield went before the British press yesterday and apologized to "devastated" and "shattered" children, and their annoyed parents.
"I am mortified and appreciate that I have put some parents in a difficult position, with a lot of explaining to do," Mr. Rayfield told reporters. "I love Christmas."
One British TV host called the incident "every parent's nightmare," adding that she told her own son, "Just because the vicar doesn't believe in Father Christmas, it does not mean that he can't."
The hubbub over this one small moment is evidence of ingrained Santa sensibilities, whether he is seen as happy memory, stark reality or once-a-year fixture down at the mall.
Just yesterday, Canadian pediatricians announced that "believing in Santa can be good for your well-being," after studying some 45 children hospitalized with serious illnesses.
"Saint Nick represents a positive life force," Dr. Claude Cyr said in the new issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Santa also provides food for thought.
Political pollster John Zogby, for example, saw fit last year to survey Americans about Santa's life beyond jolly old elf. A quarter of them said he was a motivational speaker, 19 percent said he was a manufacturer, 15 percent said a family court judge, 10 percent veterinarian and 10 percent college professor.
Politically speaking, the poll found that 26 percent said Santa was a Democrat, 15 thought he was Republican, 43 percent chose independent and 16 percent envisioned Santa as a "green," or maybe even a socialist.
Most thought Santa drove a pickup or an sport utility vehicle, wore jeans and a flannel shirt and preferred "easy listening" music.
Folks can get a little territorial about Santa Claus. Pravda, the Russian newspaper, recently reported, "Finnish Santa Claus snubs Russian Father Christmas." Nordic organizers of the 39th annual gathering of international Santa Clauses forgot to invite their Russian counterpart.
"It's a great shame my colleagues ignored Russian Father Christmas," the spurned Santa said from his home in Volgograd. "But I don't think this is any reason to be bitter, because my main task is to make children happy."

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