Posted by: Ticktock | December 15, 2009

Chicago and the Flying Reindeer Question

I just returned home from the Second City 50th anniversary event in Chicago.  I wish I could say that I am one of the many esteemed alumni celebrities, such as Jim Belushi, Fred Willard, and Stephen Colbert, but alas, I am merely a drama teacher who has been inspired by their legacy.

Chicago skeptics – be sure to check out the Second City e.t.c. show “Studs Terkel’s Not Working” because there’s a fantastic Minchin-style skeptic-friendly song performed by Tom Flanigan, in which he rants about meeting a sexy girl at the bar who is obsessed with astrology. Well done!

Another skeptical surprise came at the Neo-Futurist’s best-of-the-year performance. If you’re ever visiting Chicago, do yourself a favor and see the ongoing Neo-Futurist review “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind”. It’s a unique form of personal storytelling, where 6-10 actors perform an ever-evolving list of 30 original “plays” in 60 minutes. It’s too hard to explain succinctly, but I’m always emotionally touched many of their plays.

One scene in particular that impressed me was by Phil Ridarelli. He was on stage flying a kite, held aloft by an actor in the aisle. Next to him was another actor, portraying his son, also flying a kite. The scene was a dialogue between them about death, but the twist was that, as an atheist, he didn’t have an easy answer for his son. I had a chance to speak to Phil after the show, and he admitted that he was also anxious about dealing with the Santa question. Which reminded me…

Sasha recently asked me whether reindeer could fly. The first time she asked me, I was taken off guard and said, “Well, some people believe that Santa’s reindeer can fly.”  I wasn’t really happy with that answer and hoped she would ask again. The next time she asked, I was prepared and quickly shot back with, “Of course not! Reindeer are (large) mammals. Do you also think that there are really small fairy girls that can fly around on tiny wings?!”

Lacking the courage to completely demolish Santa and fairies in one swoop, I continued, “Clearly Santa’s reindeer use some kind of magic pixie dust to fly. Right?” She smiled and walked away happy.

Yikes. Skeptic Fail! But you know what, I don’t even care. My daughter is asking the right questions, and I’m being evasive about the answers to keep the fires of her imagination stoked. She’s clever enough to see through my well-intentioned deception, and she’s also creative enough to play along anyway. Because the Santa myth is no different than a play about a man who comes down our non-existent chimney to deliver presents, and the actors in this play are me and the girls. In my opinion, that play is no longer fun when one of the actors rips off his costume and storms off-stage before the final curtain closes.

It’s a difficult challenge for skeptics. Any of you struggling with your own child’s reindeer questions? I’d love to hear how you’re dealing with it.



  1. I fumbled this at first but now I usually turn it around on them. “What do you think? Can Santa’s reindeer fly?” They tell me what they were really thinking and it wasn’t always what I expected. Early on they just wanted me to confirm the myth for them and if I tried to disrupt it with cold, hard facts they ignored me anyway. Now, they are older and their answers are more thoughtful as they begin to really think it through.

  2. Being a mammal doesn’t stop one flying, bats do it all the time; although personally I’m trying to give up flying as bad for the environment.

    I’m guessing that many of the reindeer we see in the UK have flown here. Although there is a herd in the Cairngorms which supplies reindeer for some festive events.

    You can just tell my son is in trouble when he gets to asking these sorts of questions 😉

  3. I did say “large mammal”, actually. But, I did have that sudden tingle in the back of my neck that someone would correct me as I was driving yesterday.


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