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Published: Friday, 12/13/2002

The vicar who stole Christmas

English clergyman Lee Rayfield has been terribly misinformed. The vicar thinks Santa Claus and his reindeer cannot possibly deliver gifts to every good little boy and girl's house on the planet in one day.

Other adults are known to share the same misguided notion, but this guy, who should understand better than most the magical quality of the Christmas season, chose to share his cynicism with school children at a special church service.

Unlike Santa, Vicar Rayfield, an unreconstructed Grinch, didn't leave the kids with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. He reduced them to tears by demolishing the Santa they believed was about to reward them for being good. He did it by applying basic physics to the Santa story.

The jolly old elf and Prancer, Dancer, Donner, Vixen, et al, he told the astounded little ones, would burn up in the atmosphere if they zipped along at 3,000 times the speed of sound - a pace he figures is necessary to deliver gifts to 91.8 million homes. It's impossible, he proclaimed, for one man and his sleigh to deliver 378 million presents.

Oh, he of little faith.

Well, forgive us our grammar, but the laws of physics - and Vicar Rayfield - don't know from nuthin'.

Coming at or near the winter solstice, when the days begin getting longer again, Christmas, the day celebrated as the birthday of Jesus, has been a time to celebrate light and love, hope and the future.

These are things not measurable with human tools. Their imaginative attributes, as well as the more tangible Christmas presents - symbols of good will and plenitude that these days define the season - are all about faith.

One expects a man of God to have at least an inkling of all this. It was supposed to be a joke, he explained to distressed parents, who inherited the task of explaining just what the not-so-jolly old guy meant. They were not amused.

Reverend Rayfield says he is penitent about his lapse, mortified even. He says he loves Christmas. But he can never restore the faith and trust he demolished.

Of course there's a Santa. And of course he completes his rounds with amazing speed. It's mystical, it's wonderful, and United Airlines should be so good.

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