STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on what a holiday tradition means to kids and to adults.
ALLISON AUBREY: Lots of young children have evidence that Santa is real. Take kindergartener Ryan Lotte(ph) who took a carriage ride with Santa at a Virginia shopping center last week.
RYAN LOTTE: Sometimes kids just imagine them. The real Santa is not imaginary.
AUBREY: How do you know?
LOTTE: Unidentified Man: (As Santa Claus) Hello, over there. Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.
AUBREY: And Santa has answers for older kids who asked skeptical questions such as how can you make it to so many houses in one night?
INSKEEP: (As Santa Claus) Well, it's every difficult, sometimes. You have to be very fast, okay? And that reminds me, okay? If you happen to wake up when I'm delivering the toys, I can't stop to talk, okay?
SUE HARMON: AUBREY With the reigns in her hands, Santa's carriage driver, Sue Harmon(ph), gets a birds eye view of the scene. She sees the effect that Santa has on impatient shoppers.
HARMON: We're riding around the parking lot and people are in a hurry to get to different places and cutting the horses off left and right and not caring and then they see it's Santa and they're like, hey Santa, you know? And all of a sudden they're friendly in Christmas spirit.
AUBREY: Angie Belfield-Reese(ph) has brought her daughter of a ride. Being Christian, she says, the origin of Christmas is, of course, Jesus. So she said she understands the criticism of the consumerism associated with Santa. But, she says, for her family, Santa is part of the fun, part of the magic that many adults lose.
ANGIE BELFIELD: They forget that they can be a child, too, sometimes.
AUBREY: Do you feel it? Does it feel real to you?
BELFIELD: Oh, yeah, definitely. I love Christmas. And now that I have a 4-year-old, it makes it even better.
AUBREY: Lots of parents say they feel the magic or spirit. Psychologist Ellen Winner of Boston College says even adults have a need or desire for escape.
ELLEN WINNER: To get out of ourselves, to get transported out of our lives. I mean, reality is certainly filled with troubles and stresses. And so it's nice to - it's like a day dream, this kind of magical thinking about Santa Claus.
AUBREY: Psychologist Michael Shermer who teaches at Claremont Graduate University has evaluated how human emotions impact financial markets. Shermer says that Santa Rally, to the extent that it really happens, may just be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
MICHAEL SHERMER: She started talking about in business this Santa effect and all of a sudden somebody does a news story about it and then that causes people to pay more attention to it, and then maybe they buy a little bit more and that actually starts to drive it forward.
AUBREY: Positive emotions, in general, tend to build on each other this time of year, says Barbara Frederickson. She's a psychologist at the University of North Carolina.
BARBARA FREDERICKSON: I think holidays can certainly heighten all emotions.
AUBREY: So if donut and coffee may always be good, but if you're happy they're even better.
FREDERICKSON: There's sort of an upward spiral you can create because by being more open and being more joyful, more things that could cause you to feel joy as sort of seeing self-evident.
AUBREY: Psychologist Jacqueline Woolley at the University of Texas at Austin says the tradition is certainly resilient.
JACQUELINE WOOLLEY: You know, we see childhood as a time of innocence and as a time where it's possible to believe in everything and where, you know, you can be what you want and the other world is a pretty magical place then. And I think we kind of want to give that to our children almost like a gift. You know, we want to give them a time where they can believe that anything is possible.
AUBREY: But childhood is short-lived as are the holidays. Christmas-lover Angie Belfield-Reese who's just finished the Santa ride with her daughter, that she knows what's coming.
BELFIED: Any holiday, any special occasion, any excitement, it seems to build, build, build, and then when it's all over, it's kind of sad to see it go.
AUBREY: Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.
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