Posted by: justawriter | December 22, 2009

Far Afield – Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
This week I am outsourcing my column to a classic of newspaper writing. In 1897, Francis Church, a former war correspondent and an editor of the New York Sun responded to a Christmas query. The question and his answer appear below.
Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.
Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Church was a bachelor in his 50s when he wrote that editorial. He married soon after it came out but he never had any children. Yet this man wrote with such feeling and compassion for an 8-year-old’s feelings that he created, in the space of a few hundred words, literature. His timeless words have been repeated every holiday season for the last 112 years and I am happy and proud to bring them to you again.
Virginia was Virginia O’Hanlon, who grew up to graduate from college and then go on to get a master’s degree and a doctorate. She worked in the New York Public School System until 1959. She received mail throughout her life about the editorial and always included a copy of the editorial in her responses. She said Church’s words had shaped her life in a positive direction.
You never know when a small act of kindness or a few words of encouragement will take root and grow. A heartfelt response to a child’s request made Francis Church’s words into something that will live as long as there is a Christmas.
As you hurry through the hustle and bustle of the Christmas holidays, pause for a moment to think of the people around you and how you effect their lives. You never know when a smile, kind word or small act will be returned to you a hundredfold. We can each be the blessings of the season.



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