Christmas isn’t about mistletoe, roasting chestnuts, or some fat guy sliding down the chimney. It’s more like “Peace on earth; goodwill toward man.” It’s the birth of Christ.
Yet it’s not appropriate to say Merry Christmas because you might offend someone, so it’s best to say “Happy Holidays.” It’s not kosher to display a nativity scene in public anymore. Someone may be offended, so it’s best not to display one at all. And it’s surely not right to mention the name Jesus because somebody might not like it.
Well, we put up Christmas lights every year and as I was putting them up that phrase “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” kept coming to mind. I’ve heard the phrase many times, but never actually read the article that accompanied it. The thought, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Christ in Christmas!” came to me after reading that article.
“Is there a Santa Claus?” was the title of that editorial appearing in the Sept. 21, 1897, edition of a New York newspaper called The Sun. The editorial, which included the famous reply, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” has become part of popular Christmas folklore.
That fall, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon was asked by his 8-year-old daughter, Virginia, if Santa Claus really existed. She began to doubt he did because her friends had told her he didn’t exist. Philip suggested she write The Sun, assuring her, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” While he may have been trying to pass the buck, the good doctor unwittingly gave Francis Pharcellus Church, one of the paper’s editors, an opportunity to rise above the question and address a philosophical one. (For more than a century the piece remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language)
Virginia’s note to the editor said:
“Dear Editor. I am eight 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 – 115 West 95th Street.”
In reply to Virginia’s question, Francis Church wrote:
“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical 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 eternal 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 they 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 may 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, fancy, 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 he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
One can’t see the wind, but it’s real. Yet, only small minds can conceive what’s seen. How dry the world would be without childlike faith. Ah … yes, Virginia, Christ exists. He lives forever more in our hearts and minds. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now. Oh … Virginia, there is a Christ in Christmas. The skepticism of an age can never tarnish that.
Greg Allen’s column, Thinkin’ Out Loud, has been published bimonthly since 2009. He’s an author, nationally syndicated columnist and the founder of Builder of the Spirit in Jamestown, Ind., a nonprofit organization aiding the poor. He can be reached at www.builderofthespirit.org