Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The wonder of childhood

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

December 12, 2007

As Christmas approached in 1897, her friends' doubts plagued an 8-year-old girl in New York City. She wrote the following letter to The New York 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"

The letter found its way to Francis P. Church, an editorial writer who had written for the newspaper for 20 years. Church was the son of a Baptist minister and the writer of choice for controversial topics dealing with religion or theology. The editorial he wrote has become not just a classic in American journalism, but a classic testament to the power of faith and imagination:

Yes, Virginia,

there is a Santa Claus

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what 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 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.

(Francis Church died in 1906. Virginia O'Hanlon graduated from Hunter College at age 21, then received a master's degree from Columbia University. In 1912 she began a 47-year career as a teacher, then a principal, in the New York City schools. She died May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.)

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