When I was growing up, we always had our family’s Christmas on December 23rd. We had other family obligations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so my mother always put out the fine china and silverware and made a really nice dinner that we ate by candlelight on the twenty-third. It was just my parents, my sister, and myself. We would exchange gifts with each other, and my sister and I knew that Santa Claus would bring the bulk of our gifts after we went to sleep on Christmas Eve. One of our traditions was that before dinner my sister or I read aloud Luke 2:1-20 (ironically, I always hear these verses in Linus’s voice from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”). We then ate our meal and after we finished , we opened presents. After we finished with presents, my dad usually went and watched TV, and my mother took a book from our bookshelves that contained Christmas traditions. She read us “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and then she always read us the letters that have become known as “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.”
In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897. The response was written by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church and has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial. It has appeared in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps. As I read the letter today, it makes me think that what Church said about people in 1897 is still true today.
DEAR EDITOR: 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. 115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
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.
As an adult, this letter hits very differently than it did when I was a child. I think the childlike belief I once had of Santa Claus’s existence imprinted on me a desire for open mindedness and curiosity. I may not believe in Santa Claus anymore, but I still believe in the essence of this letter. Maybe I still have a childlike belief in faith, fancy, poetry, love, and romance. I still hope that one day I will find love and romance, but even if I don’t, I still know it exists. Love, like Santa Claus, will continue to make glad our hearts, not only during the Christmas season, but all year long.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I hope all of you remember to have faith in humanity’s goodness. Yes, there are those with no good intentions, but I believe that most of us are good at heart. So, have a very Merry Christmas!