Posted 12/22/15 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
This is the time of the year when many newspapers, like the McKenzie County Farmer, publish letters to Santa written by children who believe that Santa Claus will soon be speeding to their homes to deliver just what they are asking for, for Christmas. Sometimes, these young boys and girls ask for toys and games. But sometimes, they ask for something that is far more serious. They ask for the safe return of a mother or father who is serving in the military. Or they ask for the return of a lost pet. Or that a loved one recover from an illness. They write these letters with the full faith that Santa Claus is indeed real and that he will answer their pleas.
But at some point in growing up, youngsters begin to doubt in the reality of Santa Claus. Maybe it’s something that they have heard from their friends or parents. And at that moment, they reach out for the truth.
Such is the case of one child’s letter published more than a century ago, that continues to tug at our heartstrings during this festive season. It was a letter from 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon of New York City who wanted to know if Santa Claus really existed.
Her father, unprepared to answer the question himself, suggested Virginia write to the editors of The (New York) Sun, which was one of the most influential newspapers in the country at that time. The child’s letter and a response from the newspaper appeared in the Sun as an editorial on Dec. 21, 1897.
The editorial was the work of newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, who had served in the Civil War, and his response to young Virginia has become one of the most reprinted editorials in the history of newspapers.
This Christmas, I would like to share these with you.
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?”
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.