Ever since first hearing about the famous little Virginia and her letter in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun, it’s become a part of my annual holiday heart string-pulling. I cling to it more closely this year, when my 9 year-old daughter is at the age where she questions the veracity of Jolly Old Saint Nick. It’s hard in this day and age to keep that particular bit of magic alive, in a time when commercials are touting “Christmas for less!” and blatantly showing parents relieved to get presents for their children at discount prices. “Why do you have to go shopping?” she asks smugly. “How does he get to every house in one night anyway??” and “People at school say he’s not real and there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.” Telling her I still believe doesn’t seem to work as well.
I don’t blame her, school is the place most rumors are either dispelled or born. Many families have other beliefs that directly contradict the celebration of Santa. Other families don’t believe in “lying” to their children at all. There is nothing wrong with those beliefs or practices of course, but as with all things, tolerance of differences is always a nice lesson that sometimes gets forgotten. It’s hard for children to understand that because something may be fact in your family, it may be fiction in others, and vice versa. I know I never doubted until people questioned it at school. I was about the same age too.
Oddly, I don’t remember ever questioning why all the presents came from Santa and not my mom and dad, or how they had a present all ready for me on Christmas Eve when our tradition was to open one present that night. I do distinctly remember going to my mom one year and asking her if Santa was real. “What do you think?” she asked me back. I told her I thought Santa was real a long time ago, but that maybe he died and parents eventually took over doing his job for him and all the Santas in the mall and everywhere were just Santa’s helpers too. She seemed to like that description. And that was that. If you want to get technical, the story of Saint Nicholas isn’t too far from that anyway!
The magic didn’t really dissipate too much, outside of losing a teeny bit of that excitement as you walk down the stairs to see that yes, Santa did indeed come to your house as you slept. However, to this day, presents from my mom are still a surprise. We were never a ‘presents under the tree’ family. Nothing appeared until Christmas morning, when a beautiful magical stack of presents was awaiting you. That still happened after my revelation, so Christmas was and still is an exciting moment full of wonder for me.
My oldest son is about to turn 11 and I think he’s inherited a bit of my sensitivity, because he has never once questioned or asked the existence of Santa. It’s as if he doesn’t want to disappoint me by letting me in on whatever he really thinks. Even at his young age, he has seen how excited I get by the little things; how walking into Magic Kingdom makes me cry, as do certain commercials and other heartfelt moments. I don’t ever want to get to the point where hearing the bell ring in The Polar Express doesn’t make me cry. I’m tearing up just thinking about these things! He gets how I work and doesn’t want to spoil any of that.
And now of course, we have little G and we all get to experience Christmas through his eyes, which I think is a very valuable lesson for his older brother and sister. Part of what keeps the magic of Christmas alive is finding the innocence and excitement that lives in others throughout the season. Religious discussions aside, the secular side of Christmas still provides countless opportunities to learn about giving, sharing and believing in something, even if you don’t spend a dime.
So now more than ever – when the “skepticism of a skeptical age” has increased at least ten-fold since 1897, the beautiful, eloquent response to little Virginia O’Hanlon matters even more and means even more. No matter what your reason for the season, faith, belief in unseen magic, wonder and goodwill is something we can all agree upon. Mr. Francis Pharcellus Church said it more articulately than I ever could – Yes, Virginia. Yes.
“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?
“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.