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Writing on the Wall

Is there a Santa Claus?


The above title was that of a letter to the editor appearing in the Sept. 21, 1897 edition of The Sun of New York, written by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon.

The question inspired the famous reply, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” written by reporter Francis Pharcellus Church. Virginia’s letter, and Church’s reply, have since become part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States and Canada. Their words have been reprinted in books, on posters, talked about in movies and handed down through three generations.

In her letter to the Sun (to Virginia’s query, her father said the answer could be found “in the sun,”) the little girl wrote, “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus … please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

In his now-infamous reply, printed in his newspaper, Church wrote that her friends were wrong. “Alas!” Church wrote, “ … 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.”

Now how silly that I, a 50-something, (somewhat) level-headed grandmother, editor and all-around down-to-earth person would even try to convince anyone that there is a Santa Claus.

Rather, though, can you convince me that there isn’t?

Santa, like the Easter Bunny and ghosts on Halloween, are a fun, mystical part of a holiday. One story traces Santa back to Saint Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6, and who lived from 280-343. He was a priest and later the Bishop of Myra, in modern Turkey. The most famous story about Nicholas is when he was supposed to have climbed onto the roof of a poor man’s house and dropped three bags of gold down the chimney. These landed in the socks that were hanging by the fire to dry, explaining today’s tradition of Christmas stockings.

I have never seen Santa myself. But then again, I have never seen God, or faith, or love or trust or happiness —but I know they exist.

“Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus,” wrote Church. “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.”

Merry Christmas to all, and a very happy new year.