By: Dennis Bates
An eight-year-old girl named Virginia sent a letter to a New York City newspaper shortly before the turn of the 20th Century. She asked a simple question: “Please tell me the truth; is there a Sana Claus?” The unsigned editorial that followed has become one of the most quoted and reprinted editorials of all time. It has been used in movies, several of which have become film classics on their own terms, and it has been translated into dozens of foreign languages.
No one can argue that its sentiments are heartfelt and that its writing is expertly crafted even by today’s standards. It would hard to dispute the fact that in some ways the world would be a better place if more people saw it as the editorial writer sees it.
“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see….Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world….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.”
Of course the most famous lines follow:
“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….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.”
The trouble I have with Santa Claus is he’s a lie, not a myth, but a lie; not fiction, but untruth, and there is a difference. In spite of the sentiments and the fine writing in the portions from the now famous response, they explicitly invoke hints of the eternal while implicitly suggesting that the temporal is in complete control.
The newsman who wrote this response suggests that somehow we will extinguish or destroy the eternal if we don’t believe in Santa Claus and those unseen qualities he attributes to him. If Christmas were the season to celebrate Santa Claus, if it were Clausmas or Santamas we celebrate (and perhaps for far too many, it is), then his observations would be profound.
But to say that Santa Claus exists and the love and generosity he evokes gives life its highest beauty and joy, to pile on saying that the jolly red faced fat man in the funny suit somehow represents the eternal and that there is nothing else that is real and abiding…I’m sorry, that’s just a lie that needs to be set straight.
This is the Christmas season, which is the season that celebrates the coming of the Christ, as in Christmas. That is short for Christ’s Mass, a celebration of the coming of eternity to man. Belief in Santa Claus and his love, no matter how sweetly it is described is NOT the only thing in the world that is real and abiding. Belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who has come to man is the only thing that is real and abiding.
I’m not sure that the editorial writer meant to suggest anything to the contrary, but I do know that it appears the world has taken it that way. I used to worry sometimes that teaching children about Santa Claus was more than teaching them a harmless, childhood story. We all remember how smart we felt we were when we found out the truth about Santa Claus. A lot of us learned from a sister, a brother or a good friend, and somehow after we acquired that bit of “adult” knowledge we never believed anything quite as readily again.
My concern is that children will have the same reaction to the story of the Babe in the manger. After all, Santa Claus was a childhood story and once we were old enough, we learned the truth. The birth of the Christ child comes at the same time. Why isn’t it the same kind of myth, a childhood story that gives us something to build church Christmas programs around?
That’s the real trouble I have with Santa Claus. We mix him up with the Christ child and when we find out that Santa’s a myth, a worldly stand in for the Babe in the manger, he takes both himself and the Babe down at the same time, and that perpetuates the biggest lie of all.