In 1897, 8 year old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun. Newsman Francis Pharcellus Church on September 21st, provided an unsigned response in what is considered one of the greatest editorials in American journalism history.
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.
The response was so poignant that it has continued to have meaning one hundred and eighteen years later.
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.
Two very important lines remain with me each and every time I read this response:
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.
The question deep down was not the existence of Santa, but the goodness that he stands for. Santa stands for faith and compassion for mankind. Media and commercialism will manifest Santa into a larger than life being, but deep down he is billions of microscopic heartbeats inside each of us that guide us to goodness and provide the path to a life of righteousness. In that respect, Santa is very real.
The key thing we must remember is that Santa is a “symbol” of innocence and virtue. At the heart of it, he is a symbol. The moment he goes from a reality to a fantasy is different for each of us, but his importance in our lives remain.
Much like Santa, the Confederate flag is a symbol. To some it is a reminder of a significant historic period in America’s growth and to others, it is a reminder of racism, slavery and hatred. The question of whether the flag remains visible over government buildings will be decided by the dominant opinion. It won’t change key tragic events in our past. Lives will not come back from the dead, racism won’t fade away and the ignorance that blinds equality will remain.
Should George Washington be removed from the $1.00 bill and nation’s capital be renamed because he owned slaves?
Should Robert E. Lee street signs be abolished because he defended something he believed in?
These questions can go on for hours. Where does one draw the line?
I don’t know the answer. I do know that we are exhausting energy on things that should not matter in our lives and we should be putting it on the things that truly do.
My symbols are compassion, love, family, generosity, hope and meaning.