Family Reading Time in the Haas home has truly been inspired by Orrin & Laurie Woodward and Chris & Terri Brady. Our reading this morning was taken from "Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas" by Ace Collins. My oldest children know there is no Santa Claus but there have still been curious minds. This story is just a short part in the history of the origins of "Santa Claus".
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Sadly, in a nation where many families were poor, Santa didn't call on everyone. The fact that so many children had never received a Christmas gift led to classroom debates on the existence of the jolly man with the beard. In 1897 a little girl named Virginia O'Hanlon listened to some of her classmates who had never received gifts from Santa and began to have doubts about the reality of Santa. The third grader wrote the Sun, put the letter into an envelope, and mailed it to the editorial department. What happened next would make a newspaper history and lead to one of the most famous editorials of all time.
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?
Virginia's letter passed through several hands before it found its way to veteran editor Francis P. Church. The son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for the New York Times and had been on the staff of the New York Sun for twenty years. Like the other staff members who had been handed Virginia's letter, the editor wondered how he could answer the letter. After all, the Sun was a newspaper that proudly declared it printed nothing but the truth. As he read and reread Virginia's letter, he knew this would be his toughest assignment in his long newspaper career.
A few days later, Virginia was thrilled to find her letter and the reply on the editorial page of the daily newspaper. Church had no idea that what he wrote would become the most remembered and beloved editorial ever penned.
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 external 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 of Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you 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 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, 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 lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Virginia O'Hanlon went on to graduate from Hunter College and to earn a master's degree from Columbia. She taught in the New York City school system for forty-seven years. When she retired, the Sun was still running her letter every Christmas on its front page.