In today’s technological society, where has the generosity of time and the belief in that which cannot be seen gone? Has it all become so drear we have lost our childlike faith in those things that give us hope, beauty and joy? Have we forgotten all the blessings and freedoms we have in this great country and those who sacrifice so much to keep them?
Back in September, 1897, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon was asked by his eight-year-old daughter, Virginia, “Is there a Santa Claus?” O’Hanlon, probably as flummoxed as most parents when confronted by that question, suggested she write and ask The Sun, a prominent New York newspaper. He assured her, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
Times may have changed, but the editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, took the opportunity to transcend her simple question by reminding us Santa Claus isn’t a single being but a “state of being.” His immediate reply back, appearing on September 21, 1897, entitled “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” quickly became part of American folklore history.
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 on 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.
Mr. Church spoke of Santa Claus as love and generosity, those things which cannot be seen, but are the true testament of mankind’s capabilities and the fabric that holds humanity together. He called into question the cynics, who deny with skepticism that which mortal minds are too small to see but offer those things most important, faith and hope.
A war correspondent during the American Civil War, Church saw the loss of faith and hope during a time of great suffering. He could have taken the easy route and not answered her letter. But he chose to rise above and bring a little hope and faith back into the world.
Church’s words remind us it is not the size/cost/quantity of gifts but the gifts themselves. They are thought and time. They intimate to us that someone took a moment, long or short, to remember us. They are warmth, love, friendship, all the things we treasure most but understand least.
The gifts of our time are the destroyers of cynicism and skepticism. Their blessings are uncountable and far reaching. They are the breakers of barriers and the changers of lives.
It is to these ideals we should try to model our lives and there is no greater way to embody Church’s words than to make a gift of our time by thanking those who serve(d) and sacrifice(d) for our country. Working all hours of the day and night, through weekends and holidays, our service members public safety officers put their lives on the line.
Give back to them.
Invite a service member of acquaintance (often far from home) for a family meal; many don’t get an opportunity for something home cooked. Especially during the holidays, when many are unable to make it home to be with their loved ones, such an invitation can booster hope, faith and morale.
Bake a batch of cookies or cook a batch of chili and deliver it to a local fire or police station. Most public safety officers work long shifts and hectic hours. Many meals are missed because there just isn’t enough time to stop and pick something up.
Visit a veteran’s hospital. Even those who get regular visitations can always use another friendly face. Listen to their stories before they quietly fade away.
Above all, say “Thank you.” It is because of them we have law, order, peace and freedom.
Virginia, who passed away in 1971, could never have expected the response to her innocent question would become one of the most reprinted editorial to ever run in any newspaper. But without her, and editor Francis Church, there would certainly be less “beauty and joy” in the world.