More than a century ago, a little girl asked a big question of a great newspaper.
In a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, asked: “Is there a Santa Claus?”
Her friends had been telling here there was no Santa Claus, but her father advised her to ask the editors of The Sun. Her father said: “If you see it in The Sun. It’s so.”
We can certainly appreciate the faith her father had in newspapers. It was a time when newspapers were run by community leaders, who had the faith of their readers when it came to messages of truth and of the heart.
Perhaps Mr. O’Hanlon knew that the editors of The Sun would find a way to tell Virginia the truth. And they did. The unsigned editorial by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church came to be one of the most reprinted newspaper editorials of all time.
According to the Newseum.org, the premier news museum in the U.S., the editorial has been reprinted in “dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.”
The staying power of the editorial as a poignant piece of journalism reflects the staying power of the ideas contained within. It’s a message of hope and faith appropriate for the season and year round.
Church told Virginia her “friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.”
If those words rang true in 1897, they may ring more true today. Unless we make it different by making a difference. Skepticism may be a virtue in today’s skeptical age, but it also crowds out hope if we let it.
Hope is the opposite of skepticism. We can see hope all around us if we look hard enough.
It lies in the hundreds of volunteers who in the cold of winter ring the bell for the Salvation Army. Hope lies with the hundreds of volunteers who support and work for the BackPack Food program, which distributes meals for hungry children in their weekend backpacks. It lies in the members of law enforcement community who give their time on a Saturday morning to go Christmas shopping with a child or family in need.
Hope exists in the hundreds of teachers every day who see a child needs extra help and they get that help for them, knowing, one day it will have made all the difference. Hope exists in the places where professionals work to heal to the mentally ill, the chemically dependent and all those who suffer illness. Hope exists in the places of worship where ministers work to restore faith.
Mr. Church told Virginia her friends “do not believe except they see.” It’s a premise that suggests all good must be proven with empirical evidence. It’s also a premise that would not get us far should we adopt it.
How can we prove a kind smile, a comforting word and wish of Merry Christmas does good? The answer cannot be found in a survey or an academic journal. Some truths are universally understood.
Experiencing an act of kindness leaves even the most cynical among us with a feeling of gratefulness. It’s a truth that can’t be seen, but we know it is there. It’s a Santa Claus belief.
So Church concluded: “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.
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.”
And, we would add, make glad the heart of childhood that still exists in grownups.