Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

On the Matter of Virginia and Santa

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

On the Matter of Virginia and Santa

Article excerpt

There are few similarities between 1897 and 2016 America, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 21st. The technology has changed. Social values are different. Yet something is the same. Children are children.

As this rather bitter political year comes to a close, and on this day that is both a celebration for Christians and Jews with both Christmas and Hanukkah coinciding, it is good to think back to Sept. 21, 1897, the date the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" editorial was first published in The New York Sun.

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote to the editorial page and Francis Pharcellus Church penned the reply. In 2016, he would have been more inclusive in his language about Christmas. We are still debating such thorny issues today. But the reason this editorial is timeless is that Church -- if ever there was a Dickensean last name, here it is -- got to the root of the season, the goodness of it, the goodness of people.

Writing to an 8-year-old, he was not going to get into a discussion about the physical Santa. In fact he covers that base pretty well:

"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."

The real things are found inside a child's imagination, in the heart and the soul. Church wanted Virginia to believe in the essence of Santa Claus, not a religious stand-in, but a secular figure who represents our best instincts. There is nothing more instinctive than wanting to make another person happy. Children get it. Watch them play. Watch them laugh at the most silly of things. Watch them laugh at themselves being silly. The joy is infectious.

"(Santa) 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," Church wrote. …

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