“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” goes the famous line in the Sun editorial of 1897, written by Francis P. Church, who goes on to give an answer that is brilliant in its simplicity. And all in a days work, the story goes.
Now I wish that I could say I received a question in the year 2012 from an 8-year old asking, “Is there really a Santa Claus?” But I would be lying. First, this column hasn’t been going for long enough to be receiving those questions. Second, in 2012 the question would likely be Googled, not asked to a columnist. So, the issue becomes a bit more complex and challenging. I’m going to tackle it by first asking a couple of questions.
Questions like, what is Virginia’s question really asking? What prompted Virginia’s letter to the Sun? One rendition goes something like this. It was Virginia’s birthday and she had received some gifts. Instead of enjoying her presents, she panicked, wondering if she was going to get any more gifts for Christmas. Some of her classmates were telling her that Santa Claus was a myth, which to an 8 year old could mean –“what, no presents?” So, Virginia decided to ask her father, who deferred the question to the Sun, saying, “If you see it in the Sun, its so.” Not a great parenting strategy, in my opinion, but it satisfied Virginia for the moment.
So, was Virginia really curious about whether or not Santa existed? Did she just want to know whether she was going to get cool stuff for Christmas? Or was she asking if there’s a magical way in which all of our wishes can get fulfilled? In the realm of magical wish fulfillment, I can see a couple of child psychologists calling the Sun’s answer, “dangerous stuff for young minds.” Would this create the idea that wishes can be fulfilled in magical ways by mystical creatures that travel in the middle of the night via uncanny means approaching the speed of light? You can see where a psychologist might not support the Sun’s response, and answer instead, “ No Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Its just a story made up by your parents to make you behave. And parents, if you need to make up a story to discipline your kids, perhaps you should enroll in some parenting classes instead.” End of story, and Virginia’s innocence lands on the floor next to the Christmas tree with a resounding crash.
Now, perhaps it is true that in the world of iPhones and Google, no child can really be as innocent as Virginia, and certainly no child is likely to be traumatized by finding out that Santa doesn’t really exist – at least not in the flesh and blood kind of way. So, is the question even relevant today? My answer to that is, yes, a thousand times, yes. As we find ourselves grappling with the dark side of human nature in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, adults and children alike want to know the answer to Virginia’s real question – is there a reason to believe in the giving spirit, in the spirit of love and generosity? As we struggle with the reality that many children in our communities still live in poverty, and many parents continue to be unemployed or underemployed, yes, the question is more relevant than ever before.
So, is there a Santa Claus? Or perhaps a better question for today would be, “who is the Santa Claus?” If Robbie Parker, the father of a Sandy Hook victim, with love and generosity in his heart, can challenge us to be compassionate toward all the suffering families, including the family of Adam Lanza, then is he the Santa Claus? Is Mr. Macy the Santa Claus for donating a million dollars in response to Santa mail from a million children? Is Jack Fagin, a Rotarian from Saline, who matches donations every year from other Rotarians to have children enjoy a Christmas shopping trip at Meijer, the Santa Claus? Is Mr. Meijer, who donated a $1000 toward the Fagin challenge this year, a Santa Claus? Are the Saline Area firefighters, paramedics, and friends who have over 800 toys ready for delivery to local families, the Santa Claus?
Folks, I’ll leave it for you to decide. As for me, the correct answer is (e), all of the above. As long as there are Jack Fagins and Saline firefighters, and Mr. Meijers and Mr. Macys out there, I can answer truthfully, as did the editor of the Sun, over a hundred years ago, “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.”