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Yes, Dear Reader, There is a Santa Claus.

© John Keith 2008

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In a recent article in all the newspapers, two Canadian university professors compared modern research about children’s belief in Santa Claus to an 1896 survey undertaken in the United States. Apparently not much has changed. Then, as now, most children, from what they hear from friends or what they can see from their own observations, by age ten have stopped believing in Santa Claus, the mythical gift-giving elf, and his eight tiny reindeer. However, even though they have realized the truth, they still help keep the belief alive in their younger brothers and sisters.

In 1897, just a year after that old American study, a young girl famously wrote the following letter to the New York Sun newspaper.

DEAR EDITOR: 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 O'Hanlon
115 West Ninety-Fifth Street

The little girl’s letter resulted in the most famous newspaper editorial ever written. Penned by Francis P. Church, it was reprinted in the New York Sun every Christmas until the newpaper closed in 1947, and it has been reprinted world-wide countless more times.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except what 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 eternal 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 they 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 may 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, 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.

This famous editorial and the newspaper stories about the research into children’s belief in Santa Claus, reminds me of a story my mother, Olga, told me again recently. It is one of those family stories which, often repeated, builds and sustains a family history, a family mythology.

When she was a little girl, my mother, like Virginia, wasn’t at all sure about Santa Claus. She grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and her parents and her large family lived in the Bay View neighbourhood in the shadow of the Algoma Steel refinery, where her father, my grandfather, worked. My mother would tell me how sometimes at night, from a second story window, she could see the sky light up a brilliant, hellish red when slag waste from Algoma’s smelters was poured out of rail cars onto the desolate slag heaps behind the refinery. My mother’s family had a hard life. They were a big family, and my grandmother was often ill. It was the time of the Great Depression.

Mom told me the story of a time when she was eight years old. Her older brother Billy was helping her get ready for school and helping her to get on her long, brown school stockings, when she felt something in the toe of one of the socks. She reached in and took it out, and it was a big penny, the old fashioned kind, much bigger, and that many years ago, so much more valuable than the pennies we have now.

“Who could have put a penny in my stocking?” the little girl wondered. “It must have been Santa Claus,” said her older brother. “No”, said the little sister, “Santa Claus doesn’t know me.” “Oh yes he does”, says the older brother, “I met him the other day walking on Slag Road, and he was asking about you!”

Well, that was enough to confirm my mother’s belief in Santa Claus, that and the old round coin in her little hand. And the story helps confirm my own belief, and I hope yours too, in the old gift-bearing elf.

Is there a Santa Claus? Yes, dear reader, there is. And he can be found in the most unexpected places.

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