Many years ago, Mum gave me a Christmas card. You might be thinking that this was not an unusual thing for a mother to do, give her 11 year old daughter a Christmas card. But this was a special card.
You see this was our first Christmas since Mum and Dad had separated. We’d moved to Melbourne 6 months before, were living in a small flat which backed onto a cold and windswept beach and had struggled to settle. Our new school was fraught with assessments on things I had never been judged on before (my prior record of scholarly success undermined by my ‘chicken scratchings’ hand-writing) and for the first time in my life, I was teased mercilessly by the ‘in’ crowd and found it hard to make friends.
So Christmas rolled around. For several years I had known ‘the truth’ about Santa and yet the season had still been magical – the lights, the tree, the carols. But in 1980, the magic was missing for me.
And then I read about 8 year old Virginia O’Hanlon, a little girl whose friends had tested her belief in Santa and who wrote to New York’s Sun newspaper in 1871 to ask for the truth: Is there really a Santa Claus? The unsigned response (later attributed to newsman Francis Pharcellus Church) was printed on 21st September that year and it was these words that I found when I opened my Christmas card over a century later…
The answer to Virginia
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 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.
And while it didn’t make me believe in Santa Claus again, I still have this card 33 years later. So perhaps Church was right – Santa Claus does live forever, albeit in the child-like heart of a 44 year old.
So for you my marvellous Gidday-ers, I wish each of you a little sprinkling of child-like hope and wonder this Christmas.