Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

You've probably never heard of Francis Pharcellus Church. He was a writer for the New York Sun, a newspaper he founded with his brother after the American Civil War. While a third brother would become famous for witnessing and filing the first reports of the "Gunfight at the OK Corral", Francis stuck to covering wars, corruption and big city crime. A man noted for his cynicism, he openly admitted that he'd seen too much inhumanity to ever put any faith in mankind.

He never married, never had children and after a long day at his editor's desk in late 1897, his brother asked him to respond to one last letter for the morning edition. What Church wrote in the hours that followed remains, more than a century later, the most reprinted editorial of all time. But Church never took credit for it and its authorship was not revealed until after his death.

Yet in his short 400 word response, he captured the essence of Christmas and the meaning of this season. Church's editorial is reprinted below, followed by a link to the radio archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and an interview conducted 66 years later with the author of the letter he was answering.

May they lighten your heart and inspire you with the best of the season.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun: “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”

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical 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 external 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 you 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 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, 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 lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


DMc said...

Just the tonic, Jim. Merry Christmas to you.

wcdixon said...

Nice one, Jim. Happy Xmas.

Good Dog said...

Happy Christmas, Jim. Best wishes for the New Year

Kelly J. Compeau said...

I'm glad you dug that one up, Jim. I was thinking about that letter earlier today, actually. It was so beautifully written.