Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Importance of Believing

My local paper, which I am fond of criticizing but this morning I adore, reprinted the following editorial this morning which was first printed in the New York Sun in 1897 in response to an 8-year-old named Virginia. She had written the paper asking if there was truly a Santa Claus:

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 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 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 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 man 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, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


dive said...

That shouldn't just be in your local paper, Robyn, it should be in all papers.
A thoroughly commendable article.

I watched Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas again yesterday, so I KNOW he exists. I SAW him!
Hoorah for Santa Claus!

Robyn said...

Dive: fascinating that in 1897 they described their society as a "skeptical age." There really is nothing new under the sun. "The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see."

dive said...

It was an exciting time, Robyn.
1897 was the end of an era of great scientific leaps forward, including that of good old Chas Darwin.
HG Wells was positing putting men on the moon, photography had replaced painting, pictures were moving in cinemas and man was about to take flight. Little wonder that people were questioning their long held beliefs.
Of course, in their rush they didn't see the world was heading pell mell toward the Great War, which would put an end to innocence once and for all.

I may be a cynical old sceptic, but I for one am glad that there are still believers about.

RICH said...

I am one who truly believes. Thanks for sharing this with us. Tonight I will read "polar Express" to my teenage kids. I have done this since they were just babies.

Gina said...


Merry Christmas, Robyn!

Sassy Sundry said...

I love that article.

The late 19th century was a skeptical age. Lots of bad hooey was going down around then.

Of course, there's hooey now, but of a different kind.

I'm still for Santa.

Old Knudsen said...

So if Santa exists then Candy man does too?

as in the guy with the hook that rips you apart, now I'm really scared.

dog walk the table manners.

Sassy Sundry said...

The Candy Man... That was a freaky film.

Of course Santa doesn't exist, but it's still a nice idea once a year for a few hours.

Rhea said...

Ahh, the Virginia column. A classic! It's very much what a hometown paper would print for Christmas.

Robyn said...

Rhea, it really is a small-town story, but for some reason, I have never read it before, beyond the line "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."