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More than 120 years of smiles

Sometimes, we just need a smile.

I get one this time of year when talking to my 6-year-old daughter about Santa Claus.

A child wrapped in the wonder of the world opening up to her through her budding ability to read, she clings mightily to the magic of Christmas. She talks about Santa, elves and reindeer in excited tones as she anxiously awaits the big day this week.

In a year when we could all use simpler thoughts of childhood magic, I felt it was high time to pull out a Christmas newspaper classic.

According to Newseum.org, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the following letter to the editors of the New York Post in 1897. It was quickly responded to by newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, and has become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, and one that has continued to induce smiles through the years.

Virginia’s letter:

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 Sun’s response:

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.

May you all have a safe and blessed holiday season.

Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Courier in Findlay, Ohio, The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin, Ohio, and the Review Times in Fostoria, Ohio. He can be reached at jeremyspeer@thecourier.com or jspeer@advertiser-tribune.com.

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