By Paul Dailing
We all know the story. A little girl with a question her parents didn't answer to her satisfaction. Suspicion brewing. "Little friends." And a letter to the editor of the New York Sun that yielded the famous line, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
Here's the full story of Virginia O'Hanlon's 1897 letter asking a newspaper about Santa, but I'll just pull out the letter itself.
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?
I think about this letter in my more grandiose moments. What would I say if a little girl wrote me to validate her belief in something more than herself? But the truth is, no one's going to ask me and if Mr. O'Hanlon were alive today, he wouldn't point her daughter toward the news industry for truth.
Who would a child ask about Santa Claus? Not us. Not "the media." We've blown our credit. We kowtowed to corporate interests and eschewed truth-gathering for glitzy punditry and fights over which outlet recited a press release first.
Virginia's story is a story of faith twice tested, her faith in Santa Claus and her faith in the news. Amazing now that a news organization you can trust is as chimerical as S. Claus and eight tiny reindeer.
"If you see it in The Sun, it's so," her father said. No one says that now.
But until Wikileaks comes out with a North Pole edition or some little child clicks the Q & A function on the menu bar above, I'm going to go ahead and answer a question no one asked.
Yes, Virginia, there's still a Santa Claus.
He may be harder to see now. The world has gotten needlessly complicated. Not better or worse, harder or softer, just as pointlessly ornate and flashy as a neon sign.
The strange part is the flashing signs hiding Santa Claus are of Santa Claus. Not really him, though. Not the Santa Claus who rewards the good and gives coal to the naughty. The Santa you see is the one telling you to drink Coke and go into debt. It's the one telling your parents that unless they max out the credit cards and buy the latest iBauble, you won't love them. It's Santa as brand logo. It's not Santa at all.
Santa still does exist, hidden through that glitz and tawdry glamor. He lives in a feeling. He lives in joy and love and magic. He lives in handmade cards that say "I love you Mom" with various little-child spellings of "love." He lives in hugs and cinnamon and that look in your parents' eyes when they see you playing with the box your gift came in.
Santa Claus lives in that moment before you open the package, when you know you have something exciting to be opened and you don't care if it's an iPod or a clementine orange. He lives in that magical moment between the giving and the getting, when the point's not how fancy or expensive the gift is but that someone loved you enough to give you a gift at all.
I'm writing this on Thursday so I get the whole weekend off. I'm going to drive to my parents' house tonight, where they're going to be bustling and bumping and trying to make everything perfect without realizing it is. My mom will be apologizing for the "mess" the house is in and my father will rope us into watching White Christmas for the eight-millionth time. (Maybe this is the year the ski lodge won't be saved.)
In the moments between stress and the pursuit of buy-a-lot Christmas perfection, there will be Santa Claus, that ineffable old elf. There will be love and there will be family along with, my dad just texted me to say, steak.
Yes, Virginia, Santa's still around, as long as there are Virginias and as long as people love. Happy day after Christmas. Happy Boxing Day.