Tag Archive | Virginia O’Hanlon

Santa’s Communications Consultant, Day 6: An intermission

Virginia and Francis Pharcellus Church

Later this week, we’ll continue with an exploration of errors to avoid in letters to Santa.

Today, Santa has given me a day off, so let’s take a brief intermission. Let’s enjoy together this beautiful piece of prose, penned by Francis Pharcellus Church, Editor of The Sun, in response to Virginia O’Hanlon.

Santa Claus is, of course, a saint, and was a real, historical person! But Church has a wonderful, poetic way of expressing the essence of Santa Claus as the spirit of generosity and wonder that the nativity of Christ inspires in believers.

Without further ado, I present Francis Pharcellus Church:

“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:

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

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 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.”


Santa’s Communications Consultant, Day 5: Previously withheld information

Santa Claus made a startling admission to me: the reason that Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to The Sun to find out whether Santa exists is that she first wrote to Santa himself, but he did not answer.

“Why didn’t you answer her?” I asked.

“Let me read her letter to you,” he began.

“‘Dear Santa—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. I think they are wrong, and I still withhold my belief in you. Please tell me the truth, do you exist?

Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West Ninety Fifth Street’”

“In some ways,” I said, “it’s better that you didn’t respond. This gave the Editor of The Sun the opportunity to write a letter for all to see, and this letter has undoubtedly increased belief in you for more than a century. But I can see how the misuse of ‘withheld’ got on your nerves. Even Santa has his limits.”

Both Santa and I have noticed, this year in particular, that writers (and speakers) seem to replace “hold” with “withhold.” Yes, it’s true: the Oxford English Dictionary reveals that centuries ago, “withheld” could mean “to hold or adhere to.” This usage of the word, though, was last recorded in 1450. Why is it suddenly making a comeback?

I’ll be honest: I notice it the most during discussions with my students and in my students’ papers. I have a feeling (and this is just a hunch, no more than that) that some English speakers think that “withhold” sounds more formal than “hold”—and so they simply replace “hold” with “withhold”: a word that has a very different meaning. No, “withhold” does not mean “hold within,” as some English speakers seem to think. Perhaps if enough people continue to use the word in this sense, this meaning could return to common and proper usage; however, for now, “hold” it is.

Virginia certainly did not mean that she was holding back her belief in Santa. And how fortunate the world is that so many still hold this belief, rather than withholding it!

Virginia and Santa Claus