Michael Hagan ’15
It’s been 116 years since the now defunct New York Sun published its immortal response to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s letter to the editor in which she wrote:
“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?”
In his unsigned piece published on behalf of The Sun’s editorial board, Francis Church wrote:
“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…
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”
There is a Santa Claus, Providence College. This is something that I believe at the age of twenty more than I ever believed as a child. I learn more about him every year, and I pray that you would do the same.
I make fewer assumptions about Santa than I used to. I do not presume to know how he can be so generous, though one day I hope to. That he can be present in homes the world over in a single night remains in my mind a miracle, though I have ceased to try to explain just how he achieves it. That he has invested so much time, energy, and attention into creating some of the most special memories of my childhood despite my utter inability to reciprocate is something that has come to mean so much more to me now that I know just a little bit more about him.
In learning more about Santa, I have seen the ways in which he has been so formed by his childhood experiences. Santa Claus is a witness to his heritage; he reflects those best traits of those who came before him.
Santa is someone whose gracious giving begets gracious receiving. He renders no child beholden to him. Not even the most imaginative among boys and girls can think up a way to one-up or get even with Santa Claus. They can hardly imagine a place to start. No one can pay Santa back; we can only pay forward.
And thus in Santa I see a reflection of one whom I can only be certain of through faith. You see I’ve come to understand a little bit about the timing of Santa’s annual routine. Santa didn’t choose Christmas, but Christmas chose him. And “chose” may not even be the right word; Christmas moved him. I believe that Santa sees in Christmas a gift for which none of us can reciprocate. He knows that Love has given the fullness of itself to us as a perfect gift, and that no gift of human design can measure up to this. Love’s fullness is a gift given with full knowledge that no recipient can give an equal or greater gift in return. Instead, it is a gift that we are invited and moved to accept and be joined to.
And while I can’t say with certainty that he always realizes the full extent of what he is doing, I believe that Santa is preparing children to accept that gift that is the very essence of Christmas. He has certainly prepared me.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve come to learn about Santa is just how much he has in common with you and me. The magic of Santa Claus, which so enraptured us as children, is something that age brings us to a point of decision about. As children, how could we not believe? The evidence was under our trees and in our stockings. The explanation surrounded us. With childhood goes the sufficiency of such evidence in accounting for literal fact. But the truth of Santa Claus, like some of life’s other greatest truths, is not contingent on literal fact. Those who talk about Santa in terms of being “real” or “not real” miss the point. Fact is not the question; truth is. Santa Claus is true; this manifests in very real joy on gleeful Christmas mornings and in the fact of his abiding role in the lives of children and their parents through generations.
“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… Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”
Yes, PC, there is a Santa Claus. With each Christmas may we see more of him in ourselves and eachother and prepare to one day introduce him to a new generation.
“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.”
I wish each of you a very merry Christmas, and I warmly look forward to returning to Providence College in the New Year. God bless us, everyone.