I always hated that letter about Santa Claus. Even when I was still at an impressionable age, the entire thing seemed way too condescending. Or maybe it was the guy with the maple syrup voice who read the letter over and over again on television. You are probably way too young to remember. A small girl of eight (more likely her mother) wrote a letter to the editor (yes, I know. My girls, when in third grade, spent an inordinate amount of time writing letters to the editor—it must be a developmental stage they go through) of the New York Sun newspaper, asking if there was a Santa Claus. http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/ These days, of course, any enterprising eight year old would Google it and find out the truth, but I digress.
The letter caused a sensation. Granted, this was in 1897, when newspapers weren’t concerning themselves with interesting things like the sex life of presidential candidates or George Clooney. The response to Virginia’s question, beginning with “Dear Virginia, your little friends are wrong” gave me the creeps. So here is my version—one that speaks to all the eight year olds I know, out there watching YouTube videos and texting.
So you want to know if there is a Santa Claus. Really? Do you have older siblings? Do you attend a public school? Because if you do, then you already know the answer. But you may be a home schooled only child, and so I will try to break this to you gently.
Honey, look around. There is a man in a red suit ringing a bell in front of the Kroger. If you go to the mall, you’ll see another guy just like him, sitting on a great big chair, with lines of kids waiting to sit on his lap and cry while their mothers take their pictures. You’ll see Santas in all kinds of places. One time I saw Santa surrounded by the police outside the mall, because he had parked his car in the handicapped space. So in a literal sense, there isn’t just one Santa, there are thousands of them.
But if you are asking if there is just the one man in the sleigh who comes to your house and down the chimney, I have to ask you this: Ginny, what about all the people who live in apartments? There are no chimneys in most apartments. And just think of all the people in other places in the world who live in tents and huts. Ginny, get real.
And honey, have you noticed how tired your parents are this time of year? This is because perpetuating myths takes a tremendous amount of effort on the part of adults. Hiding gifts, making sure that there are footprints in the ashes in front of the hearth, remembering to take bites out of the snack left on the mantle, and waiting up half the night to make sure the kids are asleep before putting out the presents—all this is exhausting. Add to this the fact that adults who are basically honest most of the time end up telling bald- faced lies to their children? Honey, this causes a condition called “cognitive dissonance.” And believe me, it’s very tiring for grownups. (there are a few exceptions, but we’ll leave the Madoff family out of this).
So Ginny, in case you haven’t already sighed in resignation, I will lay it all out for you. Your Mom and Dad are Santa. The North Pole is experiencing a heat wave, and it may not be around much longer. Reindeer are cute, but they bite, and they have a distinctive odor. And those men in the red suits at the mall? They are most likely unemployed and just happy for seasonal work.
So Ginny, have a gingerbread cookie, be a good little girl, and if you want to worry about something, you might want to start thinking about more pressing matters, like your Girl Scout Cookie quota this year, or when you will develop breasts.
Sincerely, the editor