When I was growing up, in the Church there was a resounding sort of refrain every Christmas. It was one that was in good faith, always, and one that rightly called out the deviating nature of a holiday that, ever since the reason for its inception, was swimming, floating further away from its point of origin across a widening sea of culture accumulating the world across over a period of millennia. They called for a return to remember, to keep the knowledge of the birth of the Christ at arms length in our psychologies, if not for the year around. Even then though I felt that like a phantom limb of sorts, something was missing in this sort of claimed mental panacea to the materialism, the “bastardization” of the holiday. To merely bring ourselves back to the event of the birth was not enough to encompass truly that which was the ambience, the emotional resonance (the “spirit?”) of Christmas.

This is perhaps reinforced by the  fact that there’s a fair degree of literature that suggests that it would have been close to impossible for Christ to have been born in December – the holiday instead maybe created to align with the pagan Saturnalia as early as the 4th century. What do we do then, with the glaring discontinuity of this, of religion, of materialism, of a fractured and impure Christmas?

I believe that the essence of the spirit doesn’t really have as much to do with Christ, and instead it has everything to do with another, human created sort of whimsy, -the nostalgic recreation of a magic unfelt or unseen at the end of a year that maybe was previously devoid of it. For kids of a young age to completely believe that undercurrents of beautiful and ideal perfections have manifested themselves literally into a another, distant place that could really exist, and for those older to follow suit vicariously. This is the heart of the spirit. Beyond the reality that we can see or feel or touch, that maybe a place exists where everything that was created for it (by a culture or by a religion, or by anything) – peace, and light and goodwill toward men, is standing somewhere else that we recreate in our lives, in our living, in our minds for ourselves and our children. This is that which explodes the heart of the Grinch from within, this is Virginia O’Hanlon’s Santa Claus.* It is not any less real if it does not completely derive itself from religion. It is simultaneously a religious and a cultural and a gorgeously psychological construct, one that instead finds itself the world recreated and reflected back upon itself, more complete, more illuminated, and more perfect than it ever is at any other time or any other season.

*Question:

Dear Editor,
I am eight 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 W.95th St

Answer:

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] 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. -Francis Pharcellus Church, NY Sun, Sept. 21, 1897.

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~ by crossmd on December 6, 2010.

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