Virginia O’Hanlon, eight years old, wanted to know about Santa Claus, so she asked her dad. He dodged the question, perhaps uncertain whether it was really such a hot idea to lie to his own child. Instead, he suggested she write the newspaper.
Editorial page The New York Sun September 21, 1897
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?
Signed Virginia O'Hanlon
Virginia, your little friends are wrong……
They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. …..
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. ……
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.
What a cute answer! It tells the true meaning of Christmas and Santa Claus and so forth. Syrupy folks have gushed over it for a hundred years, but two fundamental points should not be lost sight of, lest we all drown in sentimental slop.
1. Virginia asked to be told the truth.
2. The paper lied to her.
To be sure, it wasn’t a bald-faced, flat-out, self-serving lie, like when that miser Tom Pearlsandswine told his kid that the jingle jangle of the ice cream truck was really the Devil coming. No, this lie was merely a white lie, and served as the framework for conveying transcendent symbolism on wonder, generosity, imagination, joy, etc, etc. It’s a great answer for adults. But children don’t pick up on symbolism. To an eight year old, it's a lie.
Indeed, even Pearlsandswine’s smart aleck answer was never meant to be taken seriously. It was said in obvious good humor, and the blockhead was amazed to find, years later, that his son had believed it for the longest time.
All this brings to mind the sad saga of Sally Claptwaddle, who also asked her parents, when young, if Santa was real. The parents assured her that he was. There were some kids down the street, however, who told Sally the truth.
When she lost her baby teeth, her parents told her that there was a tooth fairy who would leave some cash under her pillow. The kids down the street told her the truth.
When Easter came, her parents told her about the Easter Bunny….a generous rabbit who would fill your basket with chocolate eggs. The kids down the street told her the truth.
Sally reached adolescence and her responsible parents told her about sex.
But she‘d never gotten a straight answer from her folks. It was always nonsense. The kids down the street, on the other hand, had never been wrong. And so, with regard to sex, they had a different take, and the boys among them offered to demonstrate. Sally grew up hating men, though later got considerable revenge when she landed a job with the GPS industry.
Of course, this all happened to Sally, not Virginia. Virginia lived in a different age. A more secure age, an age in which the consequences of white lies were not so severe.
Santa, the concept: [a man who] stay[s] up all night distributing presents to children of doubtful deservedness. There is a point where altruism becomes sick. The Twelve Terrors of Christmas, John Updike