I've managed to only read the dreadful "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" piece a few times in my 59 years. It pops up each Christmas day in every newspaper that I've subscribed to. I notice it, but rush on to more important stuff – like the comics and sports page.
Today I decided to see if I could read this response to an eight year old girl, first published in the New York Sun in 1897, without getting sick to my churchless stomach.
I suspected that this syrupy drivel wouldn't go down so well now that I've become much more of a religious skeptic. I was right. My granddaughter is just nine months old, but I'm going to warn her parents now: Don't ever let her read this crap!
Understand, I've got nothing against Christmas. Except everything about it that has to do with Christ.
If people would just leave out the whole ridiculous fantasy thing about a guy being born of a virgin and forced by his father in heaven to die miserably on a cross because some chick ate an apple a long time ago which pissed God off so much he had to sacrifice his only son to make things right, then we could celebrate the holidays in a fine fashion, just as the pagans intended before Christians and Big Business messed things up.
Here are my comments, in red italics, on Francis Church's attempt to keep Virginia O'Hanlon believing in both Santa Claus and God.
"Dear Editor: I am 8 years old.
A good age to start learning about reality.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
They're catching on to truth. Good for them.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
We've come a long way from this blind belief in media reporting. Thank god. Except if there really was a good god, Fox News wouldn't exist.
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
The truth. This is what Virginia wants. But she gets bullshit.
"115 West Ninety-Fifth Street."
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. Otherwise known as "The Enlightenment" and the "Age of Science." 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. Compared to what? 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. Ah, the B.S. begins. Could this "intelligence" be, perhaps, just maybe, God? Methinks that's what Francis is getting at.
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. Horrible reasoning. What logical connection is there between a fat man in a red suit who slides down chimneys and love? Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. Highly debatable. I sort of suspect that if all the children in the world vanished, that'd have just a bit more effect on things than if belief in an imaginary man went away. 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. So tell me, Francis, how much enjoyment would you have with no senses and no sight? That's called a coma, basically. Doesn't sound like much fun to me.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! Well, gosh, I don't! And probably Virginia doesn't either. Do children have to believe in everything imaginary to get a glimpse of your fabulous "eternal light"? 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. So how does anybody know about them? Oh, right. They imagine them. But how does this make them real? Dude, get real. 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. Well, if anybody can, I'd bet on you, Francis. But I don't want you infecting children with a belief that the unseen and unseeable is more important than the seen and seeable. That way lies fundamentalist religious madness.
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. You lived before "atom smashers" (particle accelerators) Francis, so I'll give you a bit of a pass on this falsity. Still, even back then you knew that science was revealing all sorts of previously unseen wonders. 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. Faith. Finally, the word comes in after Francis has softened Virginia up. Accept an unseen Santa Claus and it isn't much of a leap to embrace…
No Santa Claus! Thank God! Oh, yeah, now we're getting down to it! God! And what do people say about 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. Hard to tell who the "he" is now. Santa Claus, or God. Francis tries to merge the two, knowing that if children give up a belief in one imaginary unseen entity, there's no telling what other blind faiths will bite the dust next.
Today I also read a wonderful essay posted at The Daily Kos, "A Dog at Christmas." This is a tale I'd much rather have my granddaughter hear. It's mostly about how dogs – and wise humans – don't pay attention to the fantastical aspects of Christmas, just what they can sense and see.
This of course all makes perfect sense, as my dog is not Saved, and would therefore have no reason to suspect Christmas was anything more than another day. Dogs have yet to have anyone die for their sins, and are therefore, according to most theologians, banned from heaven along with all other animals, plants, rocks, and the vast majority of human beings. I have never tried to explain heaven to my dog, and am not sure I could if I tried: aside from the language problem, I have my doubts that my dog would even accept the basic premise. Dogs tend to be literal creatures, not prone to belief in anything they cannot smell, hear, see, or bite.
You can explain the concept of cow or skunk or deer or snake all you want, but the dog will not understand any of it until it suddenly happens upon one or the other of them in a field. Ah ha!, the dog will say. This is something new! And then the dog will classify it according to the very simple and entirely sufficient rules passed down by dogs from generation to generation. They will file it away in the parts of their brains that organize things into bigger than me or smaller than me, dangerous or not dangerous, delicious or not delicious, and so on, and then get on with their lives.
So I am not sure that a dog would understand the central concept of heaven, which is that God is so magnificent, magnanimous, and kind that He created an entire universe for us, surrounding a planet of immeasurable nuance and beauty, with more hidden meadows and grand vistas and deep, river-carved canyons than any one of us could explore in a hundred lifetimes, and He gave us existence itself, and that he is furthermore so magnificent, magnanimous and kind that He then devised a plan to save some of us from this selfsame miserable rathole of a universe he created and put us somewhere else, upon our death -- a place of brilliant light, and fluffy clouds, and absolutely no pain, or frustrations, or sadness, or embarrassment, or surprises, or explorations, or consequences.
Lastly, here's another cynical take on "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."