It is hard to conceive that the Christmas season now allows children to ‘Skype’ with Santa.
That service was available earlier this month at an Annapolis Royal store. If that wasn’t attractive enough, many local schools offered Breakfast with Santa. Of course, his stand-ins are ubiquitous at the mall.
It has been almost 115 years since American journalist Francis Church wrote his response to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s question, “Is there a Santa Claus?” These days, more than ever, we could be inspired by what he wrote.
Church tried to remind people that there was more to life than the mundane world of every day existence, that qualities like love, generosity, romance and faith are just as real as the things we perceive with our senses.
“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see ... Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world,” he wrote.
Children have faith. On an intellectual level, children probably realize that a plump man in a fluffy red costume is not going to fit down the outlet pipe from the gas furnace in the basement. But it doesn’t matter.
Children observe a handful of presents from
relatives under the tree on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas morning, more presents have appeared. Therefore, Santa visited.
Later, we lose that childlike faith. As adults, we are like Virginia’s little friends that Church wrote about: “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.”
At the end of the 19th century, Church would have been familiar with the erosion of religious faith as science and scientific method became more prevalent - especially following the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species 30 years earlier. At that time, rational and scientific thought were forcing out society’s age-old faith and belief systems. It was believed that science held the answers to the questions that religion and faith had dealt with for centuries. That change left many people feeling hopeless and without important tenets that had sustained their lives.
Church was also a war correspondent during the American Civil War, the bloodiest, most horrific conflict of its time, which, coupled with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, had a devastating effect on the morale and hope of the American people.
In his editorial, he tried to reawaken some of that spirit of hopefulness and childlike faith - and probably a more mature faith - that he saw lacking in his “modern” society.
“Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus... 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.”
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we have even more need of “faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance.”
Church would have been appalled by the horrors of two world wars, hundreds of major and minor conflicts around the world, the mindless violence of terrorism, school massacres and the blind fury of extremism.
More than ever, today we need to remember there is more to life than all of that. We need to rekindle that childlike leap of faith that looks beyond the alarm system, the locked doors, the lack of a chimney, and still hear the sound of reindeer landing on the roof in the middle of the night.