Inspired reply to age-old question
Want to know the batting average of some relief pitcher for the 1946 Yankees? As recently as a decade ago, you might have had to look that up in a reference book or call a friend with a head for sports statistics. Now, that information is literally at your fingertips (or thumb tips if you use a handheld).
The more technologically jaded of you may yawn and shrug your shoulders as you check Facebook posts on your phone. Folks who thought a transistor radio was a wonderment and marveled at the thought of being able to watch a movie on tape anytime you wanted on a VCR, however, can’t help but have a “gee whiz” reaction to innovations in communication technology.
Those folks still find it incredible that information that can lead you to a lucrative investment or to the nearest dry cleaners can all be contained in a little box. The mountain of information available today challenges us to be smart about how we climb it.
In this business, we are fully aware that “accurate” and “right” are not synonymous. A piece of information that is “right” is not necessarily accurate. Publishing “accurate” information that has no public value isn’t right. Distributing “accurate” information that is taken out of context isn’t right either.
There was a small dust-up earlier this month over an after-school teacher in Austin discussing the Santa Claus “myth” with a class of 5-year- olds.
As the American-Statesman’s Farzad Mashhood reported then, Santa Claus is so ingrained in the American culture that NORAD has a website that tracks the flight of a sleigh powered by eight reindeer on Christmas Eve. Is the information the nation’s air defense system displays accurate? Is it right to do so?
Mashhood consulted Cindy Dell Clark, a Rutgers University-Camden anthropologist who has studied children’s belief in Santa Claus for three decades. Clark concludes that children ought to figure out for themselves whether Santa Claus exists. “It’s taboo to say there’s no Santa Claus. It’s an age-graded belief system that we expect some children to believe in.”
Even armed with all the information at our disposal, would we really want to pull the trigger on a child’s belief in a very rotund, very generous, red-suited philanthropist?
Back in 1897, the editors at the New York Sun faced that question and answered with what became the world’s most celebrated letter to the editor.
So it here it is again for the benefit of everyone who will accept an injection of belief and hope and for teachers in need of a little learning.
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered
among the friends of The Sun: Dear Editor, 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?
— Virginia O’Hanlon, 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street.
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. 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. 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 external 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 you 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 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, 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 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.
Virginia O’Hanlon (of ‘Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus’ fame).