Yes, Dear Reader, There is a Santa Claus
By Victoria Gray
I indulge in a love affair every year at Christmas time with an older man who has a bit of a weight problem and truly never heard of the Atkins diet, but he’s a flashy dresser with an even flashier means of transportation. He’s generous, possibly to a fault, and I don’t usually go for a big, ZZ-Top style beard, but he’s the exception. My home is filled with images of this man – his face is even on my Christmas ornaments. My husband doesn’t mind my interest. He’s not in the least bit jealous. In fact, my darling husband, a man who reminds me more than a little bit of Clark Griswold, searched Ebay to find an old, somewhat cheesy plastic rendering of him that was first crafted in the sixties. So, who is this mystery man?
You guessed it – Santa Claus, that jolly resident of the North Pole who now attracts NORAD’s interest every Christmas Eve. Long before Santa’s sleigh was tracked on radar, Santa became an indelible part of American culture. A century before Macy’s Thanksgiving parade ushered in the Christmas season, the poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas introduced the image of Santa Claus that many Americans cherish. From the young toddler sitting on Santa’s lap to the homeowner competing with his neighbor to have the grandest light display in the neighborhood, the image of a jolly old man with a white beard, red suit, and reindeer at the ready brings to mind the joy and warmth of Christmas.
Amazingly, Santa’s image became a vital part of America’s Christmas tradition during the Civil War. Cartoonist Thomas Nast’s portrayal of Santa on the cover of the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly depicted Santa seated on his sleigh, complete with hat and beard, presenting gifts to Union soldiers on the battlefield. Three decades later, an eight-year-old girl, Virginia O’Hanlon, wrote a letter to the New York Sun that spawned one of the most famous editorials in history, Francis Church’s response. Church, a former Civil War correspondent who’d seen man’s inhumanity to man in vivid terms, responded with the immortal line, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. His touching, philosophical response viewed the existence of Santa in terms of love and goodness and giving.
One of my most enduring images of Santa emerged from the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street. The classic film charmed generations. Remade decades later, the premise was the same – Santa is real, if only in our hearts. What a lovely message to remember during the holiday season.
What images bring Christmas to mind most vividly for you? Does mistletoe bring back memories of a treasured kiss, or would cookies for Santa stir memories of Christmas past? What signs of Christmas touch your heart?
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