What Santa Can (and Can’t) Teach Us About Faith

by Mark Beuving

Santa Claus has been with us for many generations, but still there are those who deny his existence. More than 100 years ago, sweet little Virginia O’Hanlon, eight years old at the time, encountered some of these nonbelievers, which prompted her to write these famous words to the editor of the New York 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?

The brilliant response from newspaper writer Francis Church has reportedly become the most frequently reprinted editorial of all time. He explains:

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…

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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…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…There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

Francis Church is rightly condemning the modern notion that we should only believe in those things which can be verified through the five senses. Indeed, the lack of legitimate “Santa sightings” is no reason to disbelieve in his existence. Church maintains a sense of wonder in our increasingly technologized world. Where would we be if our worldview left no room for mystery?

But we need to be careful about equating the kind of faith that can be directed toward Santa Claus and the kind of faith that Christians direct towards Jesus…

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