December 24th Christmas Eve has arrived.
With the last-minute shopping completed, we ready our hearts for this special evening anticipated since the beginning of December. All the plans have been made, the gifts have been wrapped and the baking completed.
All of December has been in anticipation of Christmas Day. And yet, as I look back, it was Christmas Eve that held the magic. The lights of the Christmas tree flickered, spreading a warmth around us as we sipped hot chocolate and waited for Santa Claus to arrive.
Of course, Santa would come.
After all, he is one of the most ubiquitous figures in modern culture. Consider that Santa travels the world in one night, which makes his sleigh the fastest and oldest high-speed zero-emission vehicle in the world.
And everyone knows, or should know, that Santa Claus is a Canadian citizen. Santa’s home at the North Pole lies in an area between Russia, Norway, Canada, the United States, and Denmark. But it was Canada that declared that St. Nick is legally considered to be Canadian. Indeed, it is official. Santa and his partner Mrs. Claus have been issued Canadian passports and a postal code H0H 0H0. Every December 24th, Mrs. Claus ensures that Santa has his passport with him when he leaves the North Pole.
Santa Claus has been with us for many centuries and is steeped in the heart of Christmas traditions. Known as Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle, Santa’s story goes back into the third century when Saint Nicholas walked among us and became the patron saint of children. Fast forward to the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. During the Protestant Reformation, St Nicholas retained his popularity, even when the veneration of saints waned.
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore gave us the iconic “Twas the Night Before Christmas, that enlivens us with a description of a jolly elf, who wore red, and delivers toys to good girls and boys on Christmas Eve.
Is Santa real? Of course, he is!
There is reliable confirmation that dates to 1897, when eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote her famous letter.
You may recall that it all began when Virginia asked her father, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, whether there really was a Santa Claus. Her father’s answer was brilliant. Instead of responding himself, he suggested that she write direct to The Sun, one of New York’s most prominent newspapers at the time. He assured her that “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
Virginia received a response from veteran newsman, Francis Pharcellus Church, a lead editorial writer for the New York Sun. Francis Church, who had seen great suffering as a war correspondent during the American Civil War, was a known skeptic, hardened cynic who had little tolerance for superstitious beliefs. And yet, he recognized the need for hope and faith in society. Perhaps it is when we see sorrow and grief, we are more able to answer a call for affirmation in the goodness of life. For that is what Virginia looked for when she asked whether there is a Santa Claus.
More than a century later, the article written by Francis Church still maintains it standing as the most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
Join me as I read Francis Church’s most famous editorial written in 1897 – Is there a Santa Clause?
Dear friends, may the joy of Christmas Eve surround you and yours, with love, warmth, and wonder. Together, may we embrace hope and expectation as we enter a new year.