December 13, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature 2 - Is there a Santa Claus? 

Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the holidays

In 1897 Virginia O Hanlon wrote on her father’s advice to the New York Sun to ask if there was a Santa Claus. The resulting editorial, "Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus," was hugely popular with Sun readers and ran every year until the paper’s demise in 1947.

The editor of the Sun, Francis P. Church, a curmudgeonly veteran journalist of the American Civil War, came to the conclusion that there was a Santa Claus based on the notion that not only did people believe in the season of giving as St. Nick embodied but they also followed traditions and passed on folklore to such an extent that Father Christmas had taken shape in people’s minds. So much so that in effect Church said a belief that strong created its own reality.

But as they say, that was then this is now. In today’s world, with so many reasons not to believe in a Santa, is it possible that he could still exist? People may not have been as naïve in 1897 as we might believe, but there is no doubt that the Santa of over a century ago would not have to contend with The World Wildlife Fund suing him for keeping reindeer in confinement or Workers’ Compensation citing him for the poor working conditions of workshop elves. Furthermore, if Santa does still exist then how has he resisted the lure of lucrative endorsement money? To be honest, even in 1897 Santa Claus had caved to the Coca Cola company but how is it Pepsi has never been able to lure him over? If Britney Spears is worth millions then how many millions more would he be worth to Pepsi Cola?

But more important than any modern intrusions on Santa’s existence, does the sustaining belief in him exist today? Can I reassure any modern day Virginias out there that Santa is alive and well in the minds of people and still fighting the good fight against unreformed scrooges? There is really only one way to tell; go to the people and find out what they think.

I suppose in some ways Christmas spirit could be construed as a civic matter. So I set out to try and talk with the youthful and optimistic mayor of Whistler, the newly re-elected Hugh O’Reilly. He managed to take a few moments out of his busy schedule to talk with me and when asked if he believed in Santa Claus (in the bigger sense of the question that is) he responded promptly in the affirmative.

"Yes I think it is almost imperative. Religious support years ago was almost peer pressure, now we only have this time of year and maybe Easter to take time to consider our friends and family and how we act towards others."

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