In 1897, 8-year-old Virginia turned to her father when her friends claimed that there is no Santa Claus. The girl’s father said if New York’s Sun newspaper said there was a Santa, then it was so.
The girl wrote to the Sun, “tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?” and her letter prompted a frequently reprinted editorial by Francis Pharcellus Church, which stated, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exists, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced to a monk, St. Nicholas, born in 280 AD in modern day Turkey. He was much admired for piety and kindness and his life’s story became the subject of many legends. The modern North American Santa Claus—the obese, white-bearded man in a red suit, was a brain child of the Coca Cola company, first featured in their advertisements, drinking Coke, around 1931.
Is there a real Santa Claus? There are objections to deceiving children by presenting Santa Claus as a real person rather than a story. They include the belief that lying to children promotes distrust in parents, greed, and materialism; interferes with the child’s development of critical thinking; and that the deception is more about the parents wanting to prolong the age of magical thinking or just wanting to see children excited about Santa. Others see no harm: it is a cultural lie, not one to attribute to the parents.
A Cornell study of 500 children found that not a single child was angry at his or her parents after finding out the truth. The study suggested that children “felt older and more mature” when they found out the truth and “knew something that the younger kids did not.”
During my childhood in my native Hungary, “Mikulas” came down the chimney with candy on 5 December and had not much to do with the festive season. We hung our boots at the side of our fireplace and hoped for sweets to be stuffed in those boots by next morning (by our parents).
As an adult, I must say, I love the plush Santa dolls, the red suit, and the red head covering. I like the elves and the reindeer, and the many seasonal good wish cards featuring Santa. I pack some presents in red socks and decorate small boxes with the red hat. Like the author of the 1897 Sun editorial, I like to think that the symbolism reaffirms goodwill, friendship, and love in the realities of daily life.
—George Szasz, CM, MD
Church FP. The Sun. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Accessed 3 December 2019. http://www.newseum.org/exhibits/online/yes-virginia/.
Wikipedia. Santa Claus. Accessed 3 December 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus.
This post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.