And finally it's Christmas.
A time for remembrance of happy Christmas past, for enjoying happy Christmas present of anticipation of happy Christmas future.
Ninety-two years ago, Francis Church of The New York Sun wrote an editorial as a reply to a letter from an 8 year old girl, Virginia O'Hanion, who had asked whether there was a Santa Claus, since some of her friends had told her there was not. The editorial was one of those pieces which attracted instant attention and has become one of the classics of Christmas lore, reprinted annually on thousands of newspaper editorial pages across the country.
It is still popular because it reminds readers of happy memories of home and Santa and Christmas. And although I love to read this traditional editorial, I have had no need for reassurance about Santa Claus since I was seven years old. I discovered Santa's existence then, and Ive kept that assurance within me that there really is a Santa Claus, for well over half a century now. Heres how it happened:
It was in December of 1931. We lived in a coal camp at McRoberts, KY, deep in the hills of Letcher County, in a home owned by the Consolidated Coal Co.
I'd started school. There, the bigger boys had delighted in telling me the "truth" about Santa Claus. They said there was no such thing, and they repeated it often enough until I half-way had begun to believe them.
I was old enough by then to understand that there was something happening out in the world beyond McRoberts called a depression which was causing my mother and daddy to have worried looks on their faces when they talked about it. They whispered in low voices about "hard times."
The mine where we lived had shut down. (My daddy died never forging "Old Console" for this.)
There was no work of any kind in McRoberts to be found. My daddy had left home, walking, headed for West Virginia. He'd heard some mines were working and there might be job possibility.
I knew that since times were hard and that daddy wasn't working, there couldn't be any visit from Santa Claus to McRoberts that year, there would hardly be enough money for a little bit of food, let alone any such foolish things as toys. I went to bed on Christmas Eve in 1931 knowing there was no Santa Claus, knowing there would be no new toys in our house the next morning. I had helped my mother hang up our stockings on the mantel over the glowing coal fire in the grate, carefully banked with ashes, but I knew this to be but an idle gesture, that an apple, or perhaps an orange, would be the most that I could expect to find in my stocking the next morning.
Then, it was Christmas. What a glorious day! I have a warm glow inside me yet today as I write these words, just remembering that wonderful morning. In my mind, I can still see the little boy that I was back in 1931 silently stealing down the stairs in that old coal company house, dreading to look immediately into the front room where our tree was standing. Lest even faint hope be dashed at once. Yet I was impelled into that room by a curiosity which could not be denied.
And there it was, leaning up against the mantel in front of the coal fire still glowing under its bed of ashes. A Western Flyer sleigh, six feet long! And a pink baby doll for my sister, Carolyn. Santa had been to McRoberts, despite depression, despite hard times.
It had to have been Santa who brought those presents, I rationalized, because obviously my parents had no money to buy toys, and the happiness in a little boy's heart when he went bounding back up those stairs to tell his mother the wonderful news, only to discover, joys of joys, that his daddy had returned home in the night, was indescribable. I can feel it in my heart yet today.
The experience made me a firm believer in Santa Claus from that day to this.
There have been, in the many years since 1931, no end of "big boys" eager to tell me the "truth" about Santa Claus and related matters. There are always those eager to shatter belief in ideals, those who delight in deriding faith. They may as well have not talked to me at all, these "big boys" for I learned the truth about Santa that Christmas morning long ago. I believed then and still do. And I dream dreams and cling to an abiding faith in God and love and my country. Many times during my life I have encountered those who have tried their best to shatter those beliefs. But I still hang my stocking every Christmas Eve.
This is another Christmas without Mother and Daddy. They will be absent only in the physical sense, though, for happy memories remain in Christmas past. I can still hear the hearty laughter which rang in my ears as my very own daddy, back from West Virginia on Christmas Day gathered me in his arms. Do not, dear friends, ever try to convince me there is no Santa Claus. I know better.
The stockings were hanging there on Christmas Eve for all our far-flung family. And Santa Claus came. He always has. He always will.