December 16, 2009 Edition

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Letters join children's
hearts through the years

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

For most of its 100 years, The Times Dispatch has published letters to Santa from area children. In all those letters the need to believe in the existence of Santa shines through. The letters written in the early years of the paper's existence had no less fervor than today's. The letters continue to reflect that hope still springs eternal in all of us.

Those long ago letters requested many of the items that today's children still have on their list and the vow that the child has been good (most of the time).

We spend days typing letters asking for puppies, kittens, bikes and dolls; doing our best to make sure that each reflects the intent of its writer even if we cannot reproduce word for word each child's epistle.

This year after reading dozens of letters written in childish script requesting everything from computers to coloring books I knew Santa had job security. Who else would take on such an impossible task?

When I posted on Facebook that I had been reading Santa letters for two days and he had his job cut out for him this year I received a post asking what happened to the letters. "Do you send them on to Santa after you read them or does he have to read the paper to find out what the kids want?" it read.

I replied that Santa is a subscriber. On the face of it that might have sounded a bit flippant, but if you reflect on the long association between Santa and the newspaper business then it makes all the sense in the world.

After all, as far back as 1897 Santa was championed by a newspaper. When eight-year old Virginia O'Hanlon of New York City wrote to The Sun asking for corroboration of Santa's existence, her answer came from veteran journalist Frank Church. In what has become the most often referenced editorial on Santa's existence Church wrote, "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."

Church's words resonate with me. Santa's existence does not need to be proven to me. I have faith that he exists. It is the same simple faith I have when I hear Robert Browning's often quoted verse, "God is in his heaven and all is right with the universe."

Christmas is more than a jolly old man who brings gifts to children, but even at this most simplistic core it still represents an ideal of complete and unconditional love and generosity. I like to think Santa helps bring out the best in all of us and we are the better for it.

Church ended his editorial, "No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

It is my wish all of you have glad hearts this Christmas.

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