Lesa Knollenberg
freelance writer in
madison, wi

Yes, Virginia


Photo courtesy of Gus Knollenberg

Remember the story behind “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus?” An eight year old named Virginia Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun newspaper asking for the truth. In response, the newspaper printed an unsigned editorial in 1897 which is famous to this day:

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

I’ve been spending a bit of time with eight year olds lately. When I need a break from my freelance work and my too-quiet office, I’m a substitute for our local school district. Lately I’ve been at the primary school, where the Christmas spirit thrives. There’s a holiday door decoration contest. There are jingle bells, reindeer antler headbands and red and green sweaters running rampant. One astute observer said it best: “It’s like the school threw up Christmas all over the building.” I feel all magical and nostalgic while I’m there, and try to soak up as much holiday happiness as I can. Then I have to leave the building and get groceries, where the holiday happiness gets gobbled up faster than a discounted Xbox on Black Friday.

I wish I could bundle up all of that primary school wonder and share it with the sullen, grouchy, irritated adults in the world. I know, I know, there are plenty of things to scrooge about these days. I, personally, miss the simpler times, when driving around looking at Christmas lights was a family outing. But really, aren’t we in charge of that? Isn’t it our responsibility, as adults, to create a world where holiday happiness makes a difference? Isn’t there an adult creed somewhere that says we have to keep naivety and hope alive? We owe all of the Virginia Hanlons – and other eight year olds – a world where adults can be trusted and Christmas lights sparkle and the only prayer before your head hits the pillow is one for snow.

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.

Yes, Virginia, he exists. I’ve seen him. I have a special vantage point to see him; think Elf on a Shelf, but without the goofy shoes. He exists in the principal that picks up students for school every day to make sure they get early morning help. He’s in the third grade teacher that packs an extra lunch for field trips because she knows Johnny won’t have one.

I’ve seen him in the educational aides who go from lunchroom duty to figuring out who smells like doody, all without complaint (or lunch, for that matter.) He shows up in the teachers that lose sleep over students and lunch ladies who call kids “Hon.” He exists in the neighbors who make sure Sammy doesn’t go into a dark house, and the coach who shoots hoops after practice with the kid whose parents are always late.

So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Adults may not always be able to see him, but he’s there. Seen and unseen. And he exists in us all.