Virginia: a column everyone can like

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 22, 1999

It's strange how some of the most rewarding things we get to do in our lives sometimes tend to be the most frustrating. Writing a weekly column like this one fits in that category at least every other week.

On one hand, column writers tend to face the unfair expectation of needing to write an opinion that is agreed to by the reader. And on the other hand, a columnist is expected to write about something that is of interest to the reader. Being successful on both counts is a one-in-four proposition, when you consider just one reader. Now, consider several thousand! Impossible.

A fellow stopped me on the street yesterday and told me he appreciated my articles, even if he might be in the minority. And when you consider the odds of defying one-in-four odds week in and week out, he's certainly in the minority.

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Most columnists believe their opinion carries weight. And most tend to write about things that affect their audience. My preference is to try and write about something that matters in our community, that might make a difference in someone's life and that might be interesting to some of the paper's readers. I came to that philosophy after first realizing what I mentioned above n it's impossible to write something that everyone is going to like and agree with.

Until his death, Shelton Prince , a former boss and a newspapering mentor of mine, used to devote one of his weekly Christmas-time columns to a famous editorial written by Francis P. Church in the now defunct New York Sun. Since then, I've done the same thing. Church was writing about something that, at the time, would have been judged to meet none of the above criteria for column or editorial content. That was 102 years ago, and the editorial is reprinted thousands of times each Christmas. It was simply a letter from a little girl and the paper's response, penned by Church. I think you will be interested and will agree.

Yes, Virginia, there is

a Santa Claus

Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."

Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole truth and knowledge.

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. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus! It would be dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have not enjoyment except in the sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? 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.

You tear apart a baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus? Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

From all of us at the Greenville Advocate, have a merry Christmas.

Eric Bishop is publisher of the Greenville Advocate. His column appears on Saturday.