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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa …

Shelton Prince is a former Alabama newspaper publisher, a former boss of mine and one of my heroes. He died four years ago after an extended battle with cancer.

Prince 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 his death, 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 hope you enjoy it:

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.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Eric Bishop is publisher of the Greenville Advocate.