Someone famous, when asked a particular question, answered by saying: “It depends what the definition of ‘is’ is.”
The world mocks him still for the ignorance of his statement. But I tell you they are words of wisdom even if they came from the lips of a man who, under the circumstance, had no idea how profound he was speaking. For indeed, the definition of “is” defines us all.
The ageless question that gets asked around the world — the Christmas version of the “is” dilemma — is: “Is there a Santa Claus?”
A very famous response to that very question got a great deal of notoriety about a century ago when a little girl named Virginia asked that question of a newspaper. Her letter and the response it received gets wide play even today.
It’s a bunch of poppycock. Mindless drivel, really.
You see, the story within the story there of Virginia O’Hanlon wasn’t the little girl. It was the man who took the assignment to answer — Francis P. Church.
Francis wasn’t a believer in Santa. He was an opportunist. And if you read his famous reply carefully, he never really says more than that he HOPES there is a Santa Claus.
Mark Twain, some time previous to the Virginia editorial, once wrote a letter to his children along the same lines. It was full of sap and fairy dust brilliantly composed so as to confuse the kid in all of us. But he too skirted the issue of “is”.
This should come as no surprise. These men were, after all, writers. And writers often live in a world of their own invention. They practice the art of justification like almost no other (except for lawyers, which is another story). They are master storytellers and live to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes through their wizardry of words. They don’t necessarily live for the truth they just live to be convincing.
Yes, dear reader, if you read between the lines, none of these guys have ever answered the question of “is” as it relates to Santa.
~ Adults and How They See Santa ~
Elf Ernest usually gets to answer this question because kids usually ask it. But when an adult writes to the North Pole, they bring the query to me. And when an adult says, “Is there a Santa Claus?” — it’s usually not a question but a statement. In fact, let me share with you some of the more recent adult letters we have received on this issue:
“You guys should be ashamed of yourselves for promoting Santa. Nothing good can come from perpetuating a myth responsible for building greed in our children.”
“There is no Santa, just like there was no Jesus. Give it up.”
“Isn’t there anything other than Santa for you to write about? Surely the season means more.”
Now, reading these letters is sure to damper the spirits of even the merriest hearts. The anti-Santa forces out there are strong and large in number. But if you read them strictly for their content and forget about their hostile tone you will see a fundamental lack of understanding in the word “is”.
And, consequently, you see why the warmth of the season escapes even the most pious who would have us abandon belief in Santa altogether.
~ Fluff Arguments ~
I could fill you with arguments you’ve heard before. I could explain to you that Santa actually promotes giving, not receiving. I can tell you where the legend of Santa began. I might even explain how his humble generosity was really an act of purity designed to spread good cheer.
And those are all great arguments. And they’re all correct.
But for a world so cynical, so set on proving who is right and who is wrong, we need to give up the defense of fluff in support of Santa. We need only to face to facts. And the facts are plain as day.
Santa “is” because we say so.
Have I lost you yet? Let me ‘splain:
Last New Year’s Eve we watched the world celebrate the millennium. Up here at the North Pole, where time is rarely marked or recognized, we were glued to our televisions as the sweeping panorama of celebration from nation to nation unfolded before us. Most of us are well educated and we know many of the cultures of the world due to the nature of our work. But none of us were prepared for the flood of emotion we would feel in witnessing what we did.
And that’s because we didn’t understand “is”.
For example, we all knew about China. But few of us had ever been there. And most of us could only acknowledge their existence based upon things others told us. In other words, the definition of “is” as it related to China was limited by our experience of it. That definition of what China “is” was changed because we experienced China in a whole new way. It became more real, more important and more precious to us.
So to those who say there “is” no Santa Claus, we say come and experience him — because he is. And we say it because we experience him all the time.
Along those same lines, we believe in letting the world celebrate whatever they think “is” might be. For those who don’t believe in Santa, he merely gives a little wave and a “God bless you” as he passes by each Christmas. He won’t impose his definition of “is” out of respect for those who hold a differing definition of what “is”.
~ That’s the Fact, Jack ~
That’s why kids get Santa. In fact, they only outgrow Santa when they waver or wander from what makes the magic of Santa so compelling (the giving).
Ernest also gets the letters from kids requesting to become elves or stating their wish to even become Santa when they grow up. Think about that. And what a sad commentary it is that we have rarely received an application from an ADULT to do the same.
Now why is that?
Because their definition of “is” about Santa has changed for some reason. Santa is no longer Santa to some as they get older he “is”, instead, something commercial. He “is” the image of greed. He “is” the substitute for the reason behind the season. He “is” representative of what makes the season one of such excess. He “is” all of these things because these are the very things that people who have grown have learned to experience.
But the fact is that this is simply not true. People just insist that it “is”. But if they look at it fairly, they see that Santa does nothing of himself to create these things. All Santa does is go on his merry way. He “is” jolly, he “is” giving, he “is” warm and he “is” unchanging.
Truly then, he becomes what we make him. And if we make him a monster, then to us, that is what he “is”.
Why this happens is a mystery. It is the same phenomenon that makes countries go to war and that generates hate and misunderstanding between people. When we change what “is”, we deal with the consequences ugly though they might be.
But it certainly has nothing to do with Santa himself. For us here, and indeed for Santa too, it “is” the same thing every year. Santa gives to you and we give to Santa to help out.
Giving. It was something he learned long ago from One for whom a star at Christmas was born and shone brightest above all others.
That’s what “is”. And nothing any adult might write to us here will ever change it.