Phill Courtney

(In 1897, eight-year-old, Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father whether there was or was not a Santa Claus. In a stroke of profound fatherly wisdom, he suggested that she put the question to the editors at The New York Sun newspaper. “If you see it in the Sun,” he told his daughter, “it’s so.”

The ironically named Francis Church — ironic because he was a skeptical atheist, who, as a Civil War correspondent, had witnessed the darkest sides of human nature — took up the task reluctantly and initially didn’t even want his name attached.

Nevertheless, the editorial was embraced by many readers and it has since become the most widely reprinted editorial in English. The following is an updated version by a columnist whose name is attached.)

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Virginia, but while there once was this hale and hardy sweet soul, who went by the name of Santa Claus, this “jolly old elf” is now on life support. He’s been sickened by a cynical age that has poisoned the magical place he once held in our hearts.

Yes, Virginia, there are still many who believe in his message of giving not getting, but it’s gotten twisted by greed at a time when giving not getting is more important than ever. After all, we live in a world where a simple drink of clean water is one of the greatest gifts some people could get.

It also sickens Santa so much to see the scenes in some stores — the shouting and shoving to get just the right gift at just the right price. Sadder still are those fights between fathers.

Virginia, you may have also seen someone who looks a bit like Santa wandering the streets with a flowing, white beard. Only this “Santa” is actually a homeless man who faces the cold during this supposed time of giving.

It’s also sad that many parents think twice about taking their children into malls and to stores for a visit with Santa. They’re fearful that they and their children could be shot by some sick soul on his own mission of madness.

And so now, Virginia, many are staying locked up in their homes staring at screens, fearful of people outside their door. It’s strange, Virginia, but at a time when technology makes it easier than ever to connect with the world, we’ve never been more disconnected.

And when some of us do leave our homes and a stranger approaches while we’re outside our cars, we often recoil because we’ve learned that often this person is not there just to say “hi,” but to ask for  money or to sell you a product or perhaps their religion or — maybe — to rob you.  

But, Virginia, it doesn’t have to be like this. Perhaps one way we can change the world is by giving some gifts you can’t buy at a store. For instance:

We could visit some lonely old soul with no relatives left, who is alone in a bed and looking for comfort.

We could say hello to the homeless, instead of pretending we don’t even see them.

We could approach a stranger just to say “have a nice day” with no other agenda.  They may think it’s a bit strange, but do it anyway. They may just surprise you.

We could turn off those screens and actually share ourselves with the people around us, even during these contentious times when discussions are risky.

Yes, we can change it all in the twinkle of an eye. And maybe we should before Santa Claus fades away any further. What do you say, Virginia? Let’s restore some hope and vitality to that “jolly old elf” and get him back on his feet.

Happy holidays, Virginia.

Phill Courtney has been a high school English teacher and was twice the Green Party candidate for Congress in Riverside County. He now lives in Redlands. Email: