Omdahl: Yes, Virginia, there still is a Santa Claus
In 1897 — 116 years ago — 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father if there was a Santa Claus. He passed the buck to the editors of the New York Sun, where veteran newsman Francis Church responded with an editorial called “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
Church told Virginia that her unbelieving friends were wrong because “they have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.”
“Yes, there is a Santa,” Church alleged. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist ...”
His editorial took on a life of its own and is repeated around the world today.
We are once again in an era when skepticism has overtaken us in spite of the many gifts we enjoy as Americans. Our sense of community has created and nurtured numerous gifts.
For the elderly who need a $30,000 hip replacement, there is a Santa Claus called Medicare to preserve whatever nest egg they may have accumulated in life.
For the folks who lack the wages or the means to buy the next meal, there is a Santa Claus called food stamps.
For the unemployed whose jobs got exported to China, Santa Claus brings unemployment compensation until they can sort out new careers.
For the business community that needs bracing in these tough economic times, there is a Santa Claus called the Federal Reserve that has been keeping interest rates down until recovery is in sight.
For the farmers devastated by climactic disasters and market gluts, there is a Santa Claus called the U.S. Department of Agriculture with safety nets for all.
For the folks without funds who need shelter in nursing homes, there is the Santa Claus called Medicaid.
We could continue but eventually we would all be embarrassed to know that we are all beneficiaries of some form of Santa Claus.
But rather than frame the American Santa Claus as a champion of mutual benefits, the more parochial among us take a different tack.
While we are opening our generous gifts, we glance at the gifts that others are getting and it angers us to see that some are getting bigger toys than we are.
Remember the days when you were young and you thought your siblings were more favored than you.
Brother John got a big Tonka truck that looked more costly than your John Deere tractor. Or sister Mary’s doll could close its eyes while yours could only stare blankly at the ceiling.
There was wailing and gnashing of teeth under the Christmas tree.
Well, some of us never grew up.
While some enjoy the benefits of a prosperous economy, they take their commerce overseas to avoid paying for the gifts that they enjoy being based in a stable democracy. We are also tax dodgers, only on a smaller scale.
Others of us would deny gifts to strangers so we can provide larger gifts for our friends.
Looking at it theologically, the Christmas season is when God launched a new era in which gifts were given to us when we did not deserve them. Under His one-grace-fits-all approach, those of us with big sins ended up receiving bigger gifts than others. But that did not disturb Him, even though we sometimes let it disturb us.
To borrow from the New York Sun editorial writer, this is the season to share the love, generosity and devotion that reassured Virginia that there was a Santa Claus.
So let’s appreciate our gifts and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.