In 1897 an 8-year-old girl, Virginia O’Hanlon, wrote to a New York City newspaper, The Sun, to ask whether there really was a Santa Claus. One of the editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, answered her letter in an editorial. The editorial became the most repeated editorial in any newspaper, ever. And I am repeating it here, because the philosophy of the editorial is timeless and uplifting.
And also, because the only existing photographs of Virginia show her with a bicycle, apparently at Christmas time. So not only did Santa Claus exist for her, but he was a very smart Santa Claus, with the good sense to give Virginia the priceless gift of a bicycle.
As we ordinary human beings have learned since then, bikes come with a number of secret gifts, including good health and a wonderful sense of freedom. This was especially true for the women of that time, who really did not have much freedom at all. Many women of that era discovered the freedom that a bicycle could give, and one of the most famous of all the feminist civil rights activists, Susan B. Anthony, wrote in 1896 (the year before Virginia wrote to The Sun):
“I think the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.”
And Virginia must have really enjoyed her bicycle, because back in 1897, it was still safe to ride bikes on public roads (and to walk, and ride horses). No wonder Virginia lived to be 81! That was, of course, because of the absence of mass-produced cars. Since then, the story of the 20th century was the story of human beings handing over vast quantities of human space, and all of the roads, to cars.
Taking space from cars was criminalized (“jay walking”), and punishable, in many cases, by death. Virginia died (peacefully) in 1971, but since then, the roads have become even more unsafe.
So I will conclude with my Christmas wish:
“All I want for Christmas is for humanity to realize that people are more important than cars, and for the 21st century to be the century in which we take back the roads and the planet for people-powered transport.”
Yes, I know it is a lot more than two front teeth, but I can dream, can’t I?
Here is Virginia’s letter:
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?
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
Here is the wonderful response from Francis Pharcellus Church:
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except 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 of 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 were no Santa Claus. It would be as 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 no enjoyment, except in 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 in 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? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. 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 may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all 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, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Maggie wrote a very helpful post about how to teach your child to ride a bike: 9 Simple Steps to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike.
If your child is still too young to ride a bike, why not take them along on your own bike? Read our in-depth post, 7 of the Best and Safest Baby and Child Bike Seats, with Reviews and Videos.
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