Christmas Past and Christmas Present

George Roche
President, Hillsdale College

George RocheGeorge Roche has served as president of Hillsdale College since 1971. Formerly the presidentially appointed chairman of the National Council on Education Research, the director of seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education, a professor of history at the Colorado School of Mines, and a U.S. Marine, he is the author of 13 books, including six Conservative Book Club selections. One well-known title, The Fall of the Ivory Tower: Government Funding, Corruption, and the Bankrupting of American Higher Education, received coverage in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Reader’s Digest. In a 1994 cover story, Insight editors named it “Book of the Year.” In February 1998, Regnery Publishing is releasing his latest title, The Book of Heroes: Great Men and Women in American History.

For nearly two thousand years, the Star of Bethlehem has been a powerful symbol of the Christian faith. Its unique story, told here by astronomer Craig Chester, was originally presented at Hillsdale College’s Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar, “Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Religion,” in the fall of 1992 and was published in the December 1993 issue of Imprimis.

In 1897, an eight-year-old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to Francis Church, editor of the New York Sun: “Some of my little friends say that 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?”

“Yes, Virginia,” answered Church, “there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…Alas, how dreary the world would be 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.”

Then he explained that he thought Virginia’s friends had been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They did not believe what they could not see. “Nobody sees Santa Claus,” he said, “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 see.” And Church concluded, “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.”

Almost a century has passed since Virginia wrote her famous letter. What do the Virginias of today believe? Do they have faith in the kind of Santa Claus and the “love and generosity and devotion” Church described? Or do they only believe in what they see—that is, in the dreary, ugly, and violent world that is so often portrayed on television, in films, and on the radio?

I think it is likely that many of our children have become hardened skeptics like Virginia O’Hanlon’s little friends. Why? As PBS film critic Michael Medved argues in a forthcoming book, there has been “a national assault on innocence” in our culture, our schools, and our public square. Instead of teaching about Santa Claus and all the wonderful (and nonsectarian) virtues that this jolly old Christian saint represents, we have chosen to introduce sex education in public elementary schools, to televise graphic depictions of thousands of murders, beatings, and robberies, and to endorse single-parent families and “alternative lifestyles.” We have been so worried about preparing our children for what we think of as adulthood that we have destroyed their childhood.

Oh, to believe in Santa Claus again! Perhaps if we adults can regain our faith, our children can, too.