David Lias

I’m dusting off portions of a column I wrote for the Plain Talk back in 1998, because even though times have changed, there are some universal qualities of this week in December that remain timeless.

LeeAnne Dufek, a Wakonda native who now lives in Castlewood and owns Hamlin County Publishing, helped her readers find the true meaning of Christmas back in December 1998.

In her column, entitled “Why Jesus is better than Santa Claus,” she wrote:

Finding the true meaning of Christmas is sometimes hard in the hustle and bustle of the holiday that has turned both commercial and material. Santa Claus is a symbol of Christmas cheer, but let us not forget the true miracle of Christmas . . . the birth of Jesus Christ.

Why Jesus is better than Santa Claus

Santa lives at the North Pole . . .

Jesus is everywhere.

Santa rides in a sleigh . . .

Jesus rides on the wind and walks on the water.

Santa comes but once a year . . .

Jesus is an ever-present help.

Santa fills your stocking with goodies . . .

Jesus supplies all your needs.

Santa comes down your chimney uninvited . . .

Jesus stands at your door and knocks, and then enters your heart when invited.

You have to wait in line to see Santa . . .

Jesus is as close as the mention of his name.

Santa lets you sit on his lap . . .

Jesus lets you rest in his arms.

Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly . . .

Jesus has a heart full of love.

All Santa can offer is Ho, Ho, Ho . . .

Jesus offers health, help and hope.

Santa says "You better not cry" . . .

Jesus says "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you."

Santa's little helpers make toys . . .

Jesus makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes and builds mansions.

Santa may make you chuckle but . . .

Jesus gives you joy that is strength.

While Santa puts gifts under your tree . . .

Jesus became our gift and died on a tree.

* * * * * * * * * *

I know it's likely that, by the time you read this, you’ll either be right in the middle of celebrating Christmas, or despite our early publication day this week, it may be after Dec. 25 when you get your copy of the Plain Talk. It’s admittedly a chaotic, busy time – so busy, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that this celebration is meant to continue long beyond Christmas Day.

Tim Waltner, who was publisher of the Freeman Courier as the Christmas of 1998 approached, wrote in his column that he found, in a tattered file of printed items collected from various sources over the past 25 years, a yellowing piece of paper with suggestions to help us remember the "spirit of the season."

Maybe you'll conclude, as I have, that these suggestions can play a valuable part in our lives not just at Christmas, but every day of the year:

Set a place at the table for those who might otherwise be alone at theirs.

Use your wheels to transport those without to Christmas or other church services.

Shovel your neighbor's sidewalks.

Let your opponent get the big half of the wishbone.

Give cuttings of your favorite plant to someone who will talk them into growing up green and beautiful.

Instead of giving your nephew advice, ask for some.

Never miss a chance to let a child lick a stirring spoon or a baking bowl.

Visit the Humane Society and adopt an orphan pet.

Write a letter to the editor.

Gift wrap a packet of fabric scraps for your quilting grandmother.

Appear at a nursing home with a chessboard and challenge someone to a game.

When they beg for "one more story," say yes. Then tell them the greatest story ever told.

Give a friend the secret recipe she's been angling for all year.

Give your kids the benefit of the doubt when they say it's time to get up Christmas morning and your alarm clock says it's only 3 a.m.

Make sure the first gift you open is the one with the bedraggled bow, snarled Scotch tape and pucker-up paper. And watch your child's eyes shine.

Give as many hugs as you can; they're warmer than sweaters.

* * * * * * * * * *

Here’s a tad more holiday advice from a newspaper that will live through the ages:

“Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

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?

Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except what 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 external 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 you 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 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, 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 lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!

From The People's Almanac”

Francis P. Church's editorial, "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" was an immediate sensation, and became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business.

Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O'Hanlon recalled the events that prompted her letter: "Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn't any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

"It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, 'If you see it in the The Sun, it's so,' and that settled the matter.

" 'Well, I'm just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,' I said to father.

"He said, 'Go ahead, Virginia. I'm sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.' "

And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents' favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. The son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked on The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer.

Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto, "Endeavour to clear your mind of can’t." When controversial subjects had to be tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl's letter on a most controversial matter, and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

"Is there a Santa Claus?" the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question. He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned to his desk, and he began his reply which was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

Church married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April, 1906, leaving no children.

Virginia O'Hanlon received degrees from Hunter College and Columbia University, and in 1912 she began teaching in the New York City school system, later becoming a principal. After 47 years, she retired as an educator. Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the Church editorial. Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, New York.

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