Santa Claus: The Man, the Myth, the Model of Christ
In 1860, Grace Bedell wrote to Abraham Lincoln after seeing a portrait of the clean-shaven presidential nominee, encouraging him to grow a beard. “All the ladies like whiskers,” the eleven-year-old from New York informed him, “and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”
Lincoln wrote back to her, “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a silly affectation if I were to begin it now?”
Nevertheless, within a month, he sported a full-grown beard. We all know what happened that November.
Lincoln’s inaugural journey from Illinois to Washington by train included a stop in Grace’s hometown of Westfield, New York, where thousands gathered to meet the president-elect. When Lincoln asked to meet Grace Bedell, if she happened to be in the audience, an elderly man emerged from the crowd with his daughter!
Years later, Miss Bedell recounted, “He climbed down and sat down with me on the edge of the station platform. ‘Gracie,’ he said, ‘look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.’ Then he kissed me. I never saw him again.”
Our sixteenth president wore a beard for the remainder of his life.
Young Grace Bedell’s letter to Lincoln suggesting he let his whiskers grow is reminiscent of another young nineteenth-century correspondent from New York—Virginia O’Hanlon, an eight-year-old who questioned the existence of a benevolent, bearded visitor at Christmas.
In 1897, Virginia sent a letter to the New York Sun. “Dear Editor: I am eight years old. Some of my 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?”
In his now-famous editorial, Francis P. Church replied:
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible to their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little….
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….
…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….
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.
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