Monday, December 12, 2011
YES, VIRGINIA, THERE CAN BE JOY
The time was 1897, not all that long removed from the horrendous War Between the States. It was a time when hope and faith were waning in the country as men like Francis Church, the son of a Baptist minister who had covered the war as a correspondent, were still reassembling their lives and outlook. Church now worked the editorial desk at The New York Sun and found himself to be the dubious recipient of a short but direct letter from a young eight year old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon. When other children had challenged her belief in Santa Claus, her father had delicately sidestepped the subject by encouraging her to write to the last word in their household—The Sun. Church’s now famous editorial reply was titled “Is There a Santa Claus?” after Virginia’s closing question to the newspaper. But it was his opening sentence of the second paragraph of the now most memorable editorial in newspaper history that everyone remembers; “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…Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding”.
The now famous phrase from Church’s editorial is part of our modern culture and many folks take editorial license to rephrase it in order to make their point, such as the title above. Our culture considers the path to happiness strewn with all imaginable sorts of worldly stuff, but we’re not all that happy. Perhaps it’s because happiness is very temporary since it’s based on external circumstances, like buying stuff. But a recent study found that if two groups of people were given a fixed amount of money and asked to either spend it on themselves or someone else, the ones who gave their money to others reported a significant uptick in mood compared to the other group. It came as no great surprise to find that there is a lasting joy to be had in giving to help others and that it’s a relative bargain compared to the money people spend on pursuing happiness. That spirit of giving, personified in a rotund bearded man in a red suit, is still alive and well and was the message that has resounded in the hearts of folks ever since the first edition of Church’s reply to Virginia was published over one hundred years ago around Christmas time. The act of giving exemplifies Jesus’ teaching to love God and love others. The Old Testament book of Malachi 3:10 says “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…and see if I will not throw open the flood gates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it”. And that’s the true power of giving--when the gift is given with love, generosity and devotion it is returned tenfold in the form of blessings of lasting joy and an enriched life.