When I was a little girl – maybe 5, maybe 6 years old – all I wanted for Christmas was a Chatty Patty doll.
She was a blond doll with a string in her back, and she said an astonishing 10 – 10! – different things. I wanted that doll desperately.
On Christmas morning, I could scarcely contain myself when I saw Chatty Patty under the tree.
I remember my parents smiling at my excitement as I pulled the string for the first time.
“¡Hola! Me llamo Chatty Patty!”
Baffled, I turned to my mother, whose look of excitement had, in retrospect, turned to one of horror.
Mom, God bless her, was always quick on her feet.
“Oh no,” she cried. “Santa must have gotten your doll mixed up with one he made for a little Spanish girl. She’s probably looking at her mom right now and asking why her doll is speaking English.”
The answer satisfied me. Later, I received an English-speaking Chatty Patty doll, but I always preferred the one from Santa. I eventually synced up their voice tracks so that American Patty could translate for Spanish Patty.
Why was it important to my mother to preserve the sense of magic? Why do so many parents want their children to believe in Santa?
Most people are familiar with the 1897 editorial in the New York Sun that included the famous line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Francis P. Church wrote that line, supposedly to answer the question posed by a little girl who was doubting the existence of the jolly old elf.
The piece is the most-reprinted newspaper editorial of all time, according to Newseum. It has been analyzed and derided. There have been counter-editorials, insisting that the child, if she existed, was done no favor.
In the editorial, Church speaks of “a skeptical age.” More than a century later, we are no less skeptical and are, perhaps, even more jaded. There is a desire to write off that which cannot be seen nor proved. There is a desire to discourage a belief in magic.
And yet, Santa endures. In his editorial, Church urged his readers to believe, not only in Santa, but in the concept of great things beyond their understanding. Maybe that’s why Santa is important: he prepares children to later believe in bigger things, nobler things.
“(Santa Claus) 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,” Church wrote. “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. ...Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”
**** At the MidWeek, our hearts go out in a million broken pieces to those affected by last week’s tragedy in Connecticut. Others more eloquent than I have addressed the events at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our prayers and words mix with theirs and go out to everyone, everywhere affected by such random acts of senseless violence.