Posted by: HAT | December 24, 2014

Believe

book cover with illustration of a girl and an iconic Santa

Once upon a time, a Christmas present

Hi, Gang!

Here is another erstwhile Christmas present to Mom: a beautifully illustrated text of the famous letter by Francis Pharcellus Church on the subject of Santa Claus. It included the backstory of Virginia’s growing doubts, lavish illustrations of the letter itself, and documentary text and photos of Virginia (O’Hanlon Douglas, 1889-1971, as I know from the yellowed newspaper clipping Mom had saved in the book), her father, Church, and Santa Claus himself – in a drawing by Thomas Nast. It was really a beautifully illustrated volume.

Church’s letter is, itself, a beautifully crafted meditation – that’s why it’s become a classic. (Here is a bit of critical journalistic reflection on that topic, from the Sun’s rival.) I’ve used it in intro religion classes, asking students whether Santa Claus is a “religious” figure – which is really a question about what we mean, or think we mean, by “religion.”

Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas went on to become a teacher; her childhood home now houses a school, which is perhaps fitting.

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