Chairman's Corner: December 23, 2020

Jo Read: I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.2020 was a remarkably horrible… year – one that will live in infamy. One element about the year that may be able transcend the gloom is the holiday season. Mary Anne, you have a special take on this year’s holiday season... involving a classic… and a true story from more than 120 years ago…

Mary Anne Carter: That’s right… it’s a story about faith… of hope… imagination… and childhood wonderment… it’s a story about overcoming cynicism and pain. it’s the story about and behind “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”

Here’s some of the backstory.

In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a medical assistant in NYC, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia, whether Santa Claus really existed.

O'Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a then prominent New York City newspaper, assuring her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so.”

In so doing, Dr. O'Hanlon had unwittingly given one of the paper's editors, Francis Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question and address the philosophical issues behind it.

The Editor, Church, had been a war correspondent during the American Civil War. Having seen the suffering and horror, Church felt that society had lost its hope and faith. He didn’t have the patience for such superstitious beliefs. And although he refused to attribute his name to the piece, the editorial ran in the newspaper.

More than a century later it is the most reprinted editorial in any newspaper in the English

“DEAR EDITOR: 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?”

And the response:


“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 eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”


You see– while Virginia’s anxiety about whether Santa existed was calmed, paused at least until she was older – the reason that that editorial lives on today… is the message that the belief in Santa… like love, empathy, devotion… live in all of us.


It doesn’t matter where we live… or frankly even when we have lived – those values… are part of the collective spirit that make us human. We can’t deny them – any more than we can deny the existence of Santa Claus


Jo Reed: That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Keep up with the arts endowment by visiting the website or follow us on twitter @neaarts.

For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.



This week, a special holiday message from Mary Anne.