Wednesday 24 December 2014

No, Virginia, we DON'T see Santa Claus

On September the 21st 1897 the New York Sun newspaper published an editorial that was actually a reply to a letter written in by an eight year old local girl called Virginia O'Hanlon. The original handwritten letter was recently valued on the Antiques Roadshow for £20,000 to £30,000. Although unseasonable for the time of year it was originally printed, it has become a major part of American Christmas folklore. It reads as follows:

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

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?
Virginia O'Hanlon
115 West Ninety Fifth Street

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 by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. 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 external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you 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. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are, unseen and unseeable, in the world. You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else as real and abiding. No Santa Claus? Thank God! He lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

I'm guessing that the New York Sun of the 1890's must have been a very different journal to The Sun of the United Kingdom in the 2010's. These words have become legendary and have inspired books and films, like this one: That film is highly fictionalized, but deeply enjoyable and very intelligently put together; I think so anyway. Some might find it a bit treacly, on my side of the Atlantic anyway, but I don't. I think it's heart-warming and thought-provoking. An interesting theme is its powerful anti-Skeptic message, which even I accept is slightly excessive. It specifically states that the observation of rational data is not the ultimate method of defining reality. It even goes as far as to say reality may directly contradict what your senses and cognition tell you exists, or does not exist. What's more it coins the neologism "unseeable", meaning something that can never be perceived or comprehended no matter what we do. This is totally contrary not only to the Skeptic movement but much of post-enlightenment Western thought. Why then is it so popular with people in the heart of the Western world, supposedly the most materialistic nation on Earth?... That's an interesting subject, but a big one; I'll leave it for a future article. However, for now: the issue over the existence of Santa Claus does bring up another vital question: why do none of us see him? You have to think about that question for a moment to understand all its implications. The Skeptics tell us that paranormal phenomena are all the product of an over-active imagination. Witnesses don't really see these things, say the Skeptics, they just think they do. They see a perfectly ordinary object and then their mind and flawed memory distort, exaggerate and embellish the incident. A seagull glimpsed at a particular angle at sunset morphs into a story in which an alien spacecraft swoops down, snatches the witness up and probes his rectum with diamond rods. The UFO meme simply comes from popular cultural symbols. In that case, wouldn't we also see Santa Claus? Correct me if I'm wrong, HPANWO readers, but I've been studying books full of reports of encounters with UFO's, ghosts, lake monsters and other cryptids, fairies, elves, gnomes, green men, blue men, pink men, moving castles in the sky etc etc etc for many years. I've not come across one single case of an adult witness on Christmas Eve taking his dog out for a walk on Cannock Chase and looking up to see Santa Claus in his sleigh being pulled by the reindeer, bells jingling and Santa himself yelling "Ho ho ho!" Why not? Santa is himself a cultural icon in the same way UFO's are. People see UFO's but they don't see Santa Claus... Discuss. Of course every adult knows that Santa is not real, but then doesn't every adult also know that UFO's and ghosts are not real? Despite claims to the contrary, I think that in our culture the supernatural and Santa occupy a very similar status; and if you admit that then you have to admit that this makes it more likely that there is some objective reality to paranormal reports otherwise Santa would be seen regularly as well, and he's not. There's also intriguing evidence from an incident that started out as a Skeptic hoax, but then backfired in an unexpected way. A TV production company employed a team of special effects engineers to design and build a drone that looked like a flying saucer; they then flew this over Avebury, Wiltshire. The plan was to fly it over this ancient monument, which is gathering place of counter-culturists, pagans, mystics and hippies, to see how many of them would be fooled into thinking that a real flying saucer was in the sky above them, see: Many of the people at Avebury did indeed report a UFO, but... and this is very important... they reported pretty much what they saw. There were none of the embellishments and exaggerations that I think the hoaxers were banking on. It showed that even the so-called “most gullible members of society!” have turned out to be much better witnesses than was previously thought. All in all this Santa Claus no-show every year is not good news for the Skeptic worldview.


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Anonymous said...

People see UFO's but they don't see Santa Claus...

This is an important point. What we have I think is a clear distinction. We have Cultural Icon's and Cultural Icon's.

There are cultural icons that represent a certain 'feeling' or sentiment such as Santa Clause.

This will often get mixed into ancient folklores to give it a thread of archaic-ness.

With this is mind it is clear why they are not seen by conspiracy theorists because they are historical composites, ideas-sentiments.

The cultural UFO icon is a physical phenomena whatever you attribute them to as supernatural, empirical, military, inter dimensional etc etc, but, they are a physical phenomena that are recorded on film, photograph.

Santa has never been caught on mobile climbing out of somebody's rooftop with his big red sack in his hand (no pun intended).

What the retiring skeptic fails to see is this very point and infact that also puts us in the realm of skeptic aswell in a more honest sense as we in our inability to see Santa Clause are actually asserting a position of non observation of a given cultural icon!.

Skeptics do not question with even their own empirical positivism the very fact that we do not see these composite icons that are blatantly composite icons (coca cola invented the big man in the red suite).

On the other hand ghosts etc are a different matter as many varied people see the same spectres.

For me in my limited way I see things that in their dependance is their lack of inner-essence (the unconditioned real let's say) People like Hegel for example see the real and reason as the same thing (reason though is always involved in antinomies), Skeptics and Materialists rejecting the alternatives of; self-becoming (things that are produced out of themselves),cause and effect as not different or a unity of the above means that they have to take things as to be produced by chance strictly within the emperical, yet, with this as the case then why not see the fact that what we do see is not part of a composite culture or idealism?

Sure, there are many theories to try and explain the phenomena but that is a result of the common phenomena being approached with various viewpoints of it.

Thought 'distinctions' are purely subjective and most Skeptics should agree on that yet there are a group that cannot 'distinguish' what are clearly thought 'distinctions'as strictly ideas and common phenomena that are seen that are explained with various subjective theories.

In and of itsef skepticism makes no actual contribution to the science and dialectic it attempts to defend and as a skeptic once said; 'just as music reviews in the newspaper make no contribution to the art of composition.'

Anyway, is that the sound of sleighbells I hear!!, no.... it's James Randi counting the imaginary loose change from his 'amazing' million-dollar challenge...

The Truth Seeker's Guide said...

Thoughtful, yet festive! Nice one Ben! Best wishes of the season and for the year to come.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Thanks, Carl. Merry Christmas to you and yours too :-)

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi X. Can I reply to you on the forum? It's easier. :-)

Steve Trueblue said...

Lovely Christmas article, Ben.
Sad commentary on the skeptics that they use Santa as a weapon for ridicule. They just don't get it (too many dots to join LOL)
On the cultural icon thing, that csn consist of normally unseeable things, I have seen it written that, the most psychic people in the world, may be the Irish.Based on the cultural observation that small Irish children happily talk at breakfast about the "brownies" they meet overnight. Parents go along with it, encouraging overnight adventures with brownies, breakfast reports, rather like going along with Santa. Now, here's the punchline. Asking even the youngest Irish kids, 2 and 3 to draw their "brownie" friends produces pictures of an alien grey with characteristic large bug eyes. Long before they could be programmed by our culture.
I verified this in Sydney when I met a newly arrived Irish family with small children who happily chattered to me about "brownies"

It seems the greys like Irish kids !
Could be something similar to the way we adore puppies.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben, Yes of coarse

Steve Trueblue said...

Very good point Ben, on no-one reporting Santa Claus "hallucinations" where we might turn the tables on the skeptics with their own foolishness used against them. It certainly should occur randomly, of course, amongst all of our other mass hysteria hallucinations. It certainly ruins the hallucination dismissal. Must think about some wording for the challenge to skeptics.

Steve Trueblue said...

Same type of argument defeats Dawkins charge that modern day “God” experiences are simply the latest of a long line of paranormal delusions that once upon a time would have been titled Thor Woden Yahveh experiences etc Except no-one ever claims a visitation from Woden or Thor, or Santa. Once again lending some objectivity to visitations and pointing up the shallowness of the pskeps argument of ridicule via faireytale strawmen.

Steve Trueblue said...

Good example here Ben, from Zammit

Skeptics, though, say people reporting shared-death experiences are not impartial obs
ervers. Their perceptions are distorted by grief. Joe Nickell, a noted investigator into the paranormal, says people who’ve watched others die sometimes experience their own form of trauma.
They don’t intend to, but some reinvent the moment of their loss to make it more acceptable.
“If you’re having a death vigil and your loved one dies, wouldn’t it be great to have a great story to tell that would make everyone happy and tell them that ‘Uncle John’ went to heaven, and I saw his soul leave and I saw him smile,” says Nickell, who is also an investigative writer for the journal Skeptical Inquirer, which offers scientific evaluations of extraordinary claims.
Nickell says shared-death experiences are not proof of an afterlife, but of a psychological truism.
“If you’re looking for something hard enough you’ll find it,” Nickell says. “This is well known to any psychologist or psychiatrist.” ((That we all delude ourselves LOL. But skeptics don’t)
Same fraudulent counterclaim by Skeptics Magazine Repeated by Randi on that Irish side of the moon clip.
But nobody sees Santa Claus, though he is heavily wished for.

Anonymous said...

Good points Steve.